8 Osteoporosis Myths Debunked

Friday, March 25th, 2016, 8:05 pm

Get the Facts on Osteoporosis

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), more than 50 million people in the United States have osteoporosis, but myths about it still persist. It’s a condition in which bones become brittle, fragile, and more vulnerable to fractures, and it’s not something to take lightly.
Osteoporosis is a major cause of disability in senior citizens and can take a serious toll on quality of life. It’s a significant contributor to hip fractures, which the International Osteoporosis Foundation projects will increase 310 percent in men and 240 percent in women by the year 2050. But there’s good news, too: It’s never too late to start thinking about preventing osteoporosis or even managing osteoporosis if you already have it — as long as you can separate fact from fiction.

Myth: Everyone Gets Osteoporosis as They Age

Not exactly true. Bone mass peaks at about age 25 or 30 and starts to drop at about age 40, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. As you age, bone calcium and other minerals decrease. Bones look like a honeycomb, and the holes grow as bone is lost. But building strong bones early on can help reduce osteoporosis risk. To help build strong bone, get plenty of calcium and vitamin D, do weight-bearing exercises, and avoid excess alcohol and smoking, says Shireen Fatemi, MD, an endocrinologist at Kaiser Permanente in Panorama City, California.

Myth: Osteoporosis Isn’t Serious

A broken bone heals, you say, so what’s the problem? Osteoporosis is a serious condition and means more than time spent in a cast. More than 250,000 seniors are hospitalized annually as a result of a hip fracture, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And hip fractures among the elderly have a high mortality rate: 10 percent within one month and 30 percent within one year, according to a report published in September 2014 in the journal BMJ Quality Improvement Reports. It’s also a major cause of loss of independence and mobility, Dr. Fatemi says.

Myth: Only Women Get Osteoporosis

Although it’s true that women are at greater risk, men are at risk of developing osteoporosis, as well. Fatemi says that osteoporosis is typically observed in women earlier and more often, usually because of lack of estrogen when menopause begins. “Oftentimes men aren’t educated about or evaluated for this condition, which usually appears later in life for them,” she says. But about 2 million men in the United States have osteoporosis and about 12 million more are at risk for the condition, the NOF says. After age 50, up to one in four men will have an osteoporosis-related bone fracture.

Myth: I’m Too Young to Worry About Osteoporosis

You’re never too young to build more bone — and preserve it for later. “The myth about not needing to worry about bone health until we’re older is because that’s when osteoporosis generally occurs and we have medication to help treat it,” Fatemi says. “But many people don’t know that daily calcium and vitamin D are needed to help build new bone when old bone is broken down.” During childhood, old bone is broken down and new bone is built each day, so calcium and vitamin D are essential throughout the years, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Myth: I’m Thin and Healthy, so My Bones are Fine.

While being thin can be good for many aspects of health, it can actually mean you’re at a greater risk for osteoporosis. Having a slight, thin build is a risk factor for the condition, and so is being underweight. Having a body mass index (BMI) of less than 21 or having a low body weight in general boosts your osteoporosis risk. If you’re naturally slender, focus on preventive strategies to keep your bones strong.

Myth: If I Have Osteoporosis, I Would Feel It.

It’s hard to imagine having a condition that could lead to a  fracture and not feeling a thing. But osteoporosis is known as a “silent” condition, Fatemi says. Thinning bones aren’t painful, but a fracture is. The first sign of osteoporosis is often a broken bone, says the NOF. Other symptoms can be very subtle, such as losing height or developing a slight curve to the spine.

Myth: Only a Fall Can Break a Bone

When bones are thin and weakened by osteoporosis, it doesn’t take much to break them. “Fragility fractures can result from falls, heavy lifting, trauma, or even stepping or twisting the wrong way,” Fatemi says. A broken bone that comes from a minor trauma rather than a major fall could be a significant warning sign that you may have osteoporosis.

Myth: I’ve Been Diagnosed With Osteoporosis, so It’s Too Late.

False. You can still take steps to keep bones strong even after being diagnosed with osteoporosis. “There are medications available that can help maintain and build bone strength,” Fatemi says. Make sure you get 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily, the NOF recommends. Dairy products, fortified foods (such as oatmeal and orange juice), and canned fish with bones are good sources of calcium. Also get 400 to 1,000 international units of vitamin D (depending on your age) daily through fortified foods (such as milk), safe sun exposure, and dietary supplements. And start a regular bone-building workout regimen: walk, lift weights, or climb stairs, the NIH suggests.

For more information on Osteoporosis, please visit EverydayHealth.com.

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