Bone-busting myths

By: Alison Dunn Oct 11, 2010
  Article

Think you know osteoporosis? You could be wrong. Here's what you don't know about the disease.

You've probably heard of osteoporosis, but rarely given it much thought other than when visiting your stooped-over grandmother. But what you don't know about osteoporosis could put your own health at risk.

An estimated two million Canadians suffer from osteoporosis, according to Osteoporosis Canada, a national organization serving those who have or are at risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue, leading to increased bone fragility and risk of fracture, particularly of the hip, spine and wrist.

The scariest part is that osteoporosis does not develop overnight. Osteoporosis Canada says you can lose bone mass steadily for many years without any symptoms or signs of the disease until a bone fractures.

Still don't think osteoporosis is that serious? Here, Osteoporosis Canada breaks down the five most common myths about osteoporosis.

Myth #1: Osteoporosis isn’t a serious disease; it’s an inevitable part of aging.

While some bone loss does occur as people age, many individuals lose a lot of bone mass, very quickly, within a few years. This may result in osteoporosis, where bones become fragile and can easily break. The consequences of the disease can be severe, including pain, disability, loss of independence and even death.

Myth #2: Osteoporosis is a woman’s disease.

Although it is more common in women, osteoporosis is a serious health issue for men. At least one in eight men over 50 suffers from osteoporosis. According to a Canadian study of healthy men and women, the number of broken bones (fractures) of the spine is similar in men and women over the age of 50. With age, men experience multiple vertebral fractures. As with women, the cause appears to be osteoporosis. Elderly men account for almost 30 per cent of hip fracture cases. Men are more likely to die after a hip fracture than women. Fractures (broken bones) in both men and women often lead to significant physical and emotional problems.

Myth #3: I’m young; I do not have to worry about osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis has been referred to as a paediatric disease with geriatric consequences. During childhood and adolescence, we have the opportunity to build bone that will last us the rest of our lives; bone building actually peaks at age 16 for women and age 20 for young men. Building strong, dense bones when young may be one of the best ways to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures later in life. 

Myth #4: I’m healthy, eat all the right things, and exercise regularly; therefore, I’m not at risk.

Although a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D and regular physical activity are critical strategies for reducing the risk of osteoporosis, there are other significant risk factors that individuals must be aware of. These include:

  • Family history of osteoporotic fracture (especially if your mother had a hip fracture)
  • Long-term (more than three months continuously) use of glucocorticoid therapy such as prednisone, often used to treat such conditions as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, colitis, and obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Medical conditions (such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease) that inhibit absorption of nutrients
  • Hypogonadism (low testosterone in men, loss of menstrual periods in younger women)
  • Early menopause (before age 45)
  • Excess caffeine, excess alcohol and smoking

Myth #5: It’s too late for me to do anything.

It is never too late to take steps to slow or stop further bone loss. Lifestyle changes – increasing calcium and vitamin D intake if these have been inadequate, becoming more physically active, reducing salt intake, stopping smoking – or taking medications for osteoporosis if appropriate and as prescribed by a doctor can all help to maintain, and even increase, bone density well into your senior years.    

 

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.