Bones gradually lose density with age, inactivity or (for astronauts) prolonged weightlessness. Osteoporosis occurs when tissues within the bones becomes thin, brittle, and can no longer provide structural support against gravity. Fractures then become common. Women are more affected than men, due to differences in hormonal life cycle and calcium absorption and utilization.
Osteoporosis can affect the entire skeleton, but fractures are most common in the spinal vertebrae, the hip end of the femur and the forearm.
Start young: The more bone you build, the less you will be affected by bone loss. Good nutrition and weight-bearing exercise are especially crucial.
Nutrition: Get enough calcium and vitamin D. Milk products, green leafy vegetables, soy products and some fish are rich in calcium. Here are the NIH’s recommendations for daily calcium intake:
Young adults.................1,200-1,500 mg
Under 65, with HRT*..........1,000 mg
Under 65, without HRT .......1,500 mg
Over 65, all women ..........1,500 mg
Get enough, but not too much, vitamin D, about 400 IU per day. Eggs, fish, liver, dairy products and fortified foods can help, as can moderate exposure to sunlight. The mineral boron, found in fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, also helps bone density.
Exercise: Walking, jogging, cycling and others done in an upright position are weight-bearing, and help build bone mass and slow bone loss. If you have family history of osteoporosis, consider asking a physical therapist for advice on the best exercises.
Lifestyle: Stop smoking, don’t drink to excess. Both increase risk.
Medical: Women should discuss bone health with their physicians while young and throughout their lives, including bone density testing for benchmarking and monitoring. It is especially important to pay attention to this when approaching or passing menopause. There are options to discuss, including recommendations for weight-bearing exercises, medications targeting bone density, hormone therapy, and increased dietary supplementation.
Text and illustrations by Kevin T. Boyd
*Hormone replacement therapy
Dense outer bone
Softer cortical bone
Connections break down
Cortical and spongy bone lose mass
Acupressure for bone pain
For bone pain, try finding points for the specific body part that hurts, using the friendly body browser or the A-Z list of symptoms and body areas.
If this is your first time, please read the instructions. Don’t use acupressure to replace standard emergency procedures or licensed medical treatment. If you are seriously injured or have acute symptoms seek urgent medical treatment.