Breaking Free of Osteoporosis

May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month

By Shanna Hogan

One out of every two women and one in four men over the age of 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention month. Deb Sietsema, PhD, RN director of Bone Health Clinical Operations at the Arizona-based The CORE Institute, is encouraging everyone to know the risks and seek early detection for osteoporosis.

“Unless there are risk factors or a history of osteoporosis, women over the age of 65 and men over the age of 70 should have bone density scans every two years, Dr. Sietsema says.

“There really aren’t any warning signs for osteoporosis because you can’t feel it,” she says. “Until you have a fracture, you don’t necessarily know… [Bone density scans] would help them to know what their bone density is and, with the guidance of a physician, make some changes at that point if they haven’t already.”

It is particularly important for seniors who are at a greater risk of falls, which can lead to bone fractures.

“The reality is after a hip fracture, anywhere from 25 to 33 percent of people die within a year, and the remainder may have significant reduction in their quality of life,” she says. “We want to prevent fractures among seniors by monitoring and improving their bone health.”

About 80 percent of osteoporosis cases impact women, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Although women experience osteoporosis earlier than men, everyone is at risk.

“It effects woman more than men because it starts earlier for women,” she says. “That’s due to the changes in hormones earlier on for women. That loss of estrogen affects bones.”

Inadequate nutrition, lack of exercise, low body weight, smoking and drinking alcohol are all risk factors that could lead to low bone density. Eliminating these factors can help achieve stronger bones.

“For the older adults, we also want to consider their environment and preventing falls,” she says. “Seniors should wear shoes with good traction and always watch for slippery surfaces. In the home, they should reduce clutter and make sure nightlights are available.”

Proper nutrition and physical activity including weight-bearing activities such as walking, hiking, stair climbing, jogging or lifting weights are also important to preventing broken bones as people age.

“There’s a lot people can do,” Dr. Sietsema says. “They need to be aware of that and take responsibility.”

Nutrition and Bone Health

A healthy, balanced diet rich in vitamins is crucial to maintaining strong bones.

“The most important thing for healthy bones is really to have a well rounded nutritional plan,” said Tracy Garrett, a registered dietitian nutritionist with the Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing. “It is of the utmost importance.”

Vitamin D and calcium—which the body cannot produce on its own—is of paramount importance. Adults over 51 and older should consume 1,000 to 1,200 mgs of calcium a day. Individuals diagnosed with osteoporosis should get 1,500 mgs.

While high calcium dairy foods, like low fat or nonfat milk, cheese and yogurt, are often most associated with strengthening bones, consuming a well-balanced diet with five to nine servings of vegetables and fruits provides important bone building nutrients that promotes calcium retention.

“Most people associate bone health with calcium and vitamin D, or drinking milk,” Tracy says. “But we’ve learned fruits and vegetables are very important.”

It is also important to avoid foods extremely high in sodium and protein, which can have a negative effect on bones as well.

“For older individuals, the No. 1 goal is to keep the bones we have healthy,” she says. “Between physical activity and nutrition, we can really make an impact on someone’s bone health as they get older.”

Your Personal Health Checklist For Osteoporosis

  • Ensure a nutritious diet, including foods rich in calcium such as milk, low-fat cheese, yogurt, almonds and broccoli
  • Avoid under-nutrition by eating appropriate portion sizes
  • Maintain an adequate supply of vitamin D through brief exposure to sunlight, balanced diet and/or a Vitamin D supplement  if recommended by your physician
  • Participate in regular weight-bearing activity at least 3 times per week, such as walking, dancing, lifting weights or jogging
  • Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke
  • Avoid heavy drinking (greater than 2 drinks per day)
  • Talk to your physician about having a painless bone mineral density (BMD) scan. For seniors, Medicare will cover a BMD scan, also known as a DEXA scan, every 24 months or more frequently if medically necessary.
  • Notify your physician if you have had more than one fall in the past year. Falls can be the result of visual changes, medication side effects or muscular weakness. Some of these issues can be corrected and may help prevent future falls and fractures.

Source: Compiled from International Osteoporosis Foundation educational materials, 2012. Visit for more information.

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