Osteoporosis: Getting To The Bones Of It

Chances are you’ve heard the term osteoporosis before but may not know exactly what it is. It’s one of those things doctors often mention and then tell you to drink your milk so you can prevent it. However, the condition is very common and impacts many women during and after menopause. Similar to bladder leaks that Lily Bird can help you be the boss of, osteoporosis can sneak up on you when you least expect it. So, it definitely deserves more attention. 

So let’s get right down to the bones of this health condition. You’ll walk away knowing what it is, how you can treat it, and if there’s any way you can prevent it from happening to you.

What Is Osteoporosis? 

In a nutshell, osteoporosis, which literally means porous bone, is a disease where the body either 1) loses too much bone or 2) makes too little bone. Sometimes it’s a little bit of both. When our bones are strong and healthy, they look like little honeycombs under a microscope. However, those honeycomb spaces are much bigger with osteoporosis, which causes the bone to weaken and lose density.

Why Does It Happen?

The cause for osteoporosis depends on a lot of factors. As we age, our bones are constantly in a state of renewal, breaking down and building up again. This process begins to slow down as we age, with the peak of our bone mass being in our early 30s. As we continue to age, bone mass is lost faster than it’s created. 

Risk Factors

There are various risk factors that can increase the chances of developing osteoporosis too. These risk factors include:

  • Body frame size – People with smaller body frames have a higher chance of developing osteoporosis. This is mostly because they have less bone mass to draw from with age.
  • Age – The older you get, the higher risk you run of developing this condition.
  • Family history – Have a parent or sibling with osteoporosis? If yes, then you may have a greater chance of developing it yourself.
  • Race – Individuals who are white or of Asian descent have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Sex – Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men, especially around menopause.
  • Low calcium intake – A diet missing in calcium can lead to diminished bone density, early bone loss, and an increased risk of fractures. This factor can also correlate with gastrointestinal surgery. People who have this surgery may also develop a risk for osteoporosis, as they’re limiting the amount of surface area to absorb nutrients, including calcium.
  • Eating disorders The severity of food restriction and staying underweight weakens bone in all individuals.

What Are The Symptoms? 

So, how would you know if you’ve developed osteoporosis? To be honest, most people don’t realize they have osteoporosis until they have a bone fracture. If, for some reason, someone were to develop any symptoms in the early stages, these symptoms would include:

  • Weak/brittle nails
  • Receding gums
  • Weakened grip strength 

Plus, the best way to diagnose your symptoms properly is to speak to your primary care physician. If you’re not experiencing symptoms, but you have a family history of osteoporosis and wonder about the risks, reach out to your doctor to talk about your concerns. 

Disease Progression Symptoms  

Once osteoporosis has fully developed, you may find more noticeable symptoms, such as: 

  • Loss of height over time
  • Back pain, which could be caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra
  • Bones that break more easily than expected
  • Stooped posture

Treatments For Osteoporosis

Currently, there is no permanent solution for osteoporosis, but there’s still hope. If you’re diagnosed, you and your doctor can work together to develop a treatment plan. This plan would not cure you, but it would help you maintain your bones’ strength and slow down bone mass loss. 


A part of your treatment plan would likely include prescription medications. Some of the most popular medications prescribed to stop bone loss and increase bone strength include:

  • Alendronate
  • Risedronate 
  • Raloxifene 
  • Ibandronate
  • Calcitonin 
  • Zoledronate
  • Denosumab

Your doctor may also prescribe a medication to increase bone formation, such as teriparatide. 

More Research Is Needed

Fortunately, the future of treatment for osteoporosis is very bright. In 2016, one study found that a certain kind of stem cell could reverse osteoporosis in mice. Also, some genetic research is being done to see what particular gene may lead to the development of osteoporosis. If scientists figure that out, it would help experts come up with a better treatment plan.

Preventing Osteoporosis

If you don’t have osteoporosis and you want to try to keep it that way, you’re in luck. There are a few things you can do to help prevent it. Lifestyle adjustments, like the ones mentioned below, can make a big difference. 

Watch Your Diet!

Two of the most necessary nutrients to maintain bone health are protein and calcium. Protein is one of the building blocks for bone and is found in a variety of foods. Some of those foods include lean meats, chicken, beans, dairy, eggs, soy, etc. 

Calcium can make a big difference, too, especially if you consume enough of it. Men and women between the ages of 18 and 50 need at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, and this amount goes up with age. Luckily there’s a variety of foods that are a great source of calcium, such as:

  • Soy products (e.g., tofu) 
  • Leafy green veggies
  • Canned salmon or sardines
  • Dairy products, and 
  • Fortified cereals and juices.

 Now you can munch on your favorite foods, knowing you’re helping your bones out, too! 

Work A Sweat!

Exercise proves, once again, to be beneficial when it comes to maintaining your bone health. It doesn’t matter at what age you start to work out, but if you’re young, maintaining an exercise routine can make a world of difference. Strength-training, weight-bearing, and balance exercises can help strengthen your bones. If you want something a little more fun, try dancing. Just moving your body can reduce the chances of you falling or losing your balance later in life and prevent possible bone fractures/breaks.

Osteoporosis Revealed  

Osteoporosis can seem like a daunting condition that can be scary to think about if you don’t have it but are at risk. Luckily, there’s plenty you can do to help keep your bones healthy! While there is currently no set treatment, science continues to offer more helpful information with every new study. If you are still wondering what osteoporosis is or what you can do to prevent this condition, reach out to your primary care physician. 

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By Jessica Thomas, MPH