Your Health

Osteoporosis

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to lose mass and become thin and brittle. Weaker bones mean there is more risk of breaks, which can result in pain, deformity, and other serious consequences. As people age their bodies start to re-absorb calcium from their bones, leading to some loss in bone density. Osteoporosis occurs when the bone loss is excessive.

What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is sometimes called the “silent disease” because many people do not notice symptoms until they break a bone. Symptoms for older people may include:

  • fractures of the hip, wrist, or vertebrae (back bone)
  • back pain
  • loss of height
  • vertebral collapse, which shortens and curves the spine

What are the risk factors for osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis affects about one in four women over the age of 50 and one in eight men over 50. You are more at risk of osteoporosis if you:

  • are 65 years or older
  • are of Caucasian or Asian descent
  • have a history of osteoporosis in your family
  • have a thin (small-boned) frame and low body weight
  • do not have a period for more than three months (unless you are on birth control pills)
  • started menopause before age 45

You have an increased risk for osteoporosis if you:

  • eat lots of high-protein foods
  • drink a lot of alcohol or caffeinated beverages
  • smoke
  • do not get enough calcium or vitamin D
  • do not do much weight-bearing exercise

Certain drugs or other products may also increase your risk of osteoporosis. If you are taking medications, ask your Peoples pharmacist about risks.

Diseases that may increase risk

Your risk for osteoporosis may increase if you have:

  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • hyperthyroidism
  • bulimia or anorexia nervosa
  • chronic kidney or liver disease
  • chronic depression
  • chronic obstructive lung disease

How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

Talk to your doctor if you have risk factors for osteoporosis. There are several ways to determine how much bone mass you have lost. Your doctor may recommend a heel ultrasound, bone density scan, or other tests.

How can I prevent osteoporosis?

You can reduce your risk for osteoporosis by making healthy choices about what you put into your body. Follow these basic guidelines:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables — at least 5–10 servings a day. This will give you nutrients that help keep your bones strong and prevent fractures.
  • Limit your daily salt intake to less than 2100 mg.
  • Limit your daily alcohol intake to two beverages or less. Maximum weekly intake should be 9 alcoholic beverages for women and 14 for men.
  • Limit your daily caffeine intake to three cups of coffee, tea, or soda.
  • Quit smoking.

Other things you can do to help prevent osteoporosis include getting enough calcium, getting enough vitamin D, and staying physically active.

Get enough calcium

Ask your Peoples pharmacist about calcium supplements if your diet does not provide enough calcium. Your body will absorb calcium better if you get enough vitamin D.

Recommended daily intake levels for calcium

Age Daily intake level (from all sources)
women and men over 50 years 1500 mg
women and men 19–50 years 1000 mg
pregnant or lactating women 18 years or older 1000 mg
adolescent children 9–18 years 1300 mg
prepubescent children 4–8 years 800 mg

Get enough vitamin D

Your body manufactures some Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. You should also include vitamin D in your diet, particularly if you’re over 65. Vitamin D sources include oysters, fish oils, and fortified foods such as butter, cow’s milk, and cereals. Ask your Peoples Pharmacist about Vitamin D supplements if your diet does not provide enough.

Recommended daily intake levels for vitamin D

Age Daily intake level (from all sources)
women and men over 50 years 800 IU
women and men 19–50 years 400 IU
pregnant or lactating women 18 years or older 400 IU

Stay physically active

You can help prevent osteoporosis by doing some weight-bearing physical activity most days of the week — exercise at a light to moderate intensity for at least 30–60 minutes. Weight-bearing activities include walking, low-impact aerobics, and dancing. Weight training and other resistance exercises can help maintain bone density as well.

Before starting regular exercise, fill out a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q). Talk to your doctor if you are over 69. The PAR-Q is available from:

How can I treat osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis treatment may include lifestyle modifications, supplements, medications, or a combination of these approaches.

Lifestyle modifications

Consider the following lifestyle modifications to help
manage your osteoporosis:

  • Reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake
  • Quit smoking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid medications that make you drows
  • Rearrange your furniture to reduce your risk of falls and fractures

Supplements

Your doctor or Peoples pharmacist may recommend the following daily supplements:

  • 800–1200 mg of calcium
  • 400–800 IU of vitamin D
  • 400 mg of magnesium

Medications

If you are taking medication for your osteoporosis, use it as instructed. Talk with your doctor or Peoples Pharmacist if you have concerns or notice side effects.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

Medication for women that involves the hormone estrogen, usually in combination with progesterone. Women who begin HRT within three years of menopause and use it for six years have a reduced risk of hip and wrist fractures, as well as reduced fractures of the vertebrae. Some women cannot take estrogen because of medical reasons, while others do not want the side effects, which can include breast tenderness or renewed menstrual periods. Other treatment options should be considered before using HRT to treat osteoporosis because there is risk of heart attacks and breast cancer.

Bisphosphonates

Medications that help prevent bone loss and fractures. For more information, talk to your Peoples pharmacist.

Calcitonin

Medication used to treat osteoporosis. Calcitonin may ease the pain of collapsed backbones.

Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs)

A class of new estrogen-like drugs that helps prevent osteoporosis progressing in women who are past menopause.

Where can I find out more about osteoporosis?

For more information about your medications or other health issues:

  • talk to your Peoples pharmacist
  • read People First, a health magazine of practical information available free from your local Peoples Drug Mart or Peoples Pharmacy

Other resources

Osteoporosis Canada
1 800 463-6842

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