Focus on Bone Health during Women’s Health Week

As women, we often define the value and depth of our relationships by the way we care for others, but sometimes we need a little reminder to care for ourselves. May 8-14 marks Women’s Health Week, a nationwide initiative to encourage women everywhere to make their health a priority. May also happens to be National Osteoporosis Month, an observance dedicated to a condition which affects nearly eight million American women. In honor of Women’s Health Week and National Osteoporosis Month, let’s take a look at some of the risk factors associated with osteoporosis and what you can do to prevent it.

Osteoporosis is a progressive disease that causes bones to become thin, weak and prone to fractures. While both men and women can develop osteoporosis, women are four times more likely than men to develop this condition. Osteoporosis occurs due to an imbalance in the bone remodeling process. Bones undergo a lifelong process of remodeling which consists of removing old bone tissue and growing new tissue in its place. When new bone growth occurs at a slower rate than bone removal, this is known as osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is often called a “silent disease” because bone loss can occur gradually over several years without producing any symptoms. In fact, many individuals do not realize they have osteoporosis until they experience a fracture. Symptoms in osteoporosis do occur occasionally and may include backaches, stooped posture, gradual height loss, and fractures in the hip, wrist or spine (Source: WebMD).

There are several risk factors which increase your chances of developing osteoporosis. They include:

  • Genetics – Osteoporosis tends to run in families, so it is important to know your family history.
  • Age – Significant bone loss occurs during menopause. Post-menopausal women over 50 are at greatest risk for osteoporosis.
  • Gender – Women have a greater risk of osteoporosis than men.
  • Ethnicity – Asian and Caucasian women are at higher risk than African American or Latina women.
  • Bone structure – Individuals with small frames and thin bones are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
  • History of fractures – Having a bone fracture in the past increases your risk of future fractures.
  • Health history – Diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are linked to a higher risk of osteoporosis.

Even if certain factors place you at greater risk for developing osteoporosis, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself against this disease, such as:

  • Limiting alcohol and giving up smoking – Alcohol and tobacco use interfere with bone growth and inhibit the absorption of nutrients.
  • Exercising – Weight-bearing exercise, such as jogging, hiking, yoga, and aerobics strengthens bones to protect them against fractures.
  • Getting your vitamins – Calcium and vitamin D are crucial for maintaining strong, healthy bones. Choose foods that naturally contain these nutrients or talk to your doctor about supplements.
  • Talking to your doctor – Maintain routine check-ups with your doctor and discuss any risks or concerns you have about osteoporosis. By age 65 you should have a bone mineral density test to detect osteoporosis and assess your risk for fractures (Source: Graybill Medical Group).