Senior Health

Here you will find informative articles on the topic of senior nutrition. Topics covered range from senior nutrition and weight loss to the relationship between BMI and quality of life for the elderly.

What You Need to Know About Osteoporosis

Learn how osteoporosis is diagnosed, and how dietary modifications can help you avoid the damaging effects of this disease.

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We've all probably watched it happen to our beloved mothers and grandmothers. As they age, the stoop and stiffness can become more apparent as the years go by. This is often related to weakening of the vertebral bones in the upper and lower spine. As they weaken, the bones become weaker and often lose their shape and strength. Over time, this weakening and re-shaping can permanently change the shape of the bones that support the spine. This can lead to the stooping or 'hunched' appearance that afflicts some of our elderly population. There are number of things we can do and this article is designed to show you how to prevent osteoporosis and other ailments that affect our bone health.

How Osteoporosis is Diagnosed?

Over time, various factors lead to calcium being pulled from the bones. Calcium is a mineral that makes up bone mineral density. The density of calcium shows up on an x-ray - which is why we can see the shape of our bones on an x-ray film. A special kind of x-ray machine, known as dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) machine, can measure bone mineral density in two frequencies, and allows for a precise measurement of bone mineral density.

Bone mineral density is measured in the lower lumbar spine or the neck of the femur (thigh bone). When this density is lower than normal, then individuals with decreased bone mineral density will be given a score as to how much below normal their level is registering. This score is called a T-score. T-scores between +1 to -1 are considered normal. The red flag is waved at when bone mineral density levels fall below -1, and when they fall below -2.5, full-blown osteoporosis is present.

Who is at Risk of Developing Osteoporosis?

Unfortunately, Caucasian women who have gone through menopause are at the highest risk of developing osteoporosis related to the decreased estrogen levels. People who have a small frame are also at a higher risk, because of a lower overall total bone mineral storage capacity. Individuals who do not exercise, or who avoid strength and weight training exercises, are also more likely to develop osteoporosis. Adults who do not consume enough calcium and vitamin D in the diet, as well as people who smoke or use tobacco products are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.

Causes of Osteoporosis

If we understand the causes, then we can better understand how to prevent osteoporosis. The causes of osteoporosis are related to a number of things - such as thyroid hormone levels, calcium, creatinine, and vitamin D levels. If an individual does not exercise, then the bone is not stimulated to lay down new bone tissue, which can result in weakened bones over time. Low protein intake is also related to increased risk of osteoporosis. Celiac disease, glucocorticoid use, Crohn's disease, kidney disease, and a variety of other issues can cause osteoporosis over an extended period of time. Intakes of foods that have increased renal net acid excretion, or foods that have higher levels of protein and phosphorus such as animal proteins may increase the risk of osteoporosis over time, though a number of other risk factors may have to be present as well for osteoporosis to occur.

How to Prevent Osteoporosis

According to recent research, increased dietary intakes of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and fluoride can help prevent osteoporosis. Also vitally important are to provide adequate vitamin D, ensure consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, achieve a sufficient intake of protein, and ensure milk and dairy products-especially yogurt and fermented milk products-are present in the diet. In case of lactose intolerance, appropriate use of lactose-free dairy products is beneficial to help prevent osteoporosis.

Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on May 31, 2018. Updated on October 22, 2019.

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