Osteoporosis is a common condition experienced by senior citizens. As many as nine million Americans have full blown osteoporosis, while as many as 48 million have low bone density. Low bone density leads to osteoporosis. Bone density scans can be done to give you an idea of how strong your bones are, yet they are not the only way to diagnose osteoporosis. Our bodies give us many signs on their own that our bones are growing weaker. So what exactly is osteoporosis, what causes it, and how can we tell when it is beginning?
Osteoporosis means “porous bone”. Healthy bones are a network of bone cells that look like a honeycomb. When a person has osteoporosis, the honeycomb network has large holes in its structure making the bone less dense and more easily susceptible to fracturing or breaking. These holes are created when your bone cells stop multiplying and begin decreasing in number.
Osteoporosis tends to happen in women at a younger age because estrogen, a female sex hormone, is a major contributor to bone growth. When women reach menopause their estrogen levels drop drastically, which leads to decreased bone cells. Testosterone is the male sex hormone that helps contribute to bone growth and density. Mens’ bone densities last longer than womens’ because male testosterone and fertility lasts longer than in women. However, when people reach the ages of 65 to 70, men and women begin losing bone cells at the same rates.
The body signals to us that our bones are growing weaker and less dense in multiple ways, including:
- Gums that are receding – Loss of jaw bone growth will cause receding gums. Your dentist will be able to detect gum recession.
- Low Vitamin D levels – Have your Vitamin D levels tested twice a year, as it is vital to bone growth and low levels of Vitamin D can be a sign of osteoporosis.
- Fingernails that are weak or brittle – Brittle or weak fingernails are a sign of ill health in general, but there is a connection between people who have healthy nails and healthy bones.
- Decreased grip strength – Recently, a study of postmenopausal women was done and hand grip strength was found to be the most important physical factor in relation to determining overall bone density.
- Loss of height or curvature of the spine – Poor posture or hunching over can indicate weakness in the muscles surrounding the spine. Since muscle and bone weakness are typically seen together, poor posture can also be a sign of osteoporosis.
- Bone pain and muscle aches or cramps – These can be caused by a lack of calcium, magnesium and potassium in the blood, which are essential for strong bones.
Talking to a physician about the early warning signs of osteoporosis and how to combat them will benefit you in the long run. You can help slow osteoporosis and have a better quality life through educating yourself and taking action.