Understanding Osteoporosis

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The consequences of osteoporosis can be terrible. Every year, in the United States, this disease leads to 1.5 million fractures. Osteoporosis affects the entire skeleton. It causes a loss of bone tissue. Both the density and mass of bone are lowered by osteoporosis.

As bone is a living tissue, there is a dynamic relationship between bone tissue being removed and new bone tissue continually being laid down. In osteoporosis more bone is removed and not enough new bone is replaced. It has been likened to a situation in which bricks are removed randomly from a brick wall. Osteoporosis is easier to understand if you think of it in that way. Obviously, if bricks continue to be removed the wall would, at some point, crumble.

Peak bone mass is the maximum amount of bone density and strength a person will achieve. This usually occurs somewhere between age 20 and 30. After age 30 bone loss gradually increases while bone replacement gradually slows. In women at menopause, bone loss is accelerated. This is due to a decline in estrogen production. Estrogen seems to have a protective effect on bone metabolism.

After 65 years of age, men and women tend to lose bone at about the same rate. A certain amount of bone loss is normal as you age, but osteoporosis is not normal.

It is important to realize certain facts:

  • Women account for 80% of osteoporosis.
  • 15% of women in their 50's develop osteoporosis.
  • 50% of women in their 80's have osteoporosis.
  • A family history of osteoporosis puts you at higher risks.
  • Thin women and men with smaller bones are at higher risk for bone loss.
  • Thin women and men with smaller bones are at higher risk for bone loss.
  • Caucasian women are twice as likely to have hip fractures at the same age as black women. Hispanic women have an intermediate risk.

Risk factors you can do something about are the following:

  • In women, estrogen protects against bone loss.
  • Vitamin D is a key ingredient that helps the body use calcium.
  • Weight bearing exercise contributes to healthy bones.
  • Avoiding smoking, alcohol and certain medications will preserve bone mass.
Osteoporosis is a silent disease. Most people do not know that they have it until they suffer a fracture doing a normal activity or they sustain a hip fracture from a fall. There is no way to determine bone loss without a bone mineral density test (BMD). A regular x-ray does not show bone loss until it is greater than 30%.

Osteoporosis is a major public health problem for 28 million Americans, 80% of whom are women. In the United States over 10 million persons already have osteoporosis and 18.5 million have low bone mass placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis has been termed "the silent thief" progressing without symptoms or pain until a fracture occurs.

"A DEXA bone mineral evaluation can show bone loss of 1%."

Pictured is a sophisticated x-ray Bone Densitometer for bone mineral testing. The person lies on the table for the testing which is done on the hip and spine. It takes about 15 minutes. This is the most accurate type of testing for bone mineral density, that is to study the hip and spine with a large unit.

New research

Researchers have pinpointed a protein that could advance the search for a way to build bones. Current treatments of course for osteoporosis are focused on preventing bone loss.

A patient was detected after an accident to have very dense bones and had not sustained any fractures. Further research on family members demonstrated that all members carried a mutation of a specific gene. They were also found to have unusually high levels of bone building proteins.

Researchers located a specific protein in these patients that appears to act as a "brake" on the bone building chemical process. Research is ongoing to find a drug, which would inhibit this brake on the bone building process. If this could be found, osteoporosis patients could form new bone.

According to the people doing the research, a system could be set in motion to build bones. There is a tremendous amount of research going on in this field of osteoporotic bone loss.