We have all seen her. The stooped old woman whose gaze is fixed on a spot just in front of her feet. The one who has to sit down and lean back to look you in the eye. This is the result of years of compression fractures that have left her spine inches shorter and her body twisted.
That woman has an extreme case of osteoporosis, the most common bone disease in most countries, and one that affects an estimated 50 percent of women and 20 percent of men over age 50. Once thought to be an inevitable consequence of aging, today we know that osteoporosis is a preventable disease, one that, even if it does occur, can be arrested in its development and even reversed.
The best way to understand what goes on with your bones as you age is to think about your retirement fund. You’ve likely been socking away money for years, watching it grow, counting the interest, anticipating the day when you’ll finally start making withdrawals. The goal, of course, is to ensure you don’t outlive your money. The same is true of your bones.
Throughout your life, cells called osteoblasts busily build bone, using hormones, vitamins, and minerals in a complex metabolic process to create the densest bone possible. At the same time, however, other cells called osteoclasts break down bone to supply calcium for other parts of your body, particularly your brain, muscles, and nervous system. That’s why calcium intake is so important throughout your life; not so much to build strong bone, as the dairy industry would have you believe, but to provide the valuable mineral for the rest of your body so osteoclasts don’t have to dissolve bone to get it.
Throughout your first 50 years, the osteoblasts have it over the osteoclasts and you build more bone than you lose. But as you age, the osteoclasts begin gaining until you start losing more bone than you build. This isn’t so much of a problem if you have dense bone to begin with, just as retirement-fund withdrawals are fine as long as the principal remains relatively intact.
But if you never laid down enough bone to begin with, or if you’re following a lifestyle that makes it easier to break down bone and harder to build up bone, then at some point, you find yourself with a deficit. When this happens, your bones become lacelike, with holes and paper-thin spots, and you can fracture your wrist simply by pushing on a heavy door. That is osteoporosis.
Obviously the key here is to protect your bones so that you never experience the effects of Osteoporosis. If you were reading this 15 years ago, you’d have been lucky to be evaluated for osteoporosis, let along diagnosed. That’s because there was nothing doctors could do if you had the disease.
Today, however, a plethora of medications and great understanding of the impact of lifestyle and diet on bone health have made osteoporosis not only treatable but eminently preventable.
Come back on Friday when I reveal what you can do now to prevent Osteoporosis.
Giving you the most current and up to date advice on living a longer and active life.
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