Osteoporosis afflicts more than 8 million women and 2 million men. More than 80 percent of osteoporosis sufferers are women; osteoporosis affects half of all women over the age of fifty and almost 90 percent of those over the age of seventy-five. Five to 20 percent of women die each year due to osteoporosis-related complications. Osteoporosis is a brittle-bone disease that increases the risk of bone fractures later in life.

Your Risks for Osteoporosis
Menopause is the single greatest risk for osteoporosis; others include gender, age, family history, hormone deficiencies, low calcium intake, excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption, and cigarette smoking. Estrogen helps prevent bone loss and works together with calcium and other hormones and minerals to help build bones. When women hit menopause and are not making as much estrogen, their risk for osteoporosis increases. The key is trying to prevent osteoporosis in your younger years, instead of creating it after menopause. The stronger and healthier your bones are when you enter menopause, the more bone mass you will have to sustain you as you age.

Bone loss varies from woman to woman. Osteoporosis prevention should include a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. From childhood through early adulthood, adequate calcium helps build bone mass; in the late postmenopausal years, eating plenty of calcium-rich foods and taking a calcium supplement can help slow bone loss. Experts also recommend participating in weight-bearing type exercises, such as walking and avoiding smoking and excessive caffeine intake.

Fact: The RDA for women after menopause, who are not taking hormone replacement therapy, is 1,500 mg of calcium daily; for women who do take HRT, the RDA is 1,200 mg of calcium.

How to Handle Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis has no actual cure, but you can take some treatments and preventive measures to help slow or reverse bone loss and help prevent fractures. Try some of these tips:

  • Increase your calcium intake to 1,000-1,500 mg per day. As you age, your body absorbs and uses calcium less efficiently. Foods high in calcium include dairy foods, green leafy vegetables, shellfish, sardines with bones, oysters, brazil nuts, fortified tofu, and almonds. Many foods are available on the market today that are fortified with calcium, such as orange juice, breads, breakfast cereals, and soy milk.
  • Weight-bearing exercise that actually puts weight on your bones—such as weight resistance training, walking, jogging, aerobic dance, or tennis—can help promote bone health.
  • Consult your doctor about whether taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is right for you. Combined with exercise and adequate calcium, HRT may help prevent bone loss, but the benefits may not outweigh the risks.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake (about 40 mg extra dietary calcium is needed to offset the amount of calcium lost from one cup of coffee).
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. People who drink heavily have less bone mass and lose bone more rapidly.
  • Stop smoking. People who smoke have a greater risk of fracture. Also, women who smoke have lower estrogen levels, which is what helps protect you from osteoporosis.
It is advised that women be evaluated for osteoporosis if they fracture easily, are sixty-five or older, or are menopausal with other risk factors. If left completely untreated, a postmenopausal woman can lose 10 to 40 percent of bone mass between the ages of fifty and sixty.

Copyright © 2002 by Kimberly A. Tessmer. Excerpted from The Everything Nutrition Book: Boost Energy, Prevent Illness, and Live Longer with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

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