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7 Common Myths About Osteoporosis That You Must Know Of Today

Posted: July 14, 2015

You are young, eat well and are healthy too. So you think you can’t get Osteoporosis? Think again. Here are 7 myths about Osteoporosis that you must know about.

A recent study in South Asian women medical student entrants revealed that even among a population expected to have a higher level of general knowledge of conditions like osteoporosis, there were many misconceptions and myths. Here are a few myths about this debilitating disorder that we need to look at.

I have no symptoms, no pain, I cannot have osteoporosis

This is precisely why this disorder is so insidious. No pain, no deformity, no red flags. It is only in the very elderly that the softening of bones might lead to a decrease in height, and a bending of the spine due to loss of bone mass in the vertebrae. There are often no symptoms to speak of, the disease silently eating away at bones and teeth, until disaster strikes, usually in the form of a low impact fracture. Discovery of the disease is often only through screening, often first discovered on a dental or bone x-ray.

It occurs only in the elderly

While it is true that debility due to osteoporosis occurs mostly in the very elderly, it can occur in younger people, and even sometimes in children. Hormonal changes during adolescence accelerate skeletal growth,building up the bone bank from childhood onwards as the peak bone density is reached around 30 years, 90% of which is attained in adolescence. The diet typical of adolescents – junk food and aerated drinks makes for low BMD (bone mineral density) over years. After that, proper diet, and supplements in case of women-specific risk factors like pregnancy and lactation is necessary. Though screening is recommended only after a certain age, it is important to keep this possibility in mind.

It occurs only in women

According to a recent study, one in eight men over 50 years of age suffer from osteoporosis, especially those who are heavy drinkers, smokers, have used steroids for longish periods, or taking hormonal treatment for prostate cancer. Women are certainly more at risk (one in four women suffer from it) because of the hormonal changes they undergo during menstrual cycles, pregnancy, lactation, and menopause. Women also suffer osteoporotic fractures at an earlier age than men, but this very fact makes men more likely to die as a direct consequence of osteoporotic fractures – a 31 percent mortality rate at one year after fracture versus a rate of 17 percent in women.

I eat well, and I exercise regularly, I’m unlikely to ever get osteoporosis

Yes, a good, balanced diet that includes sufficient calcium and Vitamin D goes a long way towards building good bone calcium reserves and preventing osteoporosis. This condition, however, runs in families, and if any one parent had osteoporosis, you are more likely to get it. Additionally, if you are a heavy drinker or/and smoker, and/or you have been taking any form of steroids for a period of time for any reason, the risk goes up. Regular screening for BMD after 40 is recommended, with lifestyle changes, as is a continuation of the good diet and exercise, with optimum exposure to the sun.

Only thin, weak-boned people do have osteoporosis

Your neighbour has been diagnosed with osteoporosis, and she’s thin, frail, with obviously weak bones. Your grandfather died soon after the hip fracture due to a fall in the bathroom, and he was weak and thin. Yes, osteoporosis has a decided association with a small bone frame and a thin, weak body. However, plump people could develop it too. In fact, people who have higher than 35% of body weight as fat, are as much of a risk as those who are underweight. Sufficient lean muscle mass is necessary to keep an optimum stress on the skeletal system to stimulate the deposition of bone calcium, not just overall weight.

It therefore, pays to have a muscled body instead of aiming for just weight increase/decrease. This is actually the rationale behind regular exercise to increase muscle mass, and hence bone mass, especially weight bearing exercises, preferably out in the open.

I drink milk every day, I cannot have osteoporosis

One cup of milk gives about 300 mg of Calcium. The daily allowance is much higher than that (refer table below). Also, daily requirement of Vitamin D is 400 IU (International Units) in infants, 600 IU in older children, adolescents, and adults, and as much as 800 IU in the very elderly(70+ year olds). Pregnant and lactating women require an additional 600 IU over and above the daily recommendation. The best way to ensure this intake is to eat different foods in which it occurs naturally. Supplements should be taken only in cases of inability to obtain/eat/digest these foods, or in case of severe deficiency. Vitamin D, as has been said earlier, can be obtained in abundance by exposure to sunlight.

Other risk factors for osteoporosis (listed elsewhere in this article), including thyroid dysfunction, and any gastrointestinal disorders that might lead to malabsorption also need to be looked into.

calcium requirements

I have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, now nothing can be done

Why not? Agreed, there is no cure for osteoporosis; preventive measures work better.  Once diagnosed, however, the disorder can be stalled and complications prevented by, again, proper diet with/without supplements, exercise depending upon mobility status, hormonal therapy, and medications that can be prescribed by your doctor.

Osteoporosis is a completely preventable disease, and even after being diagnosed, lifestyle changes and adequate medical intervention can ensure that the quality of your life is maintained.

fractured leg image via Shutterstock

In her role as the Editor & Community Manager at Women's Web, Sandhya Renukamba

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