Osteoporosis is a disease that thins and weakens bones. It affects 10 million Americans, 80 percent of which are women. Take into account the number of Americans who suffer from low bone mass, or osteopenia, and that number multiplies more than four times. Weak bones are responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures a year in the U.S.
Osteoporosis can strike at any age, but it is most common in older women. Eighty percent of the people in the United States with osteoporosis are women. One out of every two women over age 50 will break a bone in their lifetime due to osteoporosis. This kind of injury can be severe, with hips, spine and wrists most vulnerable to this sort of fracture.
This sounds pretty grim, right? Well, there is some good news. A 2004 report by the Surgeon General says, “Bone diseases can be prevented in the vast majority of individuals and identified early and treated effectively in those who get them.” To avoid the risk of weak bones, limited mobility, and a potentially debilitating fracture in our late adulthood, women must make a concerted effort to keep our bones healthy and strong.
Bone strength depends on size and density. Bones need different levels of calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals as we age. Bones are also continuously changing, or remodeling, making new bone while breaking down the old. When we’re young, our bodies make new bone faster than they break down the old. We usually reach peak bone mass in our early- to mid-30s. After that, the process continues; but we lose more than we gain.
This means the best time to start worrying about osteoporosis prevention is early. Stocking up on the appropriate nutrients is critical prior to reaching peak bone mass. Early prevention means building up bone mass while production outpaces deterioration. After that, prevention becomes a matter of preventing bone loss. Not getting enough vitamin D and calcium in your diet may lead to a lower peak bone mass and accelerated bone loss later. Women are especially at risk because menopause causes a quick drop in estrogen levels, dramatically hastening bone loss.
Of course, early prevention is the best kind.