As we age we know our body follows suit, and a big part of that process happens to be in our bones. They lose mass over time, becoming more fragile and weak. Although this is symptomatic of growing older, there are a number of Canadians who suffer from a larger risk of bone loss due to osteoporosis.
“Understanding osteoporosis today is the first step in helping prevent future bone loss and separating fact from fiction.”
A debilitating (and oftentimes undetected) condition, osteoporosis happens when bones become porous, meaning overall density is greatly reduced. Progressively, bones become more brittle, which can lead to a higher risk of fracture. As many as two million people in Canada suffer from this degenerative disease, but when it comes to understanding the facts of osteoporosis, many feel left in the dark. Being able to differentiate between truth and fiction can be challenging, mostly because so many sources exist, some of which aren’t based on actual fact.
Understanding osteoporosis today is the first step in helping prevent future bone loss and separating fact from fiction can help with proper treatment should you or a loved one receive the diagnosis. Dr. Famida Jiwa, president and CEO, Osteoporosis Canada, helps dispel some of the more common myths about bone health.
Myth: Osteoporosis is a woman’s disease
Yes, there is prevalence towards women and osteoporosis because, as women age, their hormonal balance changes: Estrogen levels drop and that will dictate more bone loss. But, as Dr. Jiwa stipulates, this by no means suggests it’s only women who deal with osteoporosis. In fact, one area where diagnosed men outrank women, is in fatality rates after breaking a hip: Statistics show 37 percent of men die in the first year following this kind of mishap.
Myth: I exercise regularly and also eat well, so I can’t be at risk.
Exercise is good for overall body health, but when it comes to building bone strength, weight-bearing exercises are best. Those may include: weight training, walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis and dancing. Swimming and cycle are not weighBone requires that “gravitational push within the bones to create more density,” says Dr. Jiwa.
Eating well is also part of the equation, but a good diet for bone strength is one that is rich in vitamin D and calcium. According to Dr. Jiwa, no matter how much you eat your greens and veggies, getting the recommended dosage of vitamin D and calcium to stave off osteoporosis is a challenge not often met. Supplements are likely needed. Consult with your physician or pharmacist about recommended dosage.
Beyond diet and exercise, there are other factors that could increase your risk for osteoporosis:
- Family history: Having a parent who had osteoporosis or broken a hip, puts you at higher risk.
- Alcohol consumption: Too much can diminish your bone strength.
- Glucocorticoid therapy: If you’re currently using glucocorticoid therapy (i.e. prednisone) to treat such conditions as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, colitis and obstructive pulmonary disease, your bone health may be compromised.
Myth: I’ve got osteoporosis and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Fortunately, this is a false claim, says Dr. Jiwa. It’s never too late to take steps to stop further bone loss. For one, increasing your calcium and vitamin D intake works, while also committing to a regime of weight training and therapeutic options, which could include medications prescribed by a doctor.
They might include a drugs that fall under the bisphosphonates category. These medications put the brakes on further breakdown of bone. Newer drug therapies can actually help rebuild bone and hormones may be prescribed to prevent bone deterioration.
Myth: Osteoporosis only affects older people.
Both men and women reach peak bone mass in their early 20s, but once we hit our mid-30s it starts to fall naturally. For Dr. Jiwa, educating yourself on the importance of bone health should start much earlier life instead of waiting until our 60s, or worse yet, we fracture a bone.
“People look at osteoporosis as a diffused disease without really understanding what it is,” she says. “If we can educate people on the risks, they will likely work to improve their bone health in those earlier years.”
She gives the example of falling on ice. If you fall, the blame automatically goes to the ice, not the bone. For Dr. Jiwa, we need do a better job of connecting the dots. If I fall, my body should have the integrity to hold without breaking a bone. If it doesn’t, then it’s something that needs to be investigated further.