Many people believe osteoporosis is only a problem for men and women over the age of 50, but the condition isn’t limited to seniors. While not all the risk factors for osteoporosis are controllable, there are many that can be influenced by diet and lifestyle. That’s why it’s important for individuals of any age to learn more about osteoporosis and how to mitigate the potential risks.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a bone disease characterized by a severe loss of tissue and a significant decrease in bone density. This gradual deterioration of the skeletal system makes bones easier to break, greatly increasing the risk of an individual for fractures in the wrists, feet, hip and spine. Over time, stress fractures grow more common as the person’s bones continue to weaken. Typically, this condition is caused by a major hormonal change or a major calcium or vitamin D deficiency.
What Are the Risk Factors?
According to the CDC, roughly 30 million people in the United States either have osteoporosis or are at risk for the disease. Osteoporosis is more likely to occur past the age of 50. In fact, one in four women and one in 17 men older than age 65 have osteoporosis. To avoid osteoporosis, individuals must pay special attention to diet, exercise, smoking, medications and alcohol consumption.
Vitamin D and calcium are the two most important dietary factors to consider with regard to preventing osteoporosis. Calcium is best obtained from dairy products. Vitamin D is found in fatty fish, namely tuna and salmon. Vitamin D also can be obtained from exposure to sunlight. Supplements and foods with added calcium and/or vitamin D are helpful as well, but a well-balanced diet is always the best course of action.
Bones are at their healthiest when an individual leads an active lifestyle. Bone mass can be built and maintained through exercise such as hiking, running, dancing and weight training.
Studies indicate that smoking may result in bone loss, particularly when combined with poor diet or lack of exercise. Research suggests that smoking regularly can cause hormone changes within the human body, resulting in a decrease in bone density. This bone mass can be regained once an individual ceases their smoking habit.
Unfortunately, the prescription medications available to address bone density are limited. A prescribing physician should alert an individual of the known risks posed by existing osteoporosis medication and also offer advice on how to the condition can be offset without medication.
Numerous studies have identified a connection between alcohol abuse and osteoporosis. It appears that excessive drinking can trigger bone loss in multiple ways. Most osteoporosis risk factors take time to manifest, explaining why osteoporosis is more prominent in the elderly. Alcohol abuse, however, can trigger problems far sooner. In fact, it is estimated that roughly half of those struggling with alcoholism also have decreasing bone mass.
Calcium and Vitamin D Absorption
Alcohol abuse threatens bone health by interfering with the process of calcium and vitamin D absorption. When a body is under the influence of alcohol, the stomach doesn’t properly absorb calcium consumed in food. Likewise, a pancreas and liver damaged alcohol abuse are unable to absorb calcium or activate vitamin D. In this way, excessive alcohol consumption is always a major threat to bone health.
Depletes Calcium Reserves
In addition to making calcium from food less absorbable, alcohol abuse can interfere with the function of the parathyroid hormone, which regulates calcium levels. Once these reserves are stripped away, calcium begins to be drawn directly from the bones.
Relationship Between Osteoblasts and Osteoclasts
The body contains osteoblasts, bone-building cells, and osteoclasts, bone-removal cells. Alcohol abuse can kill bone-building osteoblasts while stimulating bone-removing osteoclasts, further accelerating the loss of bone density that characterizes osteoporosis. The stress hormone, cortisol, which is increased with alcohol consumption, also adversely affects osteoblasts.
The Good News
The good news is that undergoing treatment and recovering from alcohol dependency can reverse many of the health problems and risks factors associated with osteoporosis. Getting on the path to a healthier lifestyle will greatly cut down the risk of other alcohol abuse side effects as well.