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May 23, 2006 > Osteoporosis - A Disease That Affects All Ages

Osteoporosis - A Disease That Affects All Ages

Most of us take our musculoskeletal system - our bones, joints and muscles - for granted. These parts of our body make it possible for us to move around easily and go whenever we want to. But, for more than 35 million Americans - one in seven of us - movement is restricted by some type of disorder of the musculoskeletal system. One of the more common causes is osteoporosis.

Not long ago, osteoporosis was thought of as an old people's disease, something that those under retirement age didn't have to worry about. Today we know differently. This disease, which causes bones to become fragile and more likely to break, can affect people of all ages. Just as important, if you can discover you are at risk of getting osteoporosis, you can take steps to help prevent it.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis, if Americans don't take action, by the year 2020, half of everyone over 50 will be at risk for fractures related to osteoporosis and low bone mass. That's why the National Osteoporosis Foundation is sponsoring Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month during May - to encourage everyone to talk with their doctor about how to prevent and treat the disease.

"One of the biggest problems about osteoporosis is that it usually has no symptoms until you break a bone," explains Barry Shibuya, M.D., Fremont rheumatologist who is on the medical staff at Washington Hospital. "So, bone density screening is very important, especially if you are at risk for the disease."

People are at increased risk of having osteoporosis if they:

  • Have a family history of osteoporosis

  • Weigh less than 130 pounds

  • Are female

  • Have gone through menopause

  • Take certain medications, such as steroids, anti-seizure medication or the blood thinner Heparin.

When we are young, our bodies are constantly generating new bone mass. This process peaks at about age 35, when we have the most calcium in our skeletal system. By the time we reach 40, this process has become a negative one, in which more bone is lost than formed. This process accelerates rapidly for women as they get closer to menopause. Today, there are medications to treat osteoporosis in two ways: preventing the acceleration of bone loss or helping to form new bone.

Diet and exercise are important in helping to prevent osteoporosis. For example, adding calcium and vitamin D to your diet will help build healthier bones. Low levels of vitamin D in the blood stream can make it more difficult for the body to absorb calcium, reports Dr. Shibuya. Vitamin D is normally produced by the skin during exposure to sunlight. During the cold winter months, even in sunny California, many people don't get enough sun exposure to produce adequate amounts of the vitamin. You can check your vitamin D level through a simple blood test.

The National Institutes of Health recommends that adults should get between 800 and 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D every day. The best way to get your daily dose is through diet. Foods rich in vitamin D include fortified milk, cereals, egg yolks, salt water fish and liver.

Exercise also contributes to the prevention of osteoporosis. Researchers have found that exercise is most effective when it is weight-bearing - when your bones and muscles are working against gravity, or anytime your feet and legs are bearing your weight. Examples of weight-bearing exercise include jogging, walking, stair climbing, dancing and soccer.

Washington Hospital offers free bone density screenings for osteoporosis through the Community Health Resource Library, located on the first floor of Washington West (2500 Mowry Avenue). Screenings are available at the library Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information you can visit the library's web site, or call (510) 494-7030.

For more information about preventing and treating osteoporosis, visit any of the following web sites: The National Osteoporosis Foundation at, the Foundation for Osteoporosis Research and Education at or the Arthritis Foundation at

You can also learn more about better bone and joint health at the web site of the U.S. Bone and Joint Decade (2002-2011) at

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