Why be concerned about fracture risk as we live through the boomer years? Many middle-aged folks feel young, vibrant and strong, yet some 40 million men and women 45 and older are at risk for hip fractures related to low bone density. Fractures are a leading cause of nursing home entry for boomers and beyond.
Bone mass peaks at age 30. After this, we begin to lose bone mass, especially if nutrition and physical activity are compromised.
Bone, like other tissues and organs, consists of living cells. Changes in bone metabolism that start in the boomer years result in a steady reduction of bone density as hormone production decreases.
As bone density decreases, fracture risk rises. Even small losses of bone mass each year are significant since losses are cumulative.
Particularly during the first five years following menopause, if hormone replacement hasn't been initiated, women are most susceptible to loss of bone mass. Men, too, experience decreasing testosterone levels, which contribute to bone loss.
Health care providers may prescribe hormone replacement therapy to protect against this bone loss. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that women 65 years old and men older than 75 should have a bone density test and those with additional risks be tested earlier. The longer we forestall bone loss, the better off we will be.
So what are the risk factors associated with bone loss? The list is a familiar one, as it is similar to other lists associated with chronic diseases.
Smoking increases the risk of fracture. The longer you use tobacco and the more you use it, the greater your risk of fracture in old age. Smokers who fracture take longer to heal than nonsmokers. Women who smoke often produce less estrogen and go into menopause earlier, leading to increased bone loss. Quitting smoking reduces the fracture risk. Chronic alcohol abuse increases fractures, not only because it destroys new bone cells, but it also increases falls. Needless to say, avoiding smoking and alcohol is beneficial for bone health.
Without adequate calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and vitamin K intake, we don't have the ingredients to make healthy bone.
Many of us presume we get enough vitamin D if we are in the sun for at least 15 minutes a day. Others rely on vitamin D from calcium and vitamin supplements. New research shows these assumptions may be false. Adequate vitamin D is essential for bone health, as well as immune and cardiovascular health. Research suggests we need more vitamin D than previously recommended and daily levels are being adjusted by the Institute of Medicine to reflect these findings. The best way to assess your vitamin D levels is through a simple blood test. With these results, your health care provider can advise the proper dosage for your individual needs.
Increased bone density, improved muscle strength, better balance - these three things might increase longevity and quality of life. If you want to avoid the pain and inconvenience caused by bone fracture, get hopping and protect your bones!
The Missoulian's Booming section features a monthly column by members of the Missoula City-County Health Department in order to assist baby boomer residents to be healthy and resilient. Mary Pittaway, nutrition services supervisor, can be reached at 258-4837 or at email@example.com. Rebecca Morley provides nutrition services through the Eat Smart Program and can be reached at 258-3827 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.