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Osteoporosis is a common disease with many causes. It can have many physical, social and economic implications. Current treatment options for osteoporosis include lifestyle changes and medications. In this review, we will discuss five natural osteoporosis treatment options that are important to adjust before or while taking medication.
First, we will describe osteoporosis, its causes, and how it is diagnosed.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a bone disease that causes bone weakness. It occurs when the body loses too much bone or produces too little bone. The disorder affects nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 8 men in Canada over 50 years old.
It causes more than 8.9 million fractures annually around the world. Osteoporosis causes bones to become more fragile and more likely to fracture or break. The word “oosteoporosi” means porous bone, and bone tissue often has large spaces when viewed under the microscope. Patients suffer from compromised bone strength and low bone density.
Patients with osteoporosis most commonly suffer from wrist fractures, hip fractures, and fractures of spinal bones. Pain is usually uncommon until a fracture occurs, though some fractures may cause long-term pain, especially fractures of the spinal bones. Osteoporosis causes some patients to lose height or developed a hunched posture. Hip fractures in older patients result in death in within one year in about 20% of cases. Osteoporosis is a costly disease, and experts estimate that costs associated with managing the disease will rise to $2.4 billion by 2041. Research into medicinal and natural osteoporosis treatment options is ongoing.
What causes osteoporosis?
Several factors may increase the risk of developing osteoporosis. Age, sex, weight, and other medical issues can all contribute to the risk of osteoporosis. Women are more at risk of osteoporosis than men, especially after menopause as bone loss will occur more quickly.
Peak bone mass usually occurs at 30 years of age, after which gradual bone loss is natural. Women have a lower peak bone mass than men and lose bone more rapidly than men. Deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals also accelerate bone loss and lead to osteoporosis.
Many other factors such as medication, medical history, and family history can increase the risk of osteoporosis. Hormonal conditions, malabsorption problems, and inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis may contribute to loss of bone mass. Osteoporosis that results from another medical condition is called secondary osteoporosis. Long-term use of certain medications, use of alcohol, and smoking can also affect bone strength. In addition, a low body mass index, calculated by weight and height, can increase the risk of the disease.
How is osteoporosis diagnosed?
Osteoporosis is often left undiagnosed as patients cannot feel bones weakening. A number of tools are used to detect osteoporosis. A DEXA (DXA) scan is used to measure bone mineral density, which helps to determine bone strength. Low bone density not classified as osteoporosis may indicate osteopenia, a common precursor to osteoporosis. Doctors often recommend treatments for osteopenia depending on the risk of fracture. X-rays are also useful for detecting fractures in at risk patients.
The goals of treatment for osteoporosis involves treating bone fractures, reducing the risk of fractures, increasing bone strength, and minimizing hazards such as falling.
Along with medication, it is important for individuals with osteoporosis to make lifestyle changes. Below, we will discuss five natural osteoporosis treatment options.
1. Dietary changes
Diet plays an important role in maintaining bone health. Foods rich in calcium and vitamin D are especially important for bone strength and overall health.
Calcium is important for muscle and nerve function. Meeting daily calcium needs can slow bone loss and lower risk of fracture in older adults. Deficiencies in calcium might lead to other complications such as hyperparathyroidism, which causes bone tissue to be broken down more rapidly. Foods high in calcium include milk (and fortified milk alternatives), fortified orange juice, beans, yogurt and cheese among others. Healthy adults should receive 1000 mg of calcium daily, and 1200 mg for those over 50 years of age. Dietary sources of calcium are recommended.
Vitamin D is also important for bone strength, muscle function, and balance. Vitamin D promotes absorption of calcium in the body which leads to stronger bones. Lack of vitamin D also contributes to hyperparathyroidism and other complications. Dietary sources of vitamin D include fish (salmon, snapper, mackerel) and fish oils, eggs, and fortified foods such as milks, breads, cereals, and juices. Experts also recommend taking a vitamin D supplement (specifically, vitamin D3) year-round. Vitamin D intake should be 400-1000 IU daily for healthy adults, and 800-2000 IU daily for those over 50.
2. Increase exposure to sunlight
Most Canadians do not get enough sunlight to produce the amount of vitamin D needed. Human bodies create vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin. Between October and early March, sunlight is limited and the body will naturally produce less vitamin D.
Dietary and supplemental intake of vitamin D is especially important during these winter months. Exposing arms and legs (uncovered) to direct sunlight in the summer months for short periods (especially between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.) will allow the body to make vitamin D. Amount of sunlight needed will vary with season, skin sensitivity, and skin colour, among other factors. Elderly persons need more exposure to sunlight as the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D decreases with age.
Caution should be taken when exposing skin to direct sunlight. Prolonged periods of direct sun may increase the risk of burn and skin cancer. Sunscreen, appropriate clothing, and sunglasses should be worn for long periods in the sun.
Physical activity is recommended for patients with osteoporosis. Exercise has been shown to reduce bone loss, prevent bone fracture, and build muscle strength. Different types of exercise are beneficial for patients with osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercise can improve bone mass and mineral content in young, and helps maintain bone mass in older persons. Balance exercises and strengthening of core muscles may improve balance and lower risk of falls. Strength training, aerobic exercise, and posture awareness are also recommended as osteoporosis treatment options.
Patients new to exercise, or those with an injury or fracture should speak to a physical therapist to discuss which exercises will help. Exercise should be taken regularly to prevent bone fracture and maintain muscle strength. Patients with spine or hip fractures should take extra care when exercising and avoid vigorous aerobic activity.
4. Stop smoking
Smoking has been shown to increase the risk of osteoporosis. Research has shown that use of tobacco decreases bone density. Loss of bone density may result from smoking itself or from other risk factors in smokers. For instance, smokers tend to have poorer diets, consume more alcohol, and exercise less than non-smokers. In addition, smoking may also increase the risk of bone fracture and can adversely impact healing of existing fractures.
Smoking can be a difficult habit to break, but it is important to stop smoking for bone health. Quitting smoking can help reduce bone loss, even at an older age. Many resources are available to help with smoking cessation.
5. Limit alcohol and caffeine intake
Consuming high amounts of caffeine and alcohol negatively impacts bone health. Heavy consumption of alcohol, especially in younger persons, may limit proper bone development. In addition, alcohol consumption can lower calcium absorption and disrupt the production of vitamin D which will reduce bone strength.
Studies show that the impact of heavy alcohol consumption on bone health may not be reversible. Hormone levels might also be upset with heavy alcohol consumption increasing breakdown of bone tissue. People that abuse alcohol are more prone to spinal and hip fractures. The effects of moderate alcohol consumption on bone health are less clear. Consumption should not exceed two servings per day.
Caffeine consumption may have less impact on bone health than alcohol, but this can vary between individuals. Most research on caffeine shows minimal effects on bone health in healthy individuals. However, the amount of calcium released in urine increases when caffeine is consumed, which may elevate the risk of osteoporosis in those with calcium deficiencies.
Some studies have shown a decrease in bone mineral density in women who drink large amounts of coffee. However, the small decrease in bone density did not increase the risk of fracture. Limiting caffeine intake is recommended in elderly persons due to possible calcium deficiencies. Moderate consumption of caffeine (up to 3 servings per day) is suggested for healthy adults who meet daily calcium and vitamin D allowances.
Osteoporosis is a common bone disease that impacts many people. Natural osteoporosis treatment options include exercise, dietary changes, quitting smoking, and lowering alcohol caffeine intake. Supplementation of vitamin D and exposure to sunlight can also improve bone health. Such lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and promote overall good health.
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Disclaimer: The data provided in this article are for informational purposes only. It is not intended to and should not be relied upon or construed as medical opinion or medical advice regarding any specific issue or circumstance.