Osteoporosis Symptoms: The Truth About Osteoporosis

A crippling disease that is preventable and reversible.

By John R. Lee, M.D. and Virginia Hopkins

Although cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among American women, osteoporosis is the disease they are most likely to develop as they age. Four out of ten white women in the U.S. will fracture a hip, spine, or forearm due to osteoporosis. As many as five out of ten will develop small fractures in their spine, causing great pain and a shrinking in height. This amounts to 15 to 20 million people affected by a crippling and painful disease that is almost entirely preventable and reversible.

Osteoporosis is a gradual decrease in bone mass and density that can begin as early as the teen years. Bone mass should be at its peak in our late 20s or early 30s, but thanks to a poor diet and lack of exercise, many women are already losing bone in their 20s. Bone loss occurs more rapidly in women than in men, especially right around the time of menopause, when an abrupt drop in estrogen and progesterone accelerates bone loss.

When you think of your bones you may imagine a dead skeleton, but your bones are living tissue, just like the rest of your body, and they need a good supply of nutrients and regular exercise. New bone is constantly being made, while old bone is being reabsorbed and excreted by the body. Our larger long bones, such as our arm bones and leg bones, are very dense, and they are completely replaced about every 10-12 years. Our less dense bones, such as our spine and the ends of our long bones, are less dense and turn over every 2-3 years. Thus, as you can see, we always have the opportunity to be creating better bone for ourselves.

We all hear about how having enough calcium in the diet and taking estrogen can help prevent osteoporosis, but there is a much bigger nutritional and lifestyle picture to look at when we are talking about preventing this bone-robbing disease. You'll be happy to know that for the vast majority of women, there is no need to take estrogen to prevent osteoporosis.

The most important element of bones is minerals. Without minerals we don't have bones. The most important bone minerals are calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous and fluoride. Equally important is the balance between the minerals. Too much phosphorous or fluoride will create poor bone structure. (Nearly all of us already ingest too much fluoride.) Without enough magnesium, the calcium can't be absorbed onto the bone. Vitamins are also involved. For example, vitamin B6 works with magnesium to get calcium onto your bones.

The hormones testosterone, estrogen and progesterone are also actively involved in the making and unmaking of bone. Testosterone and progesterone build bone, while estrogen appears to indirectly slow bone loss.

In osteoporosis, the old bone is being reabsorbed faster than new bone is being made, causing the bones to lose density and become thinner and more porous. The integrity and strength of our bones is related to bone mass and density. The bones of a woman with osteoporosis gradually become thinner and more fragile. A progressive loss of bone mass may continue until the skeleton is no longer strong enough to support itself. When that happens, bones can spontaneously fracture. As bones become more fragile, falls or bumps that would not have hurt us before, can cause a fracture. Bone loss seems to be most severe in the spine, wrists and hips. Unfortunately there are usually no signs or symptoms of osteoporosis until a fracture occurs.

Early Signs of Osteoporosis

Sudden insomnia and restlessness
Nightly leg and foot cramps
Persistent low back pain
Gum disease, loose teeth
Gradual loss of height

Your Risk of having osteoporosis is higher if you:

Are a woman
Have a family history of osteoporosis
Are white
Are thin
Are short
Went into menopause early
Have a low calcium intake
Don't exercise
Smoke cigarettes
Drink more than two alcohol drinks daily
Are on chronic steroid therapy (e.g. Prednisone)
Are on chronic anticonvulsant therapy
Are taking drugs which can cause dizziness
Are hyperthyroid
Eat too much animal protein intake
Use antacids regularly
Drink more than two cups of coffee daily

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