Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become brittle and more liable to break. Around 3 million people in the UK have osteoporosis. According to the *National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) almost one in two women and one in five men aged 50+ breaks a bone mainly due to osteoporosis.
- Often no symptoms - hence the nickname ‘the silent disease’
- Bones that break easily
- Loss of height and curvature of the spine
What causes osteoporosis?
Healthy bones consist of a thick outer shell and an inner honeycomb mesh of tiny struts of bones. With osteoporosis these struts become thin and are prone to break easily following a fall or a bump.
There are two types of cells in our bones - ‘construction’ cells which build and strengthen bone and ‘demolition’ cells’ which break down old bone. Until our mid 20s the ‘construction’ cells work hard to build and strengthen bone, but from our 40s onwards the ‘demolition’ cells become more active. This is particularly true for women following menopause when oestrogen levels drop or in women who have lost their ovaries before the age of 45.
Men with low levels of testosterone are also at risk, as are patients taking oestrogen-inhibiting drugs for cancer or steroid-based drugs for rheumatoid arthritis or allergies.
A family history of osteoporosis can also put you at risk, as can smoking, drinking heavily or being underweight.
How is osteoporosis treated?
A doctor will ask if you have broken any bones or lost height. You may then be sent for a bone density scan called a Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) or for a spine X-ray.
If osteoporosis is diagnosed you’ll be offered drugs (available only on prescription) to strengthen bone and stem further loss. You may also be prescribed calcium and vitamin D. Men may be given testosterone.
You may also be referred to a falls clinic where a physiotherapist can teach you exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your spine.
Alternative remedies & Self-help
A diet rich in all the main food groups is recommended but calcium is particularly important. Good sources include dairy produce, fish, tofu and leafy vegetables. Our bodies need vitamin D to absorb calcium and the best source is sunlight. The National Osteoporosis Society recommends 10 minutes of sun exposure once or twice a day. If this is not possible then a vitamin D supplement is wise.
Weight-bearing exercise will also strengthen bones, but those at risk of falls should choose safe options such as swimming, gardening, walking and Tai Chi.