5 Myths about Healthy Bones & Osteoporosis
- Osteoporosis is only in older people.
- It’s genetic – I’m either going to get it or not
- As long as I drink milk or eat cheese every day I’ll avoid getting Osteoporosis.
- As long as I do some weight bearing exercise once a month I won’t get it.
- If I do get it, I can take medications for it.
- Officially declared a “major health problem” in the U.S., osteoporosis affects 1/2 of older adults (50 or over), especially post-menopausal women more than any other. But the density of one’s bones is established in the young adult years, typically peaking in the mid to late 20’s. So ignoring it or NOT behaving in ways that maximize bone density – such as adequate exercise & proper nutrition – in the teens and 20’s is a big gamble! Side note: recent statistics show that in the U.S. the prevalence and early onset of osteoporosis will continue to increase with trends towards less physical activity (increased sitting) and poorer overall nutrition.
- Genetics definitely plays a role. You cannot change your body (frame) size, your ethnicity, or your family history – all factors that influence your risk of developing Osteoporosis. But just like every tissue in our body, bone is in a constant state of cellular remodel (new bone cells are built to replace old ones). As we get older, however, the production line gets a bit slower and can’t keep up with demand, so bone cell deterioration out-paces replacement. This sounds hopeless & depressing, but it’s an opportunity for influence! Also like other bodily tissues, bone is constantly responding to it’s environment. So, increasing weight bearing exercise along with adequate intake of bone-building minerals, good overall nutrition, & a healthy gut to maximize mineral absorption can help tremendously.
- Calcium & Vitamin D are the key players here and must be in plentiful supply for bones to even have a fighting chance. Yes, dairy products have high levels of Calcium, however there are other foods that have as much or more Calcium per gram. Because many people cannot (or have trouble) digesting dairy foods, these other foods should be added in as much as possible: collard greens, sardines, broccoli rabi, kale, and Calcium fortified milk alternatives like almond or rice milk. As for Vitamin D the highest concentrations are in fatty fish and fish liver oils, such as salmon & cod liver oil. Just 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil contains 340% of your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin D!
- This is definitely the other very important piece: weight bearing, or load-compression, exercise. Bone responds to the stresses it is subjected to. So if it’s being repeatedly stressed, and even better if it’s in various planes or directions (think bending or twisting, but not too far!) it will respond by triggering bone-building cells called osteoclasts to get workin’. Safe bone-building exercises come in many different forms & variations. What’s best depends on a person’s age and body type, exercise history, presence of high fracture-risk areas, and actual bone density. The important thing is to get evaluated by a specialist before starting any program. Then, once started, that it’s done REGULARLY-at least 3x / week. Our Physical Therapists can help guide this process AND design a safe & effective bone-building exercise program for any level of fitness or function.
- Several osteoporosis medication options exist with varied levels of success and severity of side effects. Most studies done by the drug manufacturers show a statistically significant improvement in a percentage of the population to make it worth the risks of the side effects. However, many of the listed side effects are quite serious, life-altering, and more harmful than the potential benefits they pose in many patients. As such, a serious and frank conversation with the prescribing medical practitioner should begin prior to any medications being taken.
As with any health issue or disorder, I strongly recommend finding out as much as possible about a person’s family history related to osteoporosis, including: a). who, if anyone, has(had) it; b). what age were they when they got it or got diagnosed with it; c). did they ever experience a fracture and if so what was fractured and was there another indirect cause (i.e. a trip or loss-of-balance-related fall)? This information can be incredibly insightful in helping not only predict risk or onset age, but also help see other risk factors that strongly contribute to life-altering events related to osteoporosis, like fractures.
Secondly, getting a bone density test is a good idea – even if you’re not worried or have cause to worry, it gives you a baseline measurement so if / when you get another test years down the road you’ll know which direction your bones are going…