Remember all those times when your mother used to tell you to drink your milk so you could grow up to be big and strong? Well, she wasn’t lying. Osteoporosis is a very common bone disease in women over the age of 50. Although that may seem like a long way off, you shouldn’t wait until your 49th birthday to start osteoporosis prevention.

What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease in which, over time, your bones break down. As your bones lose mass, they become very thin, brittle and easily broken or fractured. Just how easily? Something as simple as sneezing can result in a broken rib while a little stumble may lead to a fractured spine. While any bone in your body can be affected, the most common places that people with osteoporosis fracture include the hips, spine, wrist and ribs.

It is believed that as many as 10 million Americans have osteoporosis. However, a further 34 million Americans suffer from low bone mass, which significantly increases a person’s risk of osteoporosis. While both men and women are diagnosed with osteoporosis, women are four times more likely to develop the disease than men. Although Caucasian and Asian people seem to have a slightly increased osteoporosis risk, the disease affects all races. It also affects all ages, not just those over the age of 50.

Although commonly confused with it, osteoarthritis is not the same as osteoporosis. Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that causes the cartilage covering your bones to break down, not the bone itself as in osteoporosis. Gout is a type of arthritis than many women suffer from, and it causes intense pain and discomfort. If you are suffering, there are some excellent techniques for treating gout.

Causes of Osteoporosis
After the age of 40, your body begins to naturally lose bone mass. However, there are a variety of factors that can lead to or contribute to you developing osteoporosis. Some major reasons include a history of consuming too little calcium and vitamin D as well as a family history of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis Risk
There are many factors that can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis, including:

  • A family history of osteoporosis
  • A personal history of fractures after the age of 50
  • Having a small frame or being thin/underweight
  • Suffering from anorexia nervosa or bulimia
  • Amenorrhea (sudden loss of your period)
  • Loss of estrogen due to menopause or other hormonal changes
  • In men, low testosterone levels
  • A personal history of too little calcium intake
  • A vitamin D deficiency
  • Use of certain medications, such as anticoagulants and thyroid medications
  • Certain chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Excess caffeine intake
  • Excess alcohol intake
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise

Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Unfortunately, there are generally no symptoms of osteoporosis until after your bones have lost a significant amount of mass. This is why osteoporosis has been dubbed the "silent disease." However, some osteoporosis symptoms include easily breaking or fracturing a bone and a sharp pain in your mid to lower back that seems to happen for no reason. Additionally, osteoporosis can cause vertebra to collapse, resulting in a person having severe back pain, loss of height, stooped posture or the appearance of a hump on her back.

Osteoporosis treatment does exist, however there is no cure for the disease. Treatment includes medications to help prevent or treat bone loss. Your best defense against osteoporosis is to prevent it.

Osteoporosis Prevention
By the time you turn 20, the majority of your skeletal mass has been formed. This is why it is so important to drink lots of milk and consume a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D during childhood and adolescence. Some of the best foods to eat to prevent osteoporosis include:

  • Dairy products, like cheese and yogurt
  • Canned salmon and sardines
  • Lentils, beans and soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Some fruits and vegetables, like dried figs, bok choy and oranges

Well into your mid-30s, though, your bones continue to gain mass, so it is important to continue a calcium rich diet through adulthood. It is just as important to avoid smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol as well as regularly do weight bearing exercises in order to prevent osteoporosis.

After the age of 40, your bones naturally start to lose some of their mass. Going for bone density tests can help you realize any problems early on. Your doctor may also decide to prescribe medications that can help your bone density if it is low.

Osteoporosis Exercises
Getting regular exercise is important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It can also help to reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis. In order to build bone mass, exercises for osteoporosis should always be weight-bearing exercises. Some excellent choices include:

  • Walking
  • Dancing
  • Low-impact aerobics

If you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis and find exercise painful as a result, then you may want to switch your workouts to the water. Swimming or exercises done in water are less stressful on the body because the water lessens the impact on your joints. However, before you begin any exercise program, it is always a good idea to talk with your doctor first.

Many organizations are currently doing osteoporosis research in the hopes of finding a cure. Until then, make sure you (and your children!) drink your milk.

If you are looking for more information, then visit these osteoporosis sites:
National Osteoporosis Foundation
Osteoporosis Society of Canada