An estimated 924,000 Australians have osteoporosis, based on self-reported data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017–18 National Health Survey (NHS) and 20% of people aged 75 years and over have osteoporosis (ABS 2018). This definition of osteoporosis includes people who had osteoporosis or osteopenia.
Osteoporosis means “porous bones”. It’s a condition that causes bones to become thin, weak and fragile. As a result even the smallest bump or accident can cause a broken bone. Events like falling out of bed, out of a chair or tripping and falling whilst taking a walk. Fractures due to Osteoporosis can result in chronic pain, disability and loss of independence.
Osteoporosis is more common in older women. It affects over 1 in 4 women aged over 75.
What causes Osteoporosis?
Decreased bone density occurs when the bones lose minerals such as calcium faster than the body can replace them. The decrease in bone mineral density and changes in bone quality makes bones very fragile and prone to fractures.
There is normal bone density and then Low Bone density, “Osteopenia” which is the range of bone density between normal and osteoporosis.
What are the main causes of Osteoporosis?
- Increasing age
- Higher chance in females
- History of the condition in the family
- Low Vitamin D levels
- Low intake of Calcium
- Low body weight
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Physical inactivity
- Long-Term corticosteroid use
- Reduced Oestrogen level
Preventing and Managing Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a largely preventable disease. The goal is to maintain bone density.
Quality of life can be greatly impacted from falls and injuries so it’s best to try and prevent any trip and fall hazards around the home.
The primary prevention of osteoporosis involves supplementing diet to get sufficient calcium and vitamin D and to regulate behaviour when it comes to exercise, keeping intake of alcohol low and not smoking.
There are some medications that you can talk to your doctor about when it comes to managing and preventing Osteoporosis. It’s best to book in an appointment with your GP. Oral and intravenous bisphosphonates and subcutaneous denosumab injections are among the recommended first line pharmacological therapy for both male and females with Osteoporosis.
Tips on how to prevent Osteoporosis
- Calcium Rich diet – Enjoying a healthy, balanced diet with a variety of foods and an adequate intake of calcium is a vital step to building and maintaining strong, healthy bones. It is recommended that the average Australian adult consumes 1,000 mg of calcium per day. Postmenopausal women and men aged over 70 years are recommended to have 1,300 mg of calcium per day. Children, depending on their age, will need up to 1,300 mg of calcium per day. Dairy foods have the highest levels of calcium, but there are many other sources of calcium, including sardines, spinach and almonds. If you are unable to get enough calcium from your diet alone, you may need to talk to a health professional about calcium supplements
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D and Calcium promote bone density. Vitamin D is important because it helps the body absorb the calcium in your Diet. We obtain most of our Vitamin D from the Sun but this doesn’t mean go out and bake yourself! You still have to be sun smart.
Vitamin D can be found in small quantities in foods such as Fatty Fish (salmon, herring and mackerel), liver, eggs, fortified foods such as low-fat milks and margarines.
- Exercise! Weight-bearing exercise encourages bone density and improves balance so falls are reduced. It does not treat established osteoporosis! Consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have been sedentary, are over 75 years of age or have a medical condition.
- General weight-bearing activities such as brisk walking, jogging, tennis, netball or dance are great ways to get exercising again. Non-weight bearing exercises, such as swimming and cycling are excellent for overall health but do not prevent bone growth.
- Include some high-impact exercise into your routine, such as skipping. This may not be suitable if you have joint issues. Consult your specialist for this one.
- Strength training or resistance training is also an important exercise for bone health. It involves resistance bring applied to a muscle to develop and maintain muscular strength, endurance and mass. Strength training can maintain, or even improve mineral density. Be guided by a health professional though to ensure you don’t injure yourself and work on your technique.
- Activities that promote muscles strength, balance and coordination – such as tai chi, Pilates and gentle yoga – are also important as they can help to prevent falls by improving balance, muscle strength and posture. A mixture of weight-bearing and strength training sessions throughout the week is ideal. Aim for 30-40 minutes, 4 to 6 times a week.
Lifestyle factors to take into consideration
- Stop smoking! Smokers have lower bone density that non-smokers.
- Get some sun! Exposure of some skin to the sun needs to occur on most days of the week to allow enough vitamin D production. Please keep in mind being sun smart though.
- Alcohol in moderation. Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of osteoporosis. Drink no more than two standard drinks per day and have at lease two alcohol-free days per week.
- Limit caffeinated drinks. Excessive caffeine can affect the amount of calcium that our body absorbs. Drink no more than two to three cups per day of cola, tea or coffee.