In the United States alone, more than 53 million people suffer from Osteoporosis, and around the world, it is estimated that an osteoporotic fracture occurs every 3 seconds. It is of the utmost importance to diagnose Osteoporosis early through regular check ups with your primary healthcare physician, and hopefully avoid the most intense symptom of bone breakage. Your doctor will measure your bone mineral density using a machine known as a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, or DXA machine, and scan your hip and spine. It is a quick, 10-15 minute procedure with much less exposure to radiation, versus a typical x-ray, that can save you a lot of pain and discomfort down the line. Your doctor will assess if your bone density is normal, or may even find that you have Osteopenia, which is a stage of low bone mass before reaching full blown Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is commonly referred to as a silent disease because it can be tough to see coming, with seemingly harmless and rare early signs like receding gums, weakening grip strength, and weak and/or brittle fingernails. In the later stages, Osteoporosis will have caused significant bone deterioration, leading to loss of height, back (typically in the lumbar/low back) or neck pain, stooped posture (Kyphosis), and ultimately a compression bone fracture. Unfortunately many people have no idea that they are suffering from bone loss until their bones become so weak that a sudden strain or fall causes a vertebrae to collapse or a hip to fracture. Following a proper diet and exercise regime can go a long way in preventing this terrible disease, and we at Bare Health are equipped to help!
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis translates to porous bone, and it is a disease that involves low bone mass and the structural deterioration of bone tissue, leading to fragile bones and an increased risk for fractures, especially in the wrist, hip and spine. Our bones are living, growing tissue. We have cells called Osteoclasts, that dissolve bone, and Osteoblasts, that work to build bone, and when bone can’t be rebuilt fast enough, Osteoporosis occurs. Consuming adequate amounts of calcium and obtaining enough vitamin D is integral in bone development and strength, as well as performing regular resistance training and weight bearing exercises such as walking, hiking, playing tennis and even dancing. Most of us reach peak bone mass, where our bones are at their most dense, in our early 20’s, but past our 30’s the rebuilding of bone tissue slows, as does the body’s ability to absorb calcium and vitamin D. This is why the older population has higher recommendations for both and may even want to consider supplementing them, especially if unable to get at least 15 minutes of sun exposure daily. Other factors increase your chances of developing Osteoporosis, factors that you have little control over, such as being of White or Asian ethnicity, having a family history of it, having a smaller body size, and being female. As much as we like to believe that men and women are created equal, there are unfortunately innate differences, leaving females more susceptible to Osteoporosis. These risks increase if a woman has gone through menopause or has had her ovaries removed before the age of 45. For the most part, in men and women, inadequate hormone levels increase chances of getting this disease, as well as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol frequently, a sedentary lifestyle, and even certain medical conditions like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Sign 1: Weak Grip and Fingernails
There aren’t many early signs for Osteoporosis and most people may not even have any signs until a bone actually fractures. However, one of the first signs some people experience is weakened grip strength, you may notice it’s harder to perform daily tasks such as washing and putting away the dishes, maintaining your grip on the laundry hamper, or even holding your drink cup… Another early sign of Osteoporosis is weak or brittle fingernails; these are external bones after all, so they can in fact be telling of our internal bone health. One may happen before the other, or you may notice the gradual decline simultaneously. Either way you should not ignore these symptoms and chalk it up to simple aging; it would be wise to get immediate attention. These signs tend to go unnoticed as many believe it to be normal in the aging process, but if you know a loved one that has these signs urge them to seek attention, as it’s better to be safe than sorry. Strength training, as well as specific exercises can help immensely in recovering and maintaining grip strength. Strength training involves lifting weights and/or using weight training machines. The act of consistently strength training, a minimum of 2-3 times per week and grabbing dumbbells, barbells, or cables will not only make your muscles stronger, but the tendons, ligaments and bones as well. Like muscle, bone is a living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger, so seeking professional help to help you come up with the appropriate training routine can help prevent the development of Osteoporosis.
Sign 2: Loss of Height
The silent disease is real, many things that we commonly think are just a part of getting older are actually strong signs of Osteoporosis. How often have we heard “the little old lady/ man”? We think that getting old automatically means that we have to shrivel up. While many of us do end up losing height, what you may not know is that it is likely due to a high prevalence of Osteoporosis in the elderly population. The loss of bone density and fractures in the spine lead to compression, and the outward symptom may appear as loss of height. It’s important that we remain active in our younger years in order to establish a strong base and density in our bones. If we are proactive, even if we are hit with this terrible disease, we can at least limit the effects to an extent, it may sound grim but the more bone mass we have, the more we can afford to lose. This could happen to any of us though, it is certainly not limited or exclusive to our more seasoned population. If you are of a younger generation and suddenly start growing down, instead of up, it would be a good idea to get an exam. It may be scoliosis that is bringing your body closer to the ground, since we are aware that if your spine begins to bend it can appear as loss of height. However, Osteoporosis is something to keep in mind and the final word should be left to a professional’s opinion.
Sign 3: Back or Neck Pain
Pain. Pain is something that drives a significant portion of the human population. Whether it be the proactive attempts to avoid it in the first place, or the pursuit to rid ourselves of it. It’s an unfortunate but very real part of existence on earth, it may be strongly undesirable but, it can be very telling and helpful as well. Pain can warn us that change is needed, that we need to seek help in order to heal our bodies and continue functioning properly. As we mentioned earlier Osteoporosis can cause your bones to fracture more frequently, this is caused by your bones losing density and becoming more porous (hence the term osteo[porosis]) than they once were. These fractures not only cause you to walk and stand differently than before, they also have an ability to cause pain. This could possibly be the least telling sign of all, considering the nuances of pain and all the different factors that could be contributing to it. However, if you have recently taken the smallest dip, sneezed too hard, coughed, or bent over and gotten a nagging pain in your back or neck you may have Osteoporosis and actually fractured a vertebrae. This is not to be taken lightly and if this sounds like you we strongly recommend seeing a doctor soon to get an evaluation. Hopefully it remains unnecessary in your particular case, but if you are a person who needs surgery, it would be better to find out before it becomes a more complicated situation that requires a more in depth surgery.
Sign 4: Kyphosis
A good portion of us, if not all of us, have seen an elderly person slowly walking with a hunch so pronounced that it’s hard to understand how they don’t topple over immediately after standing. This poor, stooped posture with shoulders rounded forward, chest pointing towards the ground and a head that seems to be running away from your body is known as Kyphosis. This is a common side effect of having had a fracture occur in the vertebrae causing the added pressure to force you into this less than desirable position. Especially if your posture wasn’t relatively “bad” historically, meaning you went from walking around with your head up and now it seems as though you’re always sulking and just lost the biggest competition of your life. This recent development of involuntary postural change can be a sign that you are in fact Osteopenic. While this can happen to members of either sex, male or female as explained ealrier it is more common in women with low estrogen production. If you are female and have gone through menopause already and are noticing your posture slumping unwarrantedly, you may want to get a doctors visit lined up to get checked and hopefully helped as well. This is especially true if you went through this life altering experience early in life, and are White or Asian. We did focus on the elderly but people of any age that have noticed similar issues should take precautions. No one thinks it’ll be them when the odds are low, but unfortunately it does happen to some, and the sooner you find out the sooner you can begin combat with Osteoporosis.
Sign 5: Bone Fractures
Due to the body’s inability (or decreased ability) to repair bones because of the effects of Osteoporosis, there is a significant increase in the risk for bone fractures. The seemingly smallest of incidents could cause enough trauma to the bone for it to break or fracture. Most of us that experience an extreme impact like crashing on a bike, or falling down a flight of stairs may break or fracture bones. For a person with Osteoporosis however, a small fall, bending over, or even a strong hiccup or cough could be enough stress to fracture a bone! The most common fractures are found in the wrist, spine, or hip, any of which can lead to severe disability. In some instances, these fractures will require surgery, the most common of which is Kyphoplasty, involving small incisions to insert a small balloon into a collapsed vertebrae to restore height and function to the spine. Unfortunately though, sometimes these fractures can even lead to death… It may seem like hyperbole at first glance, the thought of a broken or fractured bone leading to death in our modern world, with all of our medicinal advancements, can be difficult to fathom. But if you take into consideration the weakened immune system and limited ability to heal in an elderly man or woman, the possibility of getting an infection and it spreading… The concern is just too real. The worst part is that as we mentioned before, since this is the silent disease, you may not know you have it until you do have an incident that causes one of these painful fractures.
Aging doesn’t always have to be as bad as we once thought it to be, things that we had previously accepted as just a part of life could be mitigated, and in some cases completely eradicated. It is imperative that we remain active not only in our youth to build strong bones and muscle mass, but as we age in order to retain what we can. A well designed diet rich in micronutrients derived from plants, herbs, and spices and some supplements could help you live a more pleasurable life as you age. Now add some form of resistance training and cardio into the mix and you are doing all you can in order to help yourself. Preventative maintenance is key and we will stand by that, however, we are not blinded to the fact that we all still have the risk of developing diseases such as Osteoporosis, especially if it is in our genetics. There are some things that we cannot change, but this does not negate the fact that taking care of yourself could significantly reduce the amount of suffering you deal with. If you are looking for a helping hand we at bare health create custom plans for all of our clients. Together we are stronger, and if you wish we are willing to share the knowledge. Feel free to reach out, you can call, text, use the messaging center on the bottom left corner of our website, email, or reach out via social media. We will respond as soon as possible. To your health.
Author: Tessa Mini, Armando and Carla Castro of Bare Health