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Nearly half of all American women end up with this silent disease. So do one in every four men. It attacks as many women as breast, ovarian and uterine cancer combined. It’s more common among men than prostate cancer. What is it? And how high is your risk?   Read more

 


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The literal translation of osteoporosis is “porous bones,” which perfectly describes the process by which bone density diminishes. Small holes develop, making bones ten times more susceptible to thin fractures and breaks.

 

Frequently covered in health magazine articles and prevalent across ages and ethnic groups, osteoporosis nonetheless remains a tough disease to understand and an even tougher one to treat.

 

Ask most people what they know about the problem and you’ll probably hear two things. First, osteoporosis hits women after menopause. Second, it can be prevented by drinking a lot of milk (or, alternatively, taking a calcium supplement).

 

Both statements are partially true. Nevertheless, when you look closer at the science behind the ideas, things get more complicated… 

 

Although osteoporosis “favors” women, it’s certainly not rare among men. In fact, 20 percent of all adults who have the disease are male. Experts estimate that an additional 12 million men are at significant risk due to low testosterone levels combined with not enough exercise.  

 

Osteoporosis and menopause are closely linked, because both correlate to a sharp drop in estrogen, the female hormone known to encourage healthy bone development. Still, for various lifestyle and genetic reasons, osteopenia (early bone deterioration) can occur in girls as early as the onset of puberty.

 

Research also links osteoporosis to eating disorders. Since 85 percent of adult bone mass develops during our late teens and early 20’s—exactly the time when 76 percent of reported eating disorders begin—young people with conditions such as bulimia and anorexia never reach peak density. Fully two-thirds of them suffer from osteopenia; and they are all at permanently increased risk for osteoporosis.

  

As for calcium: research is beginning to reveal that it’s not quite the magic preventative we once imagined. For starters, Asian and African populations generally consume very little calcium in their diets; yet they suffer fractures associated with osteoporosis 50 to 70 percent less often than Americans who consume much higher levels of both dairy and calcium.

 

And in a 2007 study, researchers at Harvard University analyzed seven trials involving more than 170,000 women, only to find no association between total calcium intake and risk of hip fracture.

 

The good news is that naturally healthy habits can take you a great distance in lowering your risk. In fact, some of the most instructive research concludes that what we put into our body strongly correlates to the strength of our bones. So follow these five basic guidelines:

 

Healthy Alternatives for Calcium

 

Lower your animal protein and grain intake. A diet high in animal protein and grains makes your blood more acidic (partly due to the amino acids in these foods). That prompts your body into trying to neutralize the acidity. How? By stealing some of the calcium stored in your bones. So it’s easy to see why, over time, a diet high in animal protein and grains can lead to osteoporosis.

 

Eat more fruits and vegetables. In 85 percent of all studies that have looked at how these foods impact risk, research finds that increased fruit and vegetable intake improves bone density.

Eat in proper proportion. It takes three servings of fruits or vegetables to neutralize the blood acidity produced by one intake of animal protein. And for each serving of grain, it takes two servings of fruit or veggies to neutralize acidity.

 

Don’t rely on dairy alone for calcium. Consuming dairy does provide calcium, but calcium from animal sources contains high levels of acid. Better to consume non-dairy calcium-rich foods.

 

Start targeted weight training. It promotes bone strength and is a wonderfully effective treatment for knee and hip problems. It also strengthens surrounding muscles, making them better able to support your body frame and weight. This reduces the burden on your hips and decreases your risk of a fall or fracture.

 

 
Quick Takes Quick Takes
 

►In 2005, osteoporosis-related fractures accounted for almost $19 billion in healthcare cost nationwide. Experts predict that cost to rise to over $25 billion by 2020.

 

►Over half of all Caucasian and Asian women suffer from low bone density; and 20 percent already have osteoporosis.

 

► Black and Latina women have less genetic risk, but are more likely to be lactose intolerant. So it’s harder for them to absorb bone-strengthening calcium. 

 

► If a fracture occurs, water workouts are a great way to start exercising again! In a pool set to around 85 degrees, the water soothes joints, supports your weight and helps build range of motion.

 

 

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