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Osteoporosis: What Treatments Work

Osteoporosis is a big word for a big problem in older Americans. Your skeletal system supports your body, and when that weakens, a whole host of related issues follow. There is a lot of information out there about treatment for osteoporosis, from traditional medicine to natural therapies, or a combination.

Nually is dedicated to ensuring you have useful information about different conditions that can cause pain so that you can be informed and in control of your health. 

Osteoporosis: Overview

Osteoporosis is a degenerative disease of your bones. The word means porous bones. As you age, your body can break down more bone than it rebuilds. Other contributing factors to the breakdown of bone include:

  • Hormones
  • Genetics
  • Diet
  • Activity 

This process leads to thinner, less dense bones that are more fragile and susceptible to breaking. Certain medications can also cause or exacerbate osteoporosis. 

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or are at risk of developing it due to significantly lowered bone mass. About 50 percent of women and 25 percent of men ages 50 and older will suffer a bone fracture caused by osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis: Diagnosis

To diagnose osteoporosis, your family doctor may refer you to an orthopedist, especially if they notice physical signs of the disease, such as loss of height, increased back pain, or a hump in the spine. 

Your orthopedist, or bone doctor, will measure your bone mineral density (BMD). Typically, a machine similar to an x-ray, painlessly scans your bones, particularly your spine.

The most commonly used BMD test is the central DXA test, which uses two types of energy to measure absorption. The test can determine if you have osteoporosis, what your risk of fractures is, and assess your overall bone health. 

If your BMD score is 2.5 standard deviations away from that of a healthy young adult, you are diagnosed with osteoporosis. 

Osteoporosis: Treatment

If you have osteoporosis, you’re not alone, and there are many osteoporosis drugs and other treatments to help reduce your risk of fracture, slow the loss of bone, and, in some cases, generate new bone growth.

Diet Rich in Calcium and Vitamin D

One treatment for osteoporosis is to supplement your diet with foods high in Calcium and Vitamin D. These minerals help to strengthen your bones. Try adding some of these foods:

  • Fatty Fish - rich in Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids 
    • Tuna
    • Sardines
    • Herring
    • Mackerel
    • Salmon 
  • Dairy Products - have a lot of calcium and are often enriched in vitamin D
    • Milk
    • Yogurt 
    • Cheese  
  • You can even get fortified orange juice full of calcium and vitamin D
You may not be able to get enough calcium and vitamin D from foods if you are trying to slow or reverse osteoporosis. Calcium supplements come in a variety of forms including:
  • Drops 
  • Capsules 
  • Tablets
  • Liquid
  • Chewables  - including some that taste like chocolate!  

    Furthermore, studies have shown that a diet rich in fruits and green leafy vegetables can improve your bone density. However, take care to avoid or limit the foods in the section below.

    Limit Foods that Lower Calcium Levels or Prevent Absorption

    Caffeine may interfere with your body’s ability to absorb calcium. Limit your coffee, tea, and caffeinated soft drinks and offset their effects by taking additional calcium. Alcohol is also linked to bone loss, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Drink in moderation.

    Salt causes your body to lose calcium. It can also lead to bone loss, so it's important to limit the amount of processed foods, canned foods, and foods high in sodium. The NOF recommends that you eat 2,300 mg or less of sodium per day and avoid foods with more than 20% average daily value of sodium.

    Some foods that are healthy for you in other ways can also leach calcium from your bones or prevent its absorption. These include: 

    • Wheat Bran 
    • Spinach
    • Rhubarb 
    • Greens
    • Legumes 

      Soaking beans thoroughly before cooking them will release the phytates that cause the calcium blocking problem. 

      Weight-Bearing Exercise and Lifting

      Developing stronger muscles can help improve or maintain your posture, improve your balance, and reduce your risk of falls and bone fractures. The Mayo Clinic recommends that people with osteoporosis or at risk of developing it engage in a weight-bearing aerobic activity several times per week and do strength training to build muscles.

      If you already have osteoporosis, you’ll likely want to avoid high-impact aerobic activity such as jogging or running, which put a lot of stress on the hips and spine. Instead, try some of the following exercises: 

      • Walking 
      • Dancing 
      • Low-impact aerobics 
      • Stair climbing - elliptical  

        Cycling and swimming are excellent exercises for cardiovascular health but they do not provide the weight-bearing requirements you need to improve osteoporosis.

        Weight training, by using free weights, resistance bands, or weight machines is also an essential treatment for osteoporosis. You’ll especially want to focus on strengthening your upper back, large leg muscles, and core.

        Bisphosphonates Medication

        There are many osteoporosis drugs your doctor can prescribe to help your body absorb calcium, stop losing bone, or grow new bone. Bisphosphonates are a class of medicines commonly prescribed for osteoporosis. 

        They work by slowing your body’s bone breakdown process, which increases with age and the hormonal changes related to menopause. 

        Osteoporosis drugs come in many forms and dosages. You can take a pill every day, once a week, or once per month. You can also receive injections or intravenous (IV) medication monthly, quarterly, or annually.

        Hormone Replacement Therapy

        For some postmenopausal women, replacing estrogen can help slow or reverse osteoporosis. It can also help with other symptoms of menopause, such as mood changes, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. Check with your doctor.

        Final Thoughts

        Osteoporosis is prevalent and is something that affects millions of Americans every year. Just because you are aging doesn’t mean you have to accept bone degeneration and loss. There are many things you can do to improve your bone density. Medication and therapy prescribed by your doctor can slow bone loss, and in some cases, even rebuild bone for a stronger skeleton.

        Osteoporosis by itself doesn’t cause pain, but osteoporosis leads to pain in the form of spinal compression fractures and more significant fractures as a result of falling.