Healthy bones for every body

More than 1.2 million of Australian's have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis and a further 6.3 million are estimated to have low bone density. The good news is help is at hand.

So, what exactly is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis effectively makes our bones brittle. As precious minerals are lost, the body fails to re-establish healthy bone density. The lack of bone health inevitably heightens the risk of breaks, but fractures are of greater concern. Those suffering are aware of pain caused by even minor accidents or falls. The resulting fracture - a complete or partial break - can lead to further degradation, a process referred to as a 'fracture cascade'.

Risk factors
Women are generally more likely to develop osteoporosis as part of a natural reduction in oestrogen levels during menopause. The absence of the hormone leads to lower mineral retention within the bones and an estimated 2% loss of bone density per year for a few years after menopause begins. Men can also develop osteoporosis. However, the ongoing presence of testosterone within men’s systems means that they are diagnosed at a significantly lower rate.

Four major risk factors

  1. Family history: Osteoporosis runs in the family so low bone density among brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents is an indicator of a predisposition.
  2. Low calcium and vitamin D levels: Men and women of all ages suffer from mineral deficiencies, but these two are the most important for bone health. Take steps to improve your diet and ensure you consume 1000 mg of calcium per day. As you get older, increase your intake to 1,300 mg per day. Similarly, a lack of exposure to the sun can result in lower vitamin D levels. As the body needs this specific vitamin to retain calcium, it is essential that you safely increase your exposure or begin taking daily supplements.
  3. Previous medical conditions: Certain existing conditions and medications can increase the likelihood of osteoporosis. These include, but are not limited to: corticosteroids used in asthma treatment and arthritis; low levels of oestrogen and testosterone; thyroid related conditions; chronic diseases and medicines related to the treatment of cancer and depression (antidepressants).
  4. Lifestyle factors: Ensure you engage in regular exercise and have a balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight, as being over or underweight can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. Also refrain from smoking or excessive drinking, as this can also increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. Always speak to your health professional for individual advice. 

Diagnosis
With the aid of a bone density test (undertaken through a high-tech scan) your doctors will be able to inform you of your general bone health levels and if relevant advise you on how to manage your own bone-related condition. For men and women aged 50+, a bone density scan is critical; but everyone should be aware of the potential risks.

The scan is only fifteen minutes long and the arm of the scanning machine passes over you while you lie flat on a table. Medicare rebates may apply, and private healthcare providers may also cover the scan. Consult with your doctor and health care provider for more information.

Greg Lyubomirsky, CEO of Osteoporosis Australia, notes that regular testing is critical. "One of the ways to identify density is to have a bone density scan. It's an important indicator that's readily available around Australia and it should be performed regularly by those at risk,” he advises.

Treatment options
Common treatments include pharmaceutical drugs, vitamin supplements and lifestyle changes (for example, increasing exercise and maintaining a balanced diet). Though many patients have questioned the effectiveness and difficulty in managing daily drugs, there are still many treatment options and methods of preventing further bone degradation.

Enjoy a balanced diet
A recent study discovered a link between cadmium levels and bone density. Public health nutritionist Associate Professor Amanda Devine said that because cadmium is found in so many foods, there is no one food group high-risk patients should avoid. She advises, “The best way to minimise your exposure to cadmium is to eat a varied diet.”

Experts also suggest eating low-fat dairy foods to promote healthy bone growth. The importance of a diet rich in iron to lower cadmium absorption and high in zinc to minimise the effects of cadmium exposure is also important to consider.

For more information on osteoporosis, its diagnosis and treatment, please visit Osteoporosis Australia. Always speak to your health professional before making changes to your health routine.

Have you or a loved one experienced issues with bone health? Join in the discussion below…