Building Better Bones

By Hans Diehl, M.D.

Has ordinary, everyday calcium turned out to be the gallant gladiator that can deliver fair maidens from brittle bones, fractured hips, and deformed spines? That is what the calcium manufacturers and the dairy industry would like us to believe. In reality, osteoporosis, or bone loss, is far more complicated than that.

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis (literally, porous bone) silently and painlessly weakens the bones of 25 million Americans. Previously sturdy bones gradually become thin and fragile, and their interiors become soft and spongy. As a result, bones break, giving rise to the term brittle bones.

Osteoporosis may cause as many as 1.3 million fractures a year. Hip fractures can be both disabling and deadly. Spinal fractures, on the other hand, are often painless, but can rob a person of two to eight inches of height. The resultant spinal curvature is the source of the dowager’s hump, or the hunchback.

How Does Osteoporosis Develop?

Normal bones continue to increase in strength and thickness until around age 35. Then the process gradually reverses itself, and small amounts of bone are being lost each year—hence the common term "bone loss." This loss accelerates in women after menopause and can continue for 7 to 15 years. When risk factors are present, bone loss occurs even faster and osteoporosis may develop.

Although usually considered a disease of post-menopausal women, 20% of bone loss victims are men.

How Can I Tell If I've Undergone Bone Loss?

Without professional help, you can’t—not until you fracture a bone or start shrinking in height, and that’s quite late in the disease. Earlier diagnosis is best made by physicians at reliable medical centers.

If you are post-menopausal and you have two or more of the following risk factors, then it is important for you to be tested for possible bone loss:

  • sedentary lifestyle
  • early menopause
  • chronic use of corticosteroids
  • cigarettes, caffeine, or alcohol use
  • Standard American Diet high in animal protein, salt, and phosphoric acid.
  • Lean Caucasians and Westernized Asians are more susceptible than other races, probably because they have smaller bones.
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