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What is Osteoporosis?

The bones in our skeleton are made of a thick outer shell and a strong inner mesh filled with collagen (protein), calcium salts and other minerals. The inside looks like honeycomb, with blood vessels and bone marrow in the spaces between bone. Osteoporosis occurs when the holes between bone become bigger, making it fragile and liable to break easily. Osteoporosis usually affects the whole skeleton but it most commonly causes breaks (fractures) to bone in the wrist, spine and hip.

It is a condition where you gradually lose bone material so that your bones become more fragile. As a result, they are more likely to break even after a simple fall.

Bone is alive and constantly changing. Old, worn out bone is broken down by cells called osteoclasts and replaced by bone building cells, called osteoblasts. This process of renewal is called bone turnover. Steroids If you take prednisolone over a long period of time, it can lead to Osteoporosis.

Oestrogen deficiency Women who have had an early menopause (before the age of 45), or a hysterectomy where one or both ovaries have been removed, are at greater risk. Removal of the ovaries only (ovariectomy) is relatively rare, but is also associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis. Moderate exercise keeps the bones strong during childhood and throughout adulthood. Anyone who does not exercise, or has an illness or disability which makes exercise difficult, will be more prone to losing calcium from the bones, and so more likely to develop Osteoporosis. Exercise is therefore very important in preventing Osteoporosis. (However, there is one case in which this is not true: for the small number of people who exercise very intensively, particularly women who exercise so much that their periods stop, the risk of Osteoporosis may actually be increased.)

A diet which does not include enough calcium or vitamin D can make osteoporosis more likely.

Heavy smoking Tobacco lowers the oestrogen level in women and may cause early menopause. In men, smoking lowers testosterone activity and this can weaken the bones.

Heavy drinking A high alcohol intake reduces the ability of the body’s cells to make bone.

Osteoporosis does run in families. This is probably because there are some inherited factors which affect the development of bone. There is a great deal which can be done at different stages in your life to guard against the condition.

Children and adults need a diet which contains the right amount of calcium. The best sources of this are milk, cheese and yogurt, certain types of fish which are eaten with the bones. If you are watching your weight it’s worth knowing that skimmed or semi-skimmed milk actually contains more calcium than full-fat milk. It is recommended that a daily intake of calcium of 1000 milligrams (mg) or 1500 mg if you are over 60. A pint of milk a day, together with a reasonable amount of other foods which contain calcium, should be sufficient. Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb calcium. Vitamin D is produced by the body when sunlight falls on the skin, and it can be obtained from the diet (especially from oily fish) or vitamin supplements. For people over 60 it may be helpful to take a supplement containing 10–20 micrograms (µg) of vitamin D.

Facts and Figures

  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 12 men in the UK will have Osteoporosis over 50
  • Every 3 minutes someone has a fracture due to Osteoporosis
  • Each year the numbers of people with osteoporosis include over
  • 70,000 hip fractures
  • 50,000 wrist fractures
  • 120,000 spinal fractures
  • It affects 3 million men and women in the UK
  • Gaining plenty of bone strengthening Calcium found in dairy products
  • Adults require 700mg of Calcium per day (3/4 pint of semi skimmed milk
  • Women with early Menopause, history of irregular periods and lack of exercise, eating disorders and smoking
  • Older women after the Menopause, bone mass declines due to falling levels of Oestrogen
  • Osteoporosis costs the NHS and government over £1.7 billion each year, that's £5 million each day!