Sticks and stones may break your bones, as the old saying goes, but a far more
likely culprit is osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis-or porous bone-is a disease in which bones become fragile and more
likely to break, which puts its victims at an increased risk for fractures of
the hip, spine, and wrist.
Current figures show osteoporosis is a threat to 28 million Americans,
80 percent of whom are women. In the United States, 10 million people already
have the disease, and 18 million more have low bone mass, placing them at increased
risk for osteoporosis.
"Osteoporosis often is called the 'silent disease' because symptoms
might not appear until your bones become so brittle that you suffer a broken
bone after a fall or even a bump," says Hartmut Malluche, M.D., chief of
nephrology, bone, and mineral metabolism at the University of Kentucky Chandler
Medical Center. The disease is responsible for about 1.5 million fractures annually
in the United States.
In Kentucky, the rate of osteoporosis is slightly higher than the national
average, probably because of the high smoking rate in the state, Malluche says.
It's estimated that by 75 years of age, 90 percent of women in Kentucky have
No definitive cure has been found for advanced osteoporosis, and prevention
should begin early. "It's important to build up the peak bone mass at the
time of the completion of growth," Malluche says. That means prevention
begins in the adolescent years when bone is forming, making teen smoking even
Getting enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet, particularly as a
child and adolescent, can build strong bone, helping stave off the disease.
"The average American diet is relatively low in calcium. It's important
to get between 1,000 and 1,500 milligrams of elemental calcium per day, including
dietary intake," Malluche explains.
Weight-bearing exercise such as walking also has been shown to help
prevent bone loss.
The disease is detected through bone density tests, which painlessly
measure bone density in various parts of the body. If a problem is found, several
new medications are available to prevent and/or treat the disease, although
nothing completely restores bone loss.
"As baby boomers get older, osteoporosis is going to become more
common, so we're just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg," Malluche
says. "Especially for women, it's important to talk with your doctor about
preventing osteoporosis-and to do it early."