What is Osteoporosis and can I prevent it?

Short answer: Osteoporosis is a chronic disease related to low bone density which leads to fragile, easily breakable bones (particularly wrists, hip and spine), but with good diet and exercise is largely preventable in the majority of cases.

Long answer:

Osteoporosis is a decrease in bone mineral density, meaning that the bones lose minerals such as calcium faster than the body can replace them. This loss in density changes the bone quality and makes the bones more fragile and therefore more easily broken than bones of ‘normal’ density. Low bone density is known as osteopenia and is in the range between ‘normal’ density and osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is more common than people think and can be hugely debilitating, with two in three Australians aged over 50 years affected by osteoporosis or have ‘thin bones’ that can lead to osteoporosis. For sufferers it can be devastating, with falls and associated bone fractures leading to hospitalisations and a decreased capacity to enjoy life. For the elderly, the outcomes can be catastrophic and even life threatening.

Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include increased age, gender (higher risk in women due to reduced oestrogen levels post menopause), low vitamin D levels, family history, low body weight, smoking and being physically inactive.

To be strong, bones require calcium, vitamin D and weight bearing exercise. According to the Arthritis and Osteoporosis WA Foundation, fewer than half of Australian adults get their daily recommended intake of calcium. Our bodies’ calcium requirements differ between men and women, children and the elderly. It is a good idea to discuss your calcium and vitamin D levels with your regular GP, who can arrange testing if necessary. It’s also important to educate ourselves on calcium rich foods, how to increase our vitamin D levels and what exercise is good for our bones.

Maintaining a healthy weight range is a critical factor in the management and prevention of osteoporosis. WLC’s dietitian Andrea Kunneke can provide nutritional guidance on a balanced diet which includes calcium rich foods as well as helping you achieve and maintain a healthy weight range. If you are a smoker and drink alcohol, your GP may suggest you consider quitting or cutting back as both of these activities are considered risk factors for developing osteoporosis.

Additionally, excessive consumption of caffeine and soft drinks containing phosphates, combined with a diet high in animal proteins can impact on how well we absorb calcium, making it important to monitor and limit how much of these we consume.

Another critical preventive and management practice is to undertake bone strengthening exercise and training. Weight-bearing exercise, brisk walking and muscle-building activities all help with building bone density, combined with balance training to help with stability and reduce the risk of falls. Our physiotherapist Adam Johnston can assist with creating an exercise program appropriate to your needs and abilities. He also offers Body Composition Analysis which can inform decisions related to healthy exercise and weight management.

Prevention consists of a series of small actions over time as a means of maintaining a rich quality of life. As Benjamin Franklin wisely put it in 1736, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.