The term itself is self-explanatory. Osteon and poros are both Greek words meaning respectively bone and pore. Osteoporosis is a medical condition that results in bone thinning and weakness, leaving them vulnerable to fractures. It is prominently the major cause of fractures among the elderly – osteoporosis becomes more common with age, especially in Caucasian and Asian people (affecting 70% of those over 80 years old). This is particularly dangerous because, for older people, recovering from a hip fracture, one of the most common fractures caused by osteoporosis, requires long periods of immobility, which in turn could lead to pneumonia or blood clots.

1. Causes

Osteoporosis has no signs or symptoms, and its exact cause is still unknown. It is normally diagnosed through a dual-energy x-ray (that can measure bone mineral density) after the occurrence of a fracture in a situation where a healthy person would not fracture the bone – known as “osteoporotic fracture.” However, the process that leads bones to become porous is very well comprehended. After your thirties, your bones begin to lose the mineral responsible for their hardness at a faster pace than they can replace it. You guessed it right: the mineral we’re talking about is calcium, and so your bones start to weaken. This a natural process. But certain medical conditions have been associated with osteoporosis: kidney disease, malnutrition, rheumatologic disorders, Parkinson’s, and parathyroid are some of the examples. For women, osteoporosis can be a looming threat.

In the United States, at least 80% of the almost 9 million people estimated to be affected by osteoporosis are women. And it’s not just because of the women’s body structure’ tendency to have lighter and less dense bones. The hormonal changes experienced in the first years after menopause considerably speeds up the loss of bone density. Researchers discovered that estrogen (the hormone that during menopause sees a huge decline in production) is partially responsible for keeping calcium in the bones.

2. Prevention

Regarding osteoporosis, the best thing is to work on its prevention. This is especially important if you have a family history of fracture, as heredity plays a crucial role in its development. The best thing you can do is working on your diet and lifestyle. Make it as healthy as possible in every way, as many of the risk factors of osteoporosis could be countered by your eating habits and behavior.

For example, the consumption of alcohol and tobacco smoking has been linked with osteoporosis, so you can start from there. Concerning your diet, it is recommended to have special attention to your vitamin D and K levels, as vitamin K deficiency is a risk factor for osteoporotic fractures, and vitamin D helps the body absorb the calcium from food. Eggs are a perfect source of vitamin K and calcium, so make sure to include them in your meals. If you’re struggling to keep the ideal vitamin levels, you can talk to your doctor so he can prescribe you some supplements. Leafy greens, beans, fish, and legumes are also other foods to eat, as they are good dietary sources of calcium. So, they contribute to strengthening bones and joints (people with ages from 19-50 are recommended to ingest 1,000mg of calcium, while those who have more than 50 should consume 1,200mg).

Some of the foods to avoid are red meats and soft drinks, mostly because they are rich in phosphorus – a mineral that promotes bone loss. The benefits of physical exercise remain inconclusive. Some studies reported a small benefit of physical exercise on bone density of women in the post-menopausal period. Others concluded that weight-bearing exercise, such as running, could keep the bones strong by regularly stressing them. There is still a lot of research needed. However, if not for osteoporosis prevention, being active is definitely important for your overall health and quality of life.

3. Treatment

In the previous section, we discussed a few natural ways to prevent osteoporosis. But as soon as you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, there is no such thing as an effective “treatment.” In these cases, the preferred term is “management”: to reduce the risk of dangerous brakes in bones and prevent further bone loss in some important bones. Fall prevention: older adults (above 65 years old) are way more prone to falls than young adults. They may occur due to gait deviations, balance disorders, visual/sensory/motor impairment, and accidents.

In people with osteoporosis, it is really important to reduce the risk of falling to prevent further complications: a seemingly harmless fall may mean a fractured hip. Some environmental changes in the house, such as grab bars in the bathroom and handrails in staircases, as well as an improvement in lighting and luminance levels, could be very important. Sometimes, the use of a front-wheeled walker, a cane, or even a hip protector is also recommended.

Medication: there are a variety of drugs usually administered to patients with osteoporosis. Bisphosphonates help to reduce the risk of broken bones, but are only applicable to some specific bones, and could be taken in several ways – by injections, pill or through an IV. To prevent spine fractures in postmenstrual women, Raloxifene is a viable option. There are a few more options, but are either expensive (like bone-forming medications such as Tymlos and Forteo) or could aggravate the risk of other disorders (like calcitonin drugs, that increase the risk of certain cancers). Ask your doctor about your options and listen to all the pros and cons of each one.