Bone Health

Bone Loss – It’s not just a concern for the elderly

Osteoporosis and other disorders characterized by a weakening or loss of bone mass are increasing in prevalence, and the increase isn’t entirely due to our aging population. Most people under the age of 50 give little thought to their risk for hip fractures or developing osteoporosis.  We tend to think of these problems as affecting the elderly – specifically post-menopausal, small-boned Caucasian women.  However, bone disorders don’t suddenly become an issue when you reach a certain age, and they definitely don’t just strike a particular group of individuals.  Bone loss may accelerate faster in women, especially after menopause; but past the age of 20, most of us will start to lose more bone than we make.[1] Because women have smaller bones to begin with, this natural bone loss is more pronounced in women, and as a result of some notable environmental and lifestyle factors, physicians are beginning to report seeing signs of low bone mass in women in their 20s, 30s and 40s.  This trend should be a concern for all of us, both men and women.

Many people, especially women, are not getting the proper nutrients during childhood and adolescence that are essential for bone development.  They are not only consuming fewer calcium and vitamin D-rich foods, but they are often substituting the bone strengthening food or drink with one that actually depletes nutrients, such as carbonated beverages or coffee.[2]

Other significant factors contributing to demineralization and a decrease in bone density include  yo-yo dieting and eating disorders, as well as chronic stress.  Factors that can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle and estrogen production including overexercising, injectable contraceptives and menopause, can also contribute to bone loss.  Bone health may be compromised by medications such as thyroid drugs, diuretics, steroids, antibiotics such as tetracycline, anticonvulsants, chemotherapy drugs and proton pump inhibitors.  Sedatives and antidepressants that have a sedative effect can also increase the risk for falling, which can result in fractures, especially for those whose bones are already weakened by other factors. However, there are some lesser known elements that are currently being studied for their potential for having a negative impact on bone health.  Our exposure to these may be inadvertent and come from a variety of sources.  Heavy metals fall into this category.  Many of us are familiar with the dangers associated with exposure to lead, and to a lesser extent, mercury and cadmium, but may not be aware that bone loss is one of the dangers attributed to exposure to lead and other metals.  Fortunately, there is a general awareness of the toxic nature of most of these metals and there are laws that are aimed at minimizing our exposure.  These laws may not extend to protecting us from overexposure to some other metals, however.

Maintaining healthy bones should be an active goal for all of us.  Diet and lifestyle choices, genetics, environment, disease and medication all play a role in determining the health of our skeletal system, and we must each make a concerted effort to do what we can to protect our bones and guard against bone loss. A strong bone structure can provide just the “support” we need to enjoy a  longer, healthier and more active lifestyle.

[2] Kristensen M, Jensen M Kudsk J, Henriksen M, Mølgaard C.  “Short-term effects on bone turnover of replacing milk with cola beverages: a 10-day interventional study in young men”  Osteoporos Int.  16(12):1803-8 (2005).

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