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Can you lower your risk of developing osteoporosis?

24 November, 2014
The term osteoporosis has its origins in Greek and it literally means porous bones. Osteoporosis occurs when bones decline in density and become brittle and fragile, increasing the risk of fractures and other bone injuries. Osteoporosis is a common bone disease in the developed world, and it affects around twice as many women as men.
There are things that everyone can do to reduce their risk of osteoporosis, including adding more calcium to their diet and exercising more.

Recognising the symptoms of osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is usually a silent condition that causes no pain or physical symptoms. Many people are unaware that they have it until they experience a fracture. Fractures are common in the spine, wrist, and hips, legs and feet, but can also occur in other parts of the body such as the arm or the pelvis. With advanced cases of osteoporosis, even minor slips, bumps, or falls can lead to fractures of the bone.

Fractures may require hospitalisation and extended periods of rest. They can also result in permanent disability, and only half of osteoporosis-caused fractures recover full mobility. A bone density scan can help you find out whether or not you have osteoporosis.

In Australia, two out of three women and one in every three men over the age of 60 will break a bone due to osteoporosis at some stage. These rates will increase as the population ages.


What causes osteoporosis?

Bone mass in humans start declining from the age of 30-35 years old. In some people, the rate of this decline will occur more quickly. Nutritional deficiencies can amplify the process, but genetics are said to have the strongest impact on bone health. Though osteoporosis isn’t, strictly speaking, inherited, it does tend to run in families.

In women, bone mass decline tends to speed up in post-menopausal women. This is caused by a decline in the level of oestrogen. People on low-calcium diets can also experience bone-density loss, and low calcium absorption and a vitamin D deficiency can also lead to osteoporosis. As such, including high-calcium foods in your diet and making sure you get enough sunlight is very important.

Caffeine intake of three or more cups of coffee or tea (or the equivalent) per day is also associated with a higher risk of osteoporosis.

Other factors that may affect the onset of osteoporosis include alcohol consumption, smoking cigarettes, and the use of medicines. Alcohol and cigarettes can speed up bone-density loss, while certain medications – such as cortico-steroids or anti-convulsants for arthritis or asthma – can also have a negative impact on bone density.

Hormonal diseases or thyroid conditions can also contribute to osteoporosis, while conditions such as chronic liver and kidney disease can also put you at higher risk of developing osteoporosis.


Diagnosing osteoporosis

The most accurate and reliable method for diagnosing osteoporosis is using a dual-energy absorptiometry (DXA) scan. The DXA scan is a fast, painless scan that can tell you the density of your bones.

Before this stage, it’s common for your medical practitioner to check your hip and spine to determine whether you have osteoporosis, though they may check other areas as well. In some cases, the cost of DXA scan can be claimed back through Medicare.


Treatment options

Treatment options for osteoporosis will depend on your specific needs and how advanced the condition is. Your health practitioner will probably recommend that you make diet and lifestyle adjustments. They may also prescribe medication as a part of your treatment.

Common medicines used to treat the condition include bisphosphonates, selective oestrogen receptor modulators, denosumabs, testosterone therapy, hormone replacement therapy, and parathyroid hormone. These work to slow down the breakdown of bone and/or stimulate new bone formation, so that bone loss can be slowed down.



Preventing osteoporosis

Both men and women can start from an early age to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

  • Diet – A healthy, varied diet that emphasises whole grains, fresh fruit, and vegetables could prevent osteoporosis.
  • High calcium foods – Eating more calcium-rich foods will also lower the risk of you developing the condition. Dairy foods, sardines, spinach, and almonds are all high in calcium.
  • Calcium supplements – Calcium supplements can be used to enrich your calcium intake if your diet does not provide sufficient calcium. Adults should be consuming 1,000 mg of calcium each day. Postmenopausal women and men over the age of 70 should have 1,300 mg per day, and children need a similar amount.
  • Sunlight – Getting enough Vitamin D can also lower the risk of osteoporosis. Humans obtain Vitamin D directly from the sun, and a moderate amount of sun exposure is safe as long as you follow sun-safety guidelines. You can also get a small amount of Vitamin D from foods such as fatty fish, liver, eggs, and fortified foods.
  • Caffeine – Moderating or eliminating the consumption of caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee can have a positive benefit.
  • Smoking – Avoiding or quitting smoking can lower the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Alcohol consumption – Lowering the consumption of alcohol can also have benefits for bone health.
  • Exercise – Staying physically active can help, as can doing regular weight-bearing and strength-training exercises. Weight-bearing exercises include dance, jogging, and walking.

For more information regarding an osteoporosis program, contact our Health & Wellness team on 02 9843 7620 or 02 9685 7567. Alternatively email


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