October not only marks National Health Awareness Month, but also National Bone and Joint Disease Awareness Week, which took place from October 12 to October 20.
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, almost 44 million U.S. women and men age 50 and older suffer from osteoporosis and low bone mass. Even though African Americans have the strongest bone mass when compared to other ethnicities, it is still important to take measures to maintain optimum bone health. Bone disease, depending on the severity, could diminish your quality of life.
In an effort to gain more insight into a common bone disease, osteoporosis, Black Enterprise spoke with Dr. Stephen Honig, director of the osteoporosis center at NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases. Dr. Honig discussed risk factors and treatments, and suggested lifestyle changes that might make a difference. The following are a few key points.
Be proactive about your bone health while you’re young. Don’t wait until you’re 40 to start taking care of your bones. It’s important to take care of this precious organ from youth.
“From early puberty to about our early twenties, that is when we develop our peak bone mass. That’s the greatest bone density we’re going to have in our lifetime. Then from about our mid-20s to 50 or so, we stay pretty much the same. We might lose a little bone, but we stay close to the same. After this time period, we tend to lose bone more rapidly,” says Honig.
Know the risk factors. Several factors might contribute to the development of osteoporosis.
- Low bone density: The lower your bone density, the more likely you are to have a fracture.
- Medications: “If you take steroids (and more recently it has been found that if you take certain medications to reduce stomach acid) it can lead to increased fractures. Also, some of the drugs prescribed for depression, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors, can also lead to osteoporosis and predispose patients to fracture,” says Honig.
- Age: Generally, osteoporosis becomes more common as we get older.
- Previous fracture: “We worry about the majority of people who have significant osteoporosis because of the fracture risk. About 50% of those with osteoporosis fracture during their lifetime and 50% don’t. We really don’t know why. However, we do know that if you’ve previously had a fracture, you’re more likely to have another one,” says Honig.
- Family history: If you have a parent or sibling with osteoporosis, this increases your risk. The risk is even greater if you have a family history of hip fractures.
In some cases it’s possible to slow the progression of osteoporosis. Those who don’t suffer from osteoporosis related to age might be able to improve bone health through lifestyle changes such as proper diet and exercise. However, if advanced age is the cause, you might be out of luck.
“First, it’s important to make sure there is no secondary reason for the osteoporosis. For example, too much thyroid hormone, too much parathyroid hormone, or lack of vitamin D. If you have age-related osteoporosis (such as post-menopausal osteoporosis), and in osteoporosis among men, then short of taking medication, there’s nothing that really reverses it,” says Honig.
In addition, Honig says there are medicines that may aid in the prevention of bone loss and increase bone density. Among them are bisphosphonates, which can help prevent future fractures.
Pay attention to your lifestyle. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, exercise, and an overall healthy lifestyle can make a positive difference in bone health.