Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to gradually become weaker and more brittle. Osteo means of or relating to the bones, and porous means full of tiny holes, or pores. A woman who has osteoporosis has a decreased bone mineral density (BMD) — the amount of matter per cubic centimeter of bones.

More Likely Among Women

By Jenni Frankenberg Veal

Bones affected by osteoporosis do not have enough solid calcium and phosphorus and steadily lose their supporting protein framework. They become thinner and break more easily, particularly in the spine, hip and wrist.

Between 35 and 40, all adults begin to lose bone as the breaking down process overwhelms the building process. When going through menopause, women often lose bone quickly. This is because women stop producing as much estrogen, a key hormone in keeping bones strong.

Prevention

A woman can take steps to slow the natural bone loss that comes with aging and prevent her bones from becoming weak and brittle.

Get enough calcium each day. During midlife, both women and men need 1,000 mg of elemental calcium a day. This need rises to 1,500 to 2,000 mg daily for women after menopause. Because most people don’t get enough calcium in their diets, supplements are recommended.

Get enough vitamin D each day. One of the ways the body uses vitamin D is to help absorb calcium from the intestines. Vitamin D is either made in the body from exposure to sunlight or is taken through foods. The recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is 400 IU.

Eat a healthy diet. Other nutrients (protein and foods rich in vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc) help build strong bones. Look online for bone-friendly food ideas.

Exercise. A regular program of weight-bearing exercise helps stop further bone loss and may be one of the few ways a woman can build bone as she ages. Exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week.

Drink alcohol moderately. Too much alcohol prevents the body from absorbing calcium properly. Women should limit themselves to one drink a day.

Don’t let depression linger. Depression causes the body to produce cortisol, a stressrelated hormone that saps minerals from bones. See a doctor or therapist for treatment.

Osteoporosis and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Menopause or surgical removal of the ovaries causes estrogen production to decrease, making women vulnerable to osteoporosis. For many years, hormone replacement therapy was routinely given to women at menopause to aid in the prevention of osteoporosis. According to the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic, hormone replacement therapy used over a short period of time determined by a doctor can be beneficial in reducing the risk of osteoporosis. The FDA also says hormone therapy can be used to reduce the chance of osteoporosis when used in a short period of time (not defined by the FDA).

Research, however, conducted by the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) in 2002 found that combined hormone replacement therapy (the use of both estrogen and progestin) may increase the risk of breast cancer, stroke, heart attack and blood clots, and estrogen taken alone may increase risk of stroke and venous thrombosis (a blood clot usually in a deep vein of legs). The FDA acknowledges this research.

Whether to begin hormone replacement therapy is a decision every woman must make for herself. A woman should try to learn all she can about the facts, benefits and risks.