Osteoporosis: Prevention and Detection

Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by a loss of bone mass. This occurs when the bones lack calcium and become brittle and weak. This condition leads to an increased risk of bone fractures.

Women at High Risk
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, this condition affects women far more than men. Nearly 1 in 2 women experience an osteoporosis related fracture whereas in men it is only 1 in 8. Often, those fractures occur in the wrist and hip; the hip being more severe as nearly half of those with hip fractures never become functional walkers again.

There are a few reasons women are more susceptible than men. One large factor has to do with estrogen. Estrogen aids in preventing bone reabsorption.  The decrease in estrogen levels during menopause can result in rapid bone loss across the body. Bone loss continues during the post-menopausal years but at a much slower rate. In addition to menopausal risks, women have smaller frames than men, and thus their peak bone density is usually lower than men. Women also tend to consume less dietary calcium on average.

Despite higher risks for women, men should still be concerned with osteoporosis. Their calcium absorption decreases with age and they can experience increased bone loss after age 50. Thus, both genders should be concerned with doing what they can to combat osteoporosis.  

With lack of calcium being the largest risk factor in developing osteoporosis, many people may think it is too late to strengthen their bones; viewing bones as a static and unchanging structural organ of the body. Luckily, this is incorrect. Bone tissue is dynamic and completely replaces itself every 7-10 years, allowing for stronger, calcium filled, tissue to take its place.

The recommended calcium amounts are 800 mg for women 19-50 years old and men 19-70 years old. For woman above age 50, the recommendation rises to 1,000 mg per day. To put that in perspective, one glass of milk contains approximately 300 mg of calcium. Other good sources include yogurt, cheese, and broccoli.

Weight bearing, resistance exercise also helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Regular physical exercise such as aerobic dance and use of free weights helps to reduces the rate of bone loss. It also helps to build muscles that help in bodily stability, thus reducing the risk of falling and fracturing a bone. Aim for 3-5 days per week with a total of 150 minutes of exercise to receive maximum benefit. 

Early Detection
There is no set “cure” for osteoporosis. There are only methods of prevention as explained above, and the possibility of early detection. It is recommended that women over 40, especially, those with familial history of osteoporosis, should be screened for osteoporosis on a yearly basis. While there are no physical assessments available to determine osteoporosis directly, there are imaging methods used to determine bone density. Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA, formerly DEXA) is considered the gold standard for the diagnosis of osteoporosis, and the Exercise Science Department here at BYU has a DXA machine available, with rates below. 

As the “silent disease” of osteoporosis continues to affect more and more people, especially those of Caucasian decent, it is important to obtain the proper calcium recommendation, exercise regularly, and if possible, receive a bone scan to determine the status and strength of your bone tissue. 

DXA Scan at BYU:
$75 – Hip
$75 – Spine
(Rates may be reduced with insurance, contact Y-Be Fit for more details).

Y-Be Fit Contact Information
Room 127 RB

For more information on Osteoporosis, visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation website at http://nof.org/