Most seniors wonder at the causes of osteoporosis and typically ask “am I a high risk?” This is because bones can very quietly deteriorate over several years, by a silent killer known as osteoporosis, without noticeable signs or symptoms.
Until they break a bone, many affected senior citizens have no idea that they have osteoporosis. By the time this occurs, the disease is generally fairly advanced in its progression. It is indeed a baffling disease, but as always, knowledge is power.
Knowing about the causes of osteoporosis and being able to assess risks and measures to prevent and manage them is a step in the right direction.
The Causes of Osteoporosis – How Does it All Begin?
It is actually quite normal to lose some bone material as we age through a cycle of losing old bone and making new bone material to replace it.
In childhood, the amount of bone material that the body makes is greater than the amount it loses, and bone mass (the total amount of bone material in our bodies) typically increases.
In early adulthood our bone mass stabilizes as these processes reach a plateau and only bone material we actually lose is replaced.
As we grow older, we begin to lose bone material faster than the body replaces it. This causes reduced bone density and weakening. This condition is known as osteoporosis.
As we lose bone mass, all the bones in our bodies become fragile, including the spine, and any one of them can fracture very easily.
Simply hitting your leg hard against a wall could result in a fracture! Hence, the need to be more self-aware of our environment as we walk around.
The Unwanted Guest
Unfortunately, osteoporosis does not announce that it is visiting! There are no warning signs.
By the time you experience any symptoms of weakness in your bones, the bones will already have become fragile (receding gums, weak and brittle fingernails and a weaker grip strength).
Once osteoporosis has become advanced, you may notice that you seem to be getting shorter or that your stomach seems to be sticking out.
Eventually you may notice that you are developing a stooped posture and a hump may appear on the back just below the neck.
The compression of the bones of your spinal cord is what causes a slight curving of the upper back. This condition is known as kyphosis.
Kyphosis can cause back and neck pain and even affect breathing due to extra pressure on the airway and limited expansion of your lungs.
Does a light bulb go on in your head with that understanding? If you have ever wondered why so many elderly people are stooped over and unable to stand up straight, the culprit is osteoporosis.
Tests to Detect Osteoporosis
There are some tests that can detect osteoporosis in its early stages.
A quick, painless bone density test can detect bone loss long before it would show up on a regular x-ray. And when this test is repeated over time, your doctor can track your rate of bone loss.
A woman should have a bone density test performed if she is at least 65 years of age, had a fragility fracture after age 40, has a family history of osteoporosis, and has been on long-term steroid therapy.
Future tests can be compared with this reading to help detect bone loss when it occurs.
The Causes of Osteoporosis – Women Are More at Risk
Osteoporosis is a serious health issue for both men and women but women have a higher risk factor. In Canada, at least 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will have an osteoporosis -related fracture in their lifetime .
Why does it occur more often in women? . There are a number of reasons (Health and Bone 2019) .
1. A woman’s bones are generally smaller and not as heavy as a man’s, so there is less bone mass to lose.
2. Men reach their level of peak bone mass later than women, and therefore they have more bone material at the stage when their bone mass stabilizes.
3. When women go through menopause, their bodies stop making the hormone estrogen which plays an important role in preventing bone loss.
Beginning menopause before the age of 40 (either naturally or as the result of having your ovaries removed surgically) also increases risk.
The Causes of Osteoporosis – Other Risks
Notable Risk Factors Aside from Gender
You are more likely to develop osteoporosis if you
- Are Asian or Caucasian (especially if you are fair-skinned);
- Have a small, thin build
- Have a family history of osteoporosis.
The Causes of Osteoporosis Include Lifestyle Risk Factors
- Not getting enough exercise,
- Consuming too much alcohol or caffeine,
- Not getting enough Calcium and Vitamin D.
Risk Factors related to Medical Conditions
Having certain medical conditions may make you more susceptible to osteoporosis. These include
- Endocrine disorders – Hyperthyroidism
- Gastrointestinal issues such as Crohn’s disease, Anorexia, Bulimia
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Blood disorders
- Certain surgical procedures e.g. Hysterectomy
Risk Factors Related to Medical Treatments
- Taking certain medicines—such as the steroids used to treat asthma and arthritis, some diuretics, and medicines that contain aluminum.
- Taking too high a dose of a prescribed thyroid hormone. Your doctor can review your current medication regimen with you to assess your risks.
How to Reduce Risk of Developing Osteoporosis
There are some simple things you can do to reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis or to slow its progress if detected in the early stages. These include:
- Ensuring a sufficient intake of calcium, vitamins C and D by eating a healthy balanced diet or getting this from supplements if unable to do so. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, nuts, some seafood, and some green vegetables
- Ensuring you take a daily supplement of age-appropriate multivitamins for either men or women – usually for 50 years and above. REFER to the table below for more details.
|NATURELO One Daily Multivitamin for Men 50 plus||NATURELO One Daily Multivitamin for Women 50 plus (Iron Free)||New Chapter Multivitamin for Men 55 plus||Whole Earth & Sea for Women 50 plus|
|Natural Supplement to Boost Energy, General Health – Non-GMO – 60 Capsules|| IRON FREE Version Ideal for Post Menopausal Women Over 40, Individuals with Sensitivity to Iron, & Seniors 50 plus|
Whole Food Supplement – Non-GMO – No Soy – 60 Capsules
|Enhances Longevity & Vitality with Fermented Probiotics + Whole Foods + Astaxanthin + Vitamin D3 + B Vitamins + Organic Non-GMO Ingredients – 72ct|| Guarantees Non-GMO and tests for about 600 potential contaminants|
Certified Organic – No Pesticides or Harsh Fertilizers – Gluten Free – 60ct
|Contains Natural Vitamins A, C, D3, E, K2 – Minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Selenium, Potassium – Antioxidants from Organic Fruits and Vegetables||*Contains Natural Vitamins A, B Complex, C, D3, E, K2 *Minerals – Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Selenium *Antioxidants from ORGANIC Fruit and Vegetable Extracts|| Provides men with immune, heart, prostate, energy, eye, bone, brain & digestion support*|
|Contains nutrients to aid older women who are at risk of developing chronic diseases, cognitive decline, and osteoporosis just as they reach menopause.|
- Being physically active. Exercises such as walking, low impact aerobics, and strength training can help bones stay healthy. Balance exercises are also easy to do and very beneficial. Try the ones recommended in a previous article on this website. Make sure you check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
- Eliminating the habit of smoking – it’s a bad habit anyway!
- Limiting the amount of alcohol and caffeine consumed. This is probably just as difficult as smoking, because many of us have developed the habit of drinking coffee or tea as second nature in the workplace
- Sometimes, taking a bone supplement might be necessary for bone strength. REFER to the the images below for more details.
|NATURELO Bone Strength||Jarrow Formulas SAM-e||New Chapter Bone Strength Calcium Supplement||Genestra Brands – Cal Mag Raspberry Liquid|
| 100% Natural Bone Strength Supplement for |
Men and Women over 40. Supports joint health and improves bone density – Includes 9 nutrients that enhance absorption of Calcium – 120 Vegetarian Capsules
|Jarrow Formulas SAM-e, Promotes Joint Strength, Mood and Brain Function,||Clinical Strength Plant Calcium with Vitamin D3 + Vitamin K2 + Magnesium – 120 ct Slim Tabs||Calcium and Magnesium with Vitamin D to Support Bone, Teeth, Tissue and Muscle Function – 450 ml Liquid|
|With Plant Calcium, Magnesium, Vitamins C, D3, & K2 – Great source of Magnesium, Zinc, Manganese, Potassium, Boron, & Natural Silicon||Enteric-Coated; Made naturally by fermentation||Calcium intake, when combined with sufficient Vitamin D, a healthy diet, and regular exercise, may reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis.||Calcium and Magnesium are delivered in Citrate form, providing superior bioavailability; Helps to prevent Vitamin D deficiency|
The treatment for osteoporosis involves a combination of healthy lifestyle changes that emphasize diet, exercise, and calcium supplementation. Your doctor or healthcare provider can provide you with greater details
There are medicines available that can help slow down your rate of bone loss and even help replace lost bone. For women who have gone through menopause, hormone replacement therapy may be helpful but this treatment is not suited for all women.
Women who have ever had breast cancer, cancer related to the reproductive organs, or who have had a blood clotting disorder are not suitable candidates for hormone replacement therapy.
If you have osteoporosis, it is important that you do everything you can to prevent falls.
These tips are re-emphasized time and time again in many related articles because falls result in broken bones which in turn will make you immobile for a VERY long time. Why? Because, the bones in older adults take much longer to heal than when younger.
Useful Safety Tips To Mitigate The Causes of Osteoporosis
- Many falls frequently occur in the home, especially in the bathroom and on the stairs. There are several safety precautions that seniors and the elderly especially need to take. These include the following:
- Use handrails wherever they are available in public places such as stairs or along hallways. I recommend you always have a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you whenever you go out so that you can clean your hands immediately after touching these surfaces.
- Use elevators instead of stairs or escalators when you have a choice
- Make sure your home is well lit and your walkways are uncluttered. If you find you are a bit clumsy on your feet – use a sturdy walker to help you get around.
- Use a shower stall instead of a bathtub where possible. It is preferable to use a shower chair with a back for safety and comfort.
- If you prefer to use a bathtub, equip your bathtub with handrails (there are lots to choose from) to help you when stepping into or out of the tub. Have a really thick and floor gripping non-slip rug to step onto. Many of the thinner models may not provide sufficient enough grip.
- Safety rails are an absolute essential for toilets. Again, look for the more sturdy brands.
- Wear comfortable shoes that are easy to walk in and stay securely on your feet (refer to our article on Velcro Shoes for Seniors.
- Don’t climb on chairs and ladders. Get assistance instead.
- Squat down to pick things from the floor rather than stooping or bending over, and never try to lift heavy things. It is easy to be tempted to do this, but I suggest that you do not give in to such temptation because you could end up having to pay dearly for it with a fracture or even a slipped disc!
- When possible, avoid medicines that affect your balance (Refer to our article on Poor Balance in Seniors).
- Ensure that you take the correct Calcium and Vitamin D supplementation daily to ensure healthy bones (Refer to our article on What is the Process of Aging – Let’s Talk Mobility)
In conclusion, we see that the causes of osteoporosis are not readily evident which is why it is called the “silent killer”. Understanding your risks are a step in the right direction, but equally important is taking necessary safety precautions to prevent falls.
Several safety tips are provided in this article. Are there others we should include. Let us know in the comments box below. In-depth reviews of safety accessories are in the works. If you would like to be informed when these are released, kindly subscribe to our newsletter – “Seniors Confidential” so that you become an Insider.
1. Health and Bone (2019) The Dangers of Osteoporosis https://www.healthandbone.ca/en/dangers-of-osteoporosis/osteoporosis-risk-factors/
2. Arthritis Foundation (2020) Osteoporosis https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/osteoporosis