When a person has osteoporosis, their bones become weak, brittle, and easily susceptible to breaking. Considered a “silent” disease, those with osteoporosis usually do not have symptoms and don’t experience pain. They typically aren’t even aware they have it until a bone breaks and they are diagnosed with the bone disease. About 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass, according to the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation (BHOF).
How can I prevent osteoporosis?
There are many risk factors for osteoporosis, including suffering from a broken bone after the age of 50, early menopause and having a family history of broken bones or osteoporosis. Osteoporosis prevention should start during childhood, by building healthy eating and exercise habits. Even those with a heightened risk of the disease can take steps to prevent weakened bones. Here are ways to do that:
- Eat a nutritious diet rich in calcium and vitamins C, D and K.
- Engage in exercises like walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs and dancing, as well as weight-training exercises like squats, lunges, and leg presses.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation.
- Quit smoking.
- Take medications, if prescribed.
Is osteoporosis reversible?
In some rare cases, a person with osteoporosis can reverse the bone disease, but the more realistic goal is to curb its effects and prevent fractures from occurring. If you have osteoporosis, you should waste no time implementing the lifestyle changes listed above, if they apply to you. Let’s examine some of the changes a little more closely.
Strengthening your bones through a healthy diet
By consuming plenty of calcium, protein and vitamins C, D and K, a person can prevent future bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures. Foods that are rich in zinc and magnesium are also recommended. Quite a few foods overlap in these areas. Dairy products like milk, eggs and yogurt are great sources of calcium, protein, and vitamin D. Leafy greens like spinach, kale and collard greens help with vitamins C and K, as well as calcium and magnesium. Salmon and trout provide protein, calcium, vitamin D and magnesium, while nuts like almonds, cashews and peanuts contain protein, magnesium, and zinc. Fortified orange juice supplies both vitamin C and calcium.
Medications and therapy options
No form of treatment fully reverses osteoporosis, but certain therapy methods and medications may help a person rebuild bone mass. Speak with your primary care provider to see what route of testing is best for you as you attempt to treat the disease.
Choosing the right osteoporosis medication depends on your sex, age, the amount of bone you’ve lost, your overall health and your personal preferences. These medications are commonly prescribed to slow osteoporosis and are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Bisphosphonates: This medication works by preserving bone density, which can lower the chance of hip and spine fractures. Bisphosphonates allow osteoblasts (bone-building cells) to work more effectively, improving bone mass. Typically, people who are treated with bisphosphonates see fracture-risk reduction within the first 3 to 5 years of treatment. Calcitonin: This is a synthetic hormone from the thyroid gland and is only approved for the treatment of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women who cannot take or tolerate other medications for osteoporosis. It primarily helps reduce spine fractures. Estrogen and hormone therapy: Estrogen and combined estrogen and progestin (hormone therapy) are approved to prevent osteoporosis and fractures in the spine and hip of postmenopausal women. But due to potentially harsh side effects, it is recommended that women use hormone therapy at the lowest dose for a short amount of time, and only if other medications are ineffective. Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERM). SERMs and tissue-selective estrogen complex (TSEC) are both approved to treat and prevent osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. They are not estrogen, but they have estrogen-like effects on some tissues and can help prevent fractures of the vertebrae. They are, however, limited in preventing other types of bone breaks. Parathyroid hormone (PTH) analogs: PTH is a synthetic parathyroid hormone that treats osteoporosis by regulating the distribution of calcium and phosphate throughout the body. It is approved for postmenopausal women and men with osteoporosis who are at high risk for fractures. For a comprehensive list of brand names, forms and the general frequency you should take these medications if you are prescribed, visit the BHOF’s medication and treatment adherence page by clicking here. Photo credit: Getty Images Related content: