Osteoporosis is a Disease that is Affecting an Overwhelming Number of Americans

By Carol Woodbury, CES

Over 20 million people in the United States have osteoporosis and 1.3 million will suffer a bone fracture each year as a result of this disease.
Osteoporosis is defined as a disease that makes the bones thin and more porous. This can lead to stress fractures, compression fractures. Bone is made up of collagen (protein) and calcium salts. What causes osteoporosis? It occurs when your body is absorbing more bone tissue (both the protein and the calcium salts) than it is able to replenish. Osteoporosis results from poor nutrition, inadequate physical activity, certain drugs, such as corticosteroids, genetics, body type, and menopause (where 20 to 30% bone loss can occur over a 10 year period, this type of osteoporosis is referred to as estrogen-deficient or Type I), being a white female and age (Type II affects those over the age of 70). Many of us are unaware that 25% of all people who have osteoporosis are men. It is often thought of as a woman’s condition.

Osteoporosis is occurring at younger ages. Teenagers and young women who have had eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are experiencing osteopenia, which is the precursor to osteoporosis and/or osteoporosis.

Idiopathic osteoporosis can show up in premenopausal women and men who are middle-aged and younger. This is a rare disorder of unknown cause.

Osteoporosis usually occurs in the spine, shoulders, wrists and/or hip joints. You may have had a mother, great aunt or grandparent who fell and broke their hip. In many cases osteoporosis in the joint had already created a stress fracture and that fracture caused them to fall when the joint gave way.

There are ways to prevent osteoporosis. Healthful lifestyle practices or changes make a difference. Daily physical activity, in particular strength training, a diet rich in calcium and Vitamin-D and avoidance of tobacco and alcohol can help to reduce our risk of developing brittle bones. There are factors that increase the risk of osteoporosis that we cannot control such as, having a small frame, age, being a female, genetics, menopause and prolonged bed rest.

Recent research shows that children who drink soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages rather than beverages that rich in calcium are more susceptible to this disease. It is felt that the carbonation in soft drinks is the culprit.

Foods rich in calcium include:

Tofu preserved with calcium sulfate or lactate
Soy Milk
Fortified Orange Juice
Collard Greens, Mustard Greens, Broccoli and Kale

You can also take a supplement if you do not feel you are getting enough calcium in your diet. However, it is important to get one that your body absorbs well. Some people have a difficult time tolerating a calcium supplement. If you find your lower gastrointestinal tract cramping, you may have to try taking your calcium at a different time of day or taking the dosage over the course of the day.
The National Institutes of Health recommend the following dosages of calcium daily:

800 mg/day for children ages 1-10
1000 mg/day for men, pre-menopausal women and postmenopausal women also taking estrogen
1200 mg/day for teenagers and young adults ages 11 to 24
1500 mg/day for post menopausal women not taking estrogen
1200mg to 1500 mg/day for pregnant and nursing mothers

Vitamin-D is also important for osteoporosis because it stimulates the absorption of our food’s calcium from the intestines. Vitamin-D comes in through our diet and also through the skin from the sun. Those of us who live in the Northeast are light deprived in the winter and probably should consider supplementing our Vitamin-D intake during that period. Vitamin-D supplementation can become vitally important among the elderly who are housebound, hospitalized or in nursing homes.
The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends the following dosages of Vitamin-D:

200 IU daily for people 19-50
400 IU daily for people 51-70
600 IU daily for people 71 and older

A note of caution, look at the level of Vitamin-D supplementation in your multivitamin and other supplements you might be taking because you can have excessive amounts that create elevated calcium levels in the blood and urine.
How important is exercise for osteoporosis?
According to most studies, skeletal loading remains the only means to actually increase bone density or new bone formation. The exercise must sufficiently overload the bone to push it beyond its “lazy zone” to promote new bone formation.

  • Exercise protocols should include:
  • Resistance exercises for the legs
  • Special emphasize on the pectoral muscles because many people experience shorting of these muscles that cause kyphosis (a.k.a. dowager’s hump)
  • Postural control
  • Balance exercise to help prevent falls
  • Flexibility and Stretching
  • Abdominal exercises

Note: Osteoporosis individuals should avoid excessive spinal flexion
It is important, if you have this condition, to seek out appropriate help in designing an exercise program that is safe. You want to be assured that what you are doing is going to help your condition and not put you in peril of potential injury.

Carol Woodbury is certified as a Clinical Exercise Specialist, Personal Trainer and Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant through ACE (American Council on Exercise). She is a T’ai Chi and Chi Kung instructor, certified through American Aerobics Association and International Sports Medicine Association and has been training in T’ai Chi and Chi Kung for sixteen years. She is certified as a Cycling Instructor through the Cycle Reebok University. She is also a Reiki Master.