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Osteoporosis: long-term prevention

With the increase in life expectancy, osteoporosis is going to become a more common ailment for women in the coming decades. This is a good reason to start a certain number of simple preventative measures from childhood.

Osteoporosis: long-term prevention
© Thinkstock

Bone is living tissue that constantly renews itself. Bone mass continues to develop up until the end of adolescence, generally stays stable until the fifties, then regularly decreases, especially in post-menopausal women.

The larger the bone reserves at the time of menopause, the lower the later risk of complications with osteoporosis. That means that we must actually prevent the onset of osteoporosis throughout the whole of our lives in order to protect the bone reserve.

Preventing osteoporosis starts from childhood

During childhood and adolescence, it’s important to ensure that enough calcium is being taken in (1.2 mg per day), primarily through milk and dairy products.

It’s also at this age that exercise is most beneficial, providing that it is done sensibly. If girls train intensively, it can actually lead to amenorrhoea (lack of periods) and oestrogen deficiency, a source of bone loss. Anorexia nervosa, which combines dietary deficiency and amenorrhoea, is also responsible for long-term bone fragility. Up until the menopause, periods of prolonged amenorrhoea, a sign of oestrogen deficiency, must thus be avoided.

In adulthood, you have to watch that you maintain a proper calcium intake (1mg per day), and not smoking as well as limiting the amount of alcohol you drink also helps. Tobacco and alcohol act directly on the cells that form bone and smoking is associated with early menopause. You should also watch your diet, because salt increases the elimination of calcium – again no help for maintaining healthy bones.

Resistance training exercises to ward off osteoporosis

Physical exercise remains an essential prevention factor throughout your whole life. When your muscles contract, they bring pressure to bear on the ends of your bones, stimulating and strengthening them. But not all exercise has the same effect.

Resistance exercises are the most effective type (we know that osteoporosis is one of the main complications resulting from weightless flights). So you’re better off doing twenty or so exercises with weights or resistance bands than hundreds without. It’s important to work the most fragile areas, the legs in particular, as fracturing of the neck of the thighbone is one of the most common complications of osteoporosis.

If in addition cortisone-based treatment, which increases the risk of osteoporosis, is being taken, preventative measures must be particularly rigorous.

It’s never too late to ward off osteoporosis

Hormone replacement therapy for the menopause delays bone loss. Studies have shown a reduction of 50% to 80% in the risk of vertebral compressions and of 25% in the risk of other fractures during the first five years of treatment*. If there are no side effects or resulting health risks, this treatment is recommended for use against osteoporosis. It can be started at any time, even several years after the onset of the menopause, and continued for a few years.

The calcium intake of the majority of Europeans is glaringly insufficient and if you are deficient, you should be taking supplements continuously. During the winter, calcium supplements should be combined with Vitamin D, because generally there isn’t enough exposure to sunlight and Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium.

Finally, the older you are, the more careful you should be when doing any physical activity so as not to put your bones at risk, but it’s however important to remain active, to walk or do some suitable exercises as described above.

* Arch Intern Med. 1997; 157:2181-2187

Posted 10.02.2011

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