We take them for granted, but our skeletons hold us together – and if we don't look after them, they could break.
Many of those with osteoporosis - in which the inner mesh of tiny struts of bone becomes thin, fragile and prone to break after a minor bump, are unaware they have the condition until their first fracture (usually of a wrist, hip or spinal bone).
There are about 300,000 fragility fractures every year in the UK, and a shocking 1,150 people are dying every month as a result of hip fractures.
The most commonly known risk factors for osteoporosis are genes, gender (50% of women over the age of 50, compared with one in five men, will break bones due to poor bone health), low body weight, and age - by 75, about half of age-group will have osteoporosis.
But there are many other risks too, risks many people are unaware of – or may even be actively increasing.
Reduce your risk factors
- Excessive drinking or smoking, as alcohol and nicotine appear to have a toxic effect on bone-building cells.
- Not getting enough calcium and vitamin D, which help build strong, dense bones, especially when you're young. “When you're young it's the magic time when we're building our bones,” explains Thomson. “Getting this message across to young people while they have the luxury of being able to influence their bone density is hugely important, but really problematic, as we're not talking about something that's going to affect them now, it will affect them when they're a lot older.”
- Excessive exercise can reduce hormone levels, and low levels of oestrogen are an osteoporosis risk factor. This lowered oestrogen may also be caused by early menopause, hysterectomy with removal of ovaries before the age of 45, and anorexia nervosa. Thomson adds that ‘weight-bearing exercise’ – where your body supports your own weight, so everything from running or dancing - is a good way to help ward off osteoporosis.
- Drinking more than three cups of coffee every day may interfere with calcium absorption and cause bone loss.
- Some chronic illnesses, and general medications, can also up the risk of brittle bones. In terms of illnesses, experts flag up rheumatoid arthritis, hyperthyroidism, and parathyroid disease, when levels of thyroid hormone and parathyroid hormone are abnormally high, plus gastro conditions that affect the absorption of food, for example, Crohns or coeliac disease. The risky medications include steroid tablets for more than three months, anti-epileptic drugs, and certain breast cancer treatments and prostate cancer drugs.
For more information about osteoporosis, visit www.nos.org.uk
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