Osteoporosis Risk Often Overlooked

Half of women 50 and older and 20% of men will break a bone because of osteoporosis at some point in their lives.

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Numerous health organizations state that osteoporosis is widely under-diagnosed in older adults. Among them is the National Osteoporosis Foundation, which stated recently that it is “often left undiagnosed and untreated” despite its devastating consequences.

The foundation stated that breaking a hip often contributes to overall decline in health and physical condition and increases an elderly person’s risk of greater frailty, losing independence and living in a long-term care facility.

Half of women 50 and older and 20% of men will break a bone because of osteoporosis at some point in their lives.

Women are at greater risk for osteoporosis. Because its effects aren’t often recognized until a bone break occurs, few think to screen for it.

A woman’s risk of breaking her hip equals her combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

So why are older women more prone to osteoporosis than men?

Frailty is certainly a big part of it for older women. And, in general, women’s bones tend to be smaller and thinner than men’s. For this reason, Asian women have a higher risk of osteoporosis, as do those of any race with smaller-sized frames.

Lifestyle factors that disrupt nutrient absorption or weaken bones include lack of exercise, smoking, excessive alcohol and carbonated beverages. Medical issues include bulimia, anorexia, celiac disease, chemotherapy, and use of medication such as steroids and anti-seizure medication.

Once women hit menopause, the decline in bone-protecting estrogen declines, making them more prone to a broken bone.

Fortunately, women can do quite a bit to prevent and slow bone loss.

Melissa Kimbrell, Eat Smart New York resource educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension Erie County, promotes a balanced diet for supporting good health, including bone health.

“USDA’s MyPlate give us a nice and easy roadmap to getting necessary vitamins and nutrients,” Kimbrell said. “MyPlate illustrates the five food groups that are the building blocks of a healthy diet: fruits, veggies, grains, proteins and dairy. Dairy provides a source of calcium, vitamin D, potassium, protein, and other nutrients necessary for the health and maintenance of the body. Dairy products should be low-fat or fat-free — to cut calories and saturated fat.”

Older children, teens, and adults need three cups daily; children 4 to 8 years old need two and a half cups; and children 2 to 3 years old need two cups.

Kimbrell cautions against foods in the dairy groups high in saturated fats and cholesterol, as they raise the bad cholesterol levels in blood, a risk factor in coronary heart disease.

“Also, some foods are made from milk but have little to no calcium, such as butter, cream cheese, and cream so they don’t have the same nutritional benefits,” Kimbrell said.

Instead, she suggested low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt, low-fat cheeses, or calcium fortified products like juices and cereals. Other foods that provide calcium include dark leafy green, canned fish with bones, and broccoli.

“Helpful tricks to easily work calcium into your daily routine are to dip veggies in low-fat yogurt-based sauces, serve milk with dinner instead of a sugary beverage or use a little milk in smoothies for breakfast,” Kimbrell said. “Calcium and vitamin D fortified soy milk or tofu can be a great substitute for those that can’t digest dairy. “

The body naturally generates vitamin D, a pre-hormone, when skin is exposed to sunlight. Just 10 to 15 minutes’ sun exposure twice a week suffices; however, the Buffalo and the rest of Upstate New York doesn’t receive sufficient sunlight for several months of the year. That means deficiency is inevitable without supplementation. Eggs and oily fish varieties like salmon contain vitamin D. Few other foods naturally contain vitamin D, though commercially sold milk is fortified with it, as are many foods like breakfast cereal.

Minerals such as magnesium and potassium are also associated with lowered risk of bones breaking, which is why a well-balanced diet with a wide variety of foods can help keep bones strong.

“When you think about bone health, it is important to remember that physical activity is a critical ingredient for maintaining healthy bones and muscles too,” Kimbrell said. “This is true across all age groups, and across the entire wellness spectrum. Strength training is particularly good for bone health, and even weight-bearing aerobic exercise, like walking or running, can help.”