6 Things Women Need To Know About Osteoporosis

One thing I’m enormously grateful for is the fact that my mom—who is in her 80s—is extremely spry. She lives independently, is highly active in her church and with her family, and quite frankly, sometimes has a busier dance card than I do! That said, in the last 5 years, she has had two incidents in which relatively minor stumbles (one in a post office and one on a sidewalk) led to fractures that had her laid up for many weeks. Even though osteoporosis has been on my mind—being female and being Asian…I rarely consumed dairy as a kid and that habit largely persist today—I think I also have been a bit in denial about it.

But here’s the thing. Approximately 200 million women worldwide suffer with osteoporosis. OMG 200 million.

So, I’m grateful to share this Q&A with Tufts Medical Center. Despite the female + Asian factors, it was really eye opening to learn that there are some really easy things I can do on the prevention front. Here are 6 things women need to know about osteoporosis; learn more about the risks, and what you can do to help yourself—and pass this article along to a lady friend (or 10)!

1. I hear about it all the time, and associate it with older women who break bones a lot. But what exactly is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that happens when you have such low bone density that your bones become weak and brittle. In that situation, you’re at a much higher risk for breaking bones, which can become more complicated and dangerous as you age.

2. Why should I worry about osteoporosis at this point in my life?

Low bone density is something everyone is at risk for as they age. In particular, women are especially at risk. Throughout your life, skeletal matter in your body is constantly being broken down and built up again.  Up to age 30, the bone matter builds up faster than it breaks down, and as a result you build bone mass. At age 30, you reach peak bone mass! At that point, the rate at which you build up bone starts to slow. But never fear; if you haven’t given much thought to it before, there are plenty of things you can do to help yourself.

3. Besides being a woman, what puts me at risk for osteoporosis?

The risks for osteoporosis include:

  • Low levels of calcium & vitamin D

  • Lack of physical activity

  • Going through menopause

  • Heavy tobacco and alcohol use

  • Family history of the condition

4. The calcium part seems obvious, but talk to me about vitamin D.  How is it related?

A little known fact about Vitamin D is that it is what helps you absorb calcium. You could be getting enough calcium in your diet, but if you’re deficient in Vitamin D, you might not be absorbing enough of the calcium to help strengthen your bones.

It doesn’t help that people who live in New England tend to be Vitamin D deficient, because of our long winters.  It’s not easy to get your Vitamin D just from your diet. Dr. Niamh Carroll says, “While most of us can get enough calcium from our diet, vitamin D can be trickier. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Fatty fish and eggs are the exception.”

5. How does menopause affect bone loss?

During menopause, estrogen levels in women drop significantly. Because estrogen helps prevent bone loss, women can lose a significant portion of their bone mass during menopause, increasing their risk of osteoporosis. At this point, the rate at which women loss bone mass is higher than the rate at which they build bone back up.

6. Well then – what exactly can I do to lower my risk and prevent bone loss and osteoporosis?

Make sure you’re getting enough calcium

Women under the age of 50 need 1,000 mg of calcium per day. That number increases after age 50.  You can get calcium from a variety of sources, including:

  • Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese

  • Dark leafy green vegetables like spinach, broccoli and kale

  • Fatty fish such as salmon (also great for Vitamin D!)

If you’re concerned about your calcium intake, talk to your primary care physician about whether you should take a supplement.

Counteract Vitamin D Deficiency

During the winter months when there is less sun exposure you may want to consider a vitamin D supplement,” adds Dr. Carroll. “The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is 600 international units daily for adults through age 70 years and for children 1 to 18 years of age. For older adults, 800 units daily is recommended for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.”

Looking for a delicious way to integrate both Vitamin D and Calcium into your diet? Try this recipe for Dijon Tarragon Salmon and Kale Salad!

Dijon tarragon salmon and kale salad via Tufts Medical Center

Dijon tarragon salmon and kale salad via Tufts Medical Center

Stay active & build strength

It sounds simple, but exercise helps build strong bones and slows down the rate at which you lose bone mass. It’s a win-win in our book! Note though, that the type of exercise is important. Strength training, balance and weight bearing exercises will help strengthen your bones in ways that low impact cardiovascular workouts (like swimming, cycling, and the elliptical) do not.

As a bonus, try to move as much as possible during the day.  If you work a sedentary job, simple changes can reduce not only your risk for osteoporosis, but it can also lower other health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle. We have more tips from our Physical Therapy department here!

While the risks associated with osteoporosis may seem daunting, simple lifestyle changes can reduce those risks and ensure an overall healthy lifestyle. If you have more questions or concerns, be sure to discuss them with your doctor.

Tufts Medical Center is a renowned not-for-profit academic medical center in downtown Boston. Floating Hospital for Children is the full-service children’s hospital of Tufts Medical Center. Both are the principal teaching hospitals of Tufts University School of Medicine. Tufts MC and the Floating Hospital offer a full range of services including primary care, OBGYN services in all areas of women’s health and dedicated pediatric and adult emergency rooms.

Disclaimer: The content provided in this post is intended solely for the information of the reader. This information is not medical advice and should not replace a consultation with a medical professional.

Disclosure: This post reflects a compensated editorial partnership with Tufts Medical Center. All storytelling outside the medical content is, of course, my own!

6 things women need to know about osteoporosis

6 things women need to know about osteoporosis