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Osteoporosis: the hidden disease

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Osteoporosis: a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences.

Hightower L.

Source: Community Medical Center, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Abstract Source: Pubmed

Osteoporosis affects 28 million Americans. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates this number will increase to 41 million by 2015. Ninety percent of bone growth occurs between the ages of 10 and 20. Present lifestyles of adolescents leave them predisposed to osteoporosis because they are producing lower peak bone mass. If teenagers can be taught to build their bones as strong as possible with diet and exercise, many cases of this disease may be prevented. This article outlines a method of teaching teens about osteoporosis that has been used with 250 junior high and high school students with favorable results.

Our bones are made of living tissue that is in a constant state of change. As you read this your bone is breaking down and rebuilding itself.  If the bone tissue breaks down and is not replaced with newer, equally strong tissue, the result is over time is osteoporosis.

A sad but true statistic is roughly 1: 4 of those who have a hip fracture due to brittle, porous bone will die within a year of the fall.  Osteoporosis is thought to be a disease of the elderly, and most commonly it is not even considered until we are in our 50-60’s.  Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to prevent the loss that has already occurred at this point.  We start losing bone in our 30’s, and we reach our peak bone mass at around age 18.  So it is vital that we build strong and healthy bone tissue in our childhood and teen years so we have the ability to lose bone later in life without it causing fragility.   This is the perfect example of how preventative medicine is the cornerstone of a long, healthy life.

Osteoporosis is diagnosed when bone mass falls below normal by 25%.  Osteoporosis leads to an increase in fractures, kyphosis or spinal irregularities, and often the loss of mobility and independence.  The most common tool for diagnosis is a bone mineral density test called a DEXA scan.  This test is recommended for postmenopausal women over 65 years of age, or those under 65 years of age with elevated risk factors.

Osteoporosis is becoming more and more common in North America.  Statistics indicate that least 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture during their lifetime.

You may be asking yourself, why is this disease on the rise?  Well, there are a few things to consider.

  • Our food is not as nutritionally dense as it once was due to depleted soils from over farming land
  • Our diets have changed drastically over the last couple decades from whole foods to packaged and artificial foods
  • Malabsorption is a much bigger issue than ever before with gastrointestinal inflammation becoming more prevalent.
  • Many children and teens are concerned about their body image, enough so to confine themselves to very strict fad-diets or restrict foods completely.
  • Sodas and diets heavy in meats have been shown to increase bone loss
  • As a society, we are much less active than we once were
  • Hormonal imbalances or loss of estrogen significantly increases bone demineralization


Women are less likely to develop osteoporosis if they are physically active, eat a plant-based diet and limit alcohol consumption.

Osteoporosis is largely preventable.  The best thing we can do for our children is to encourage them to be active whether that is sports or just daily physical activity.  Studies show that regular strength training helps build and maintain strong bones. One particular study followed women doing vigorous exercise for an hour a day for 1 year, and found they increased their bone calcium levels by 30%!  While some of us don’t have an hour per day to spend on exercise, I recommend doing at least 30 minutes a day five days per week.  Exercise should consist of high to medium intensity aerobic exercise in combination with strength training.

Also, a nutritious upbringing starting in childhood and lasting throughout life is important to building and maintaining bone health.

  • It is important to limit or avoid soda which actually pulls calcium from bones.  The risk of developing osteoporosis has dramatically increased since carbonated drinks containing phosphorous have become a staple in the American diet.
  • Adequate protein is important for healthy bones and the body in general, but too much red meat has been shown to increase bone loss. Current protein recommendations are 0.4 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day
  • Caffeine also can cause an increased bone loss in excess.  It is recommended people stick to one cup per day.
  • Increase consumption of calcium-rich and nutrient-dense foods.   Healthy sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables, dairy, beans, and mineral-rich bone broths to protect against and reverse bone loss.

If you reach the place where supplementation has been recommended by a doctor, remember that calcium by itself is insufficient.  There are over two dozen nutrients necessary for bone health!  These nutrients include but are not limited to; magnesium, vitamin D, strontium, boron, zinc, and manganese.

Remember prevention is key!

If you have questions regarding osteoporosis prevention or treatment contact Dr. Schulz.

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