Every year, about 1.5 million people in the United States break a bone that has been weakened by osteoporosis. And the disease – in which bone tissue is not replaced as rapidly as it naturally breaks down – affects more women than men. About four of every 10 white women who are at least 50 years old will eventually break a hip, spine or wrist. (1)
But while the disease is more common among white women, it affects men and women of all races. What’s worse, many people don’t even know they have osteoporosis until they break a bone. For people who are particularly frail or elderly, a broken bone can lead to a deterioration in their physical and mental health that leads to death, particularly within the first year after a fracture. (1)
“That’s the bad news,” said Dr. Karl L. Insogna, a Professor of Medicine at Yale Medical School and Director of Yale Bone Center. “The good news is that there are many things girls can do from a very young age to help prevent the development of osteoporosis. And even for adults, it’s never too late to start doing the right things.”
Normal bones (left) are dense and strong, making them less likely to fracture. Bones weakened by osteoporosis (right) are less dense, and more prone to breaking.
Women are born with less bone mass than men, and they lose it faster, especially after menopause. White women in particular are highly susceptible to rapid loss of bone density. According to a 1998 study, white women lose 1/3 of their bone mass density between the ages of 20 and 80. Men over that same period lose only 1/4 of their bone mass density. (2)
Dr. Insogna, one of WHRY’s earliest grant recipients, said the goal is to act as early as possible.
“Bones need calcium for regular growth and maintenance,” he said. “And the body needs vitamin D to help absorb that calcium. The sun’s rays on the skin create vitamin D, though for many people it’s not advisable or practical to be regularly exposed to the sun, and they should eat foods rich in vitamin D instead.”
Exercise also plays an important role in building core strength and balance to reduce the risk of falling. Aerobic exercise can help, but Dr. Insogna said it’s more important to maintain balance and strengthen muscles in the abdomen, back, and pelvis.
After menopause, women should see their health care provider about a bone mineral density test to see if they are on track for avoiding osteoporosis.
“So many of my patients are stunned to learn they have osteoporosis,” Insogna said. “But with the proper diet and regular exercise, it’s something many people can avoid.”
- Office of the Surgeon General (US). Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville (MD): Office of the Surgeon General (US); 2004. 4, The Frequency of Bone Disease.
- Looker AC, Wahner HW, Dunn WL, Calvo MS, Harris TB, Heyse SP, Johnston CC Jr, Lindsay R. Updated data on proximal femur bone mineral levels of US adults. Osteoporosis Int. 1998;8(5):468–9.