Osteoporosis doesn't respect youth

By DEBBIE H. FLEMING Special to The State Journal Published:

Osteoporosis is no longer a disease of the elderly. At age 59, Academy award winning actress Sally Fields has been diagnosed with osteoporosis. She is currently lending her name to help raise awareness about the silent disease.

Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone mass, where healthy bone becomes thin and porous. As the bones become more fragile they are more susceptible to breaking especially the bones of the wrist, hip and spine.

In 2004, the US Surgeon General issued the first public report on bone health since diseases of the bone, including osteoporosis, have now become a major public health problem. The report states that by 2020 over half of the US population will be at risk for osteoporosis related fractures unless action is taken by individuals and their healthcare providers.

According to the report, fractures can lead to a downward spiral in physical health and quality of life, including losing the ability to walk, stand up, or dress, and can lead to premature death.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that one in two women and one in four men will suffer a bone fracture caused by bone loss in the course of their lifetime. Twenty percent of individuals who suffer a bone fracture end up in a nursing home and twenty percent of senior citizens who have a hip fracture die within one year. Current healthcare related cost from osteoporosis fractures is estimated at 18 billion dollars yearly.

There are certain risk factors associated with the development of the disease. If you are petite, small framed, Caucasian or Asian, have a family history of osteoporosis, inactive, have a diet poor in calcium and over 50 years of age you have a greater risk of developing the disease. In addition, certain medications may put your at greater risk as does the use of tobacco products and alcohol.

While the role that genetics plays cannot be changed you can make lifestyle changes to protect your bones. Eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is the best way to prevent the disease. Good sources of dietary calcium are milk, cheese and other diary products, soy products and green leafy vegetables such as spinach.

Physical inactivity is another major contributor in the development of osteoporosis. Weight bearing exercises such as walking, running and dancing are essential for good bone health. Children should be physically activity for 60 minutes each day and adults need at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily to help maintain bone health.

A simple test called a bone mineral density (BMD) test can measure bone density. A BMD can detect bone loss early when treatment is most beneficial. If osteoporosis is detected by a BMD there are medications available that can help slow and sometimes reverse bone loss. Exercise programs that will increase your flexibility and taking steps to make your home fall proof will help reduce the risk of fractures.

Debbie Howes Fleming is the health education director with the Franklin County Health Department. For more information about column topics or to contact her or the FCHD Community Health Education team, call 564-5559 or visit the websites FCHD.org.

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