The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that 80 percent of people suffering from osteoporosis are women. Nicknamed “the silent disease” for having no symptoms or signs in its early stages, osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to grow weak and brittle.

After age 35-40, all adults begin to lose bone as the body’s natural breaking down process begins to overwhelm its building process. However, women are particularly susceptible to bone loss because menopause brings a decrease in the production of estrogen, a key hormone in keeping bones strong.

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 hip, spine, and wrist. It’s important to take the initiative to slow the natural bone loss that comes with aging.

Keeping “The Silent Disease” at Bay

By Laura Childers

Steps to Take

Take calcium supplements. During midlife, women need 1,000 mg of elemental calcium a day. After menopause, this need rises to 1,200 mg daily. If you decide to take a calcium supplement, make sure you also take vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium from the intestines. The recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is 600 IU/day and 800 IU/day for adults starting at age 70.

Eat a healthy diet. Other nutrients—protein and foods rich in vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc—can 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. Keep those bones strong by exercising for at least 30 minutes three times a week.

Limit alcohol intake. Too much alcohol prevents the body from absorbing calcium properly. Keep it to one drink a day.

Don’t let depression linger. Studies have suggested that specific hormonal changes associated with depression may lead to bone loss. See a doctor or therapist for treatment.

Treatments and Drugs

Today, the most widely prescribed medications for osteoporosis are bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that prevent the loss of bone mass.

For many years, hormone replacement therapy has been 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— particularly estrogen—used over a short period of time determined by a doctor, can be beneficial in reducing the risk of osteoporosis.

However, research 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 and heart disease.

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.