Treat bones as seriously as heart health

HILARY Spillane, specialist orthopaedic nurse at Mater Private Hospital, Cork.

Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease in the world and affects approximately 25% of men and 50% of women over 50 years of age.

Osteoporosis affects men and women of all races, however, white and Asian women, especially older women who are post menopause, are at highest risk.

Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle and a fall or even simple activities such as bending can cause a fracture. Fractures caused by osteoporosis most commonly occur in the hip, wrist or spine. Fractures are common because the production of new bone doesn’t keep up with the natural breakdown of old bone. In Ireland, nine out of 10 broken hips occur in people with osteoporosis.

It is difficult to predict with certainty who among us will develop osteoporosis, but research has identified what makes some people more likely than others to develop it. This is why it’s important to be aware of what the risk factors are and what you can do to reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.

Generally speaking, the risk of developing osteoporosis and being prone to bone fractures is determined by your bone health which is influenced by the size and strength of your bones and the condition of your bone tissue. Bone health is determined by how your skeleton develops during childhood and early adulthood, as well as your bone mass and the amount of bone tissue you have.

Most people achieve peak bone mass in their late 20s to early 30s. Bone health is also affected by how rapidly bone mass is lost as you get older. There are some risk factors we have no control over such as age, gender or family history. However, you can monitor your bone health for early signs of abnormal bone loss and take steps to prevent osteoporosis or slow its development.

Women usually have lower peak bone mass than men. Women also tend to live longer, which means they have less bone to lose and more time to lose it. In addition, during menopause, they experience a drop in oestrogen levels, which usually increases bone loss. The first place to find information is to visit your family doctor, there is nothing a GP wants more than to prevent ill-health and the inevitable poor outcomes from hip fracture (one in five people over the age of 60 who fracture their hip will die within a year).

It is estimated that more than a quarter of a million people in Ireland have osteoporosis of which only 10% are diagnosed.

The doctor will decide if a bone density test, which measures a small part of one or a few bones to see how strong they are, is necessary. A scan uses a small amount of radiation to measure your bone density.

Good nutrition and regular exercise are essential for keeping your bones healthy throughout your life.

Protein is one of the building blocks of bone and sources include soy, nuts, dairy and eggs. Maintain a normal body weight; being underweight increases the chance of bone loss and fractures. Men and women between the ages of 18 and 50 need approximately 1,000mgs of calcium a day which increases to 1,200mgs when women turn 50 and when men turn 70 years. Good sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, green leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified cereals and orange juice.

Vitamin D improves your body’s ability to absorb calcium and improves bone health. We can get it from sunlight, however, we know that too much time under the sun can lead to skin cancer so a dietary supplement will help.

Finally, exercise can help you to build strong bones and to slowdown bone loss and will benefit your bones no matter when you start.

Treat bone health as serious as you would heart health and prevent problems by discussing prevention and treatment with your family doctor.

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