by Becky Schreiber

All women should know about osteoporosis. This bone-thinning condition develops silently over a period of many years and will affect one in four women over age 60. It is a major cause of fractures of the spine, hip, wrist and other parts of the skeleton.

“The good news is that osteoporosis can be prevented if the right steps are taken early on, and treatment does exist to help women who have already developed the disorder,” said Renette Wardlow, human development specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

Bones maintain themselves throughout life by a process known as remodeling, in which a small amount of old bone is removed and new bone forms in its place.

A little more bone is lost than gained beginning around age 35. Once this bone loss starts, it continues throughout life but is not likely to cause problems until after menopause.

Osteoporosis progresses gradually without discomfort until bones are so weak they begin to break, causing pain and disability. An early sign of the disorder is loss of height. This happens when weakened bones of the spine become compressed.

Later, as the vertebrae fracture and collapse, a curving of the spine, often called “dowager’s hump,” may occur.

Fair-skinned, white women are affected most often. Those who are thin and have small frames are susceptible than larger, heavier people. Women who have a family history of osteoporosis or who have had their ovaries removed at an early age have a greater chance of developing the disease according to Wardlow.

“Due to their dense bone structure and other factors men are much less likely than women to develop osteoporosis,” said Wardlow.

Why osteoporosis develops is not fully understood. Decreasing hormone levels, not enough calcium in the diet, inadequate exposure to sunlight (which helps the body manufacture vitamin D) and inactivity may all play a role.

Certain dietary and exercise habits can help prevent the disease. The daily diet should include foods that are high in calcium; milk and dairy products such as cheese, yogurt and ice cream are the best sources of this mineral. Other sources include dark green leafy vegetables, salmon, sardines, oysters and tofu.

Regular exercise activities that place moderate stress on the spine and long bones of the body such as walking, jogging, dancing and bicycle riding are beneficial for bone health. Simple exercises to maintain strength in the shoulders, chest, back and arms are helpful.

“For woman already managing the effects of thinning bones, seeking treatment from a physician may be the best option to stop further bone loss,” said Wardlow.

Doctors usually prescribe calcium tablets, possibly with added vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium. This treatment will not cause new bone to form, but instead slows the rate at which bone loss occurs.

For more information, contact any of MU Extension’s human development specialists in southwest Missouri: Renette Wardlow in Greene County at (417) 881-8909, Dr. Jim Wirth in Taney County at (417) 546-4431, or Angie Fletcher in Texas County at (417) 967-4545.

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