Fitness Expert

Got to admit, I've got a morbid fear of this one since it runs in my family so thought I'd throw this together.
Taken from National Osteoporosis Society.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bones'. Our bones are made up of a thick outer shell and a strong inner honeycomb mesh of tiny struts of bone.

Osteoporosis means some of these struts become thin or break. This makes the bone more fragile and prone to break. It often remains undetected until the time of this first broken bone. [This process of thinning bone takes place over decades, another reason it's a "silent" disease - Ice]
Broken wrists, hips and spinal bones are the most common fractures in people with osteoporosis.

What causes osteoporosis?

Two types of cells are constantly at work in our bones.

One set builds up new bone while another set break down old bone. Up to our mid-20s the construction cells work harder building strength into our skeleton.

From our 40s onwards, the demolition cells overtake and our bones gradually lose their density as a natural part of aging.

One in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 in the UK will break a bone, mainly because of osteoporosis. Exactly why this happens is still not fully understood. Research continues to build up a picture of the factors that influence our bones.

What makes osteoporosis so much worse than just breaking bones (heh, that's bad enough. My nan was so bad all she had to do was cough too hard and she'd break a rib) or bruising very easily, is that it's entirely preventable. As in, ENTIRELY preventable.

There's no cure for it (not yet anyway, although they're working on it), and the treatments are bad enough, but through a decent, balanced diet and plenty of weight-bearing exercise throughout life, it can be completely prevented.

The problem is that people think of it as an "old womans" disease, since it mainly affects the elderly, but it can actually begin far earlier than that, and men can get it too. Recent research has shown that good nutrition and an active lifestyle while still in childhood can affect bone health decades down the line, and especially into teenage years and beyond, it becomes ever more important to keep it up.

So how do we maintain optimum bone health?

Well, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends a five-point approach:

  • Get your daily recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D

  • Engage in regular weight-bearing exercise

  • Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol

  • Talk to your health care provider about bone health

  • When appropriate, have a bone density test and take medication

Personally, I'd ignore that last one unless you think you have a problem.

As for calcium and vitamin D, I'd make that a full-blown multi-vit/mineral as well as a minimum of three portions of dairy (or alternatives) per day just to make sure.

The not-smoking and not-drinking I'm barely going to mention since it's a damn good idea anyway (considering I'm an ex-smoker currently watching my dad die over a prolonged period from smoking-related illness I don't need to explain why).

And as for the weight-related exercise...well, me explaining that would be akin to preaching to the choir now, wouldn't it?
Also, from www.newscientist.com

Menopause may boost bone-dissolving cells

OSTEOPOROSIS may be an autoimmune disease prompted by the body's white blood cells. That's the suggestion after a study of menopausal mice revealed that the disease appears to be prompted by immune cells in their bone marrow.

Why women's bones start to weaken after the menopause has long been a puzzle. Throughout our lives bone is remodeled by bone-dissolving cells called osteoclasts and bone-producing cells called osteoblasts. Following the menopause, a drop in estrogen levels somehow shifts this balance towards osteoclast activity.

Roberto Pacifici of Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, and his colleagues found that a fall in oestrogen levels caused reactive oxygen species (ROSs) to accumulate in the bone marrow of mice. This in turn prompted dendritic cells to prime other immune cells to manufacture tumor necrosis factor - a signaling molecule that tells osteoclasts to multiply.

When antibodies were used to block the activity of dendritic cells, the build-up of osteoclasts stopped. Antioxidants that neutralised the ROSs also protected mice against osteoporosis (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0703610104).

Elderly falls linked to vitamin deficiency

An unexpected risk factor for the potentially fatal falls suffered by many elderly people has been discovered - vitamin D deficiency.

Researchers in Australia found that being severely deficient increased the risk of falls and that supplements reduced their number. The study of over 1500 women, led by Leon Flicker of the University of Western Australia in Perth, also found that severe vitamin D deficiency is surprisingly common in Australia.

Vitamin D is produced in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight, so the assumption had been that deficiency would not be a problem in sunny countries. But the new study found that almost half of elderly women in high-level residential care, though not bedridden, were severely deficient.

Furthermore, a fifth of elderly women who were healthy enough to live in low-level residential care were also severely deficient. Both groups of women had an average age of 84 years.

The deficient women had blood levels so low that the same levels in a growing child would cause bone abnormalities such as rickets, says research team member Caryl Nowson, of Deakin University in Melbourne.

Brain and brawn

Women in the study who were less severely vitamin D deficient were less likely to fall, with a doubling of vitamin D levels reducing their risk by 20 per cent. That association existed even when other risk factors, such as the use of sedatives, were taken into account.

An unpublished study by the same team shows that supplements reduce the number of falls and the number of breaks caused. The supplements only need to be given every few months because the body can store vitamin D.

Vitamin D is best known for its role in healthy bones. But there is growing evidence that it is also essential for muscle and brain function. A decrease in either of these could cause old people to fall.

Fortified food

Falls are a leading cause of death and disability in old people. When a person in their eighties breaks a hip, there is a 30 percent chance they will die within a month. In the UK and the US, where people are exposed to less sun, vitamin D deficiency is recognized as a potential problem, and food is fortified.

However, elderly people, have a greater requirement for vitamin D, because they do not make it so efficiently. "We're discovering that Vitamin D deficiency is the deficiency of the elderly," says Nowson.

The cause, believes osteoporosis expert Philip Sambrook, of the University of Sydney, is "partly because the women were stuck in nursing homes, and partly because of the strong Australian public health message about sun and skin cancer risk".

But 20 minutes of sunlight, which can be taken at the beginning and end of each day when the sun is less strong is still required, he says.

Journal reference: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (vol 51, p 1533)

The thing to remember is this: keep doing what you're doing and you'll never have to worry about it because it won't happen. You're here, you're working your arses off and eating right, and that all counts when it comes to something this drastic. You're also one-up on most people because you have that knowledge and experience and are able to use it.

Me, I'm already genetically-predisposed towards it, plus I'm due for menopause in a couple of years anyway so I'll carry on worrying about it until it doesn't happen in about 50 years time...