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Osteoporosis: Yet Another Complication of Diabetes? (Part 1)

Amy Campbell

November 17, 2008

As if you didn’t have enough to contend with managing diabetes, many of you will need to consider your risk of developing osteoporosis at some point. Women are certainly at higher risk of getting this bone disease, but men aren’t off the hook either. And while most people don’t usually link diabetes with osteoporosis, there actually is a connection, so it’s important to take steps to keep your bones as healthy as possible.

What is Osteoporosis?
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become more fragile and are more likely to break. The word “osteoporosis” actually means “porous bones.” A person with this bone disease may get a fracture from such innocuous activities as bending over, sneezing, or coughing. Fractures commonly occur in the spine, wrist, or hip and can be quite debilitating. If you or a loved one has ever suffered a broken hip, you know that the aftermath can be devastating and even life-threatening for some. The key, of course, is to prevent osteoporosis from happening in the first place!

What Causes Osteoporosis?
We sometimes forget that bone is a living tissue—it’s not simply a solid structure that stays solid throughout our lives. Bone is made up of many minerals, including calcium and phosphorous. The fewer the minerals in your bones, the less dense your bones are. And less dense bones put you at higher risk for osteoporosis. To understand why your bones might not be as dense as your friends’, it helps to understand a little bit of bone physiology.

Bone is constantly breaking down and building up again, a process called remodeling (out with the old, in with the new!). When we’re young, our bodies usually make new bone faster than old bone is broken down. Peak bone mass is usually reached by age 30 or so. After that, we start to lose a little more bone than we actually make. Once women hit menopause (late 40s/early 50s), bone loss accelerates. This is the time when osteoporosis can appear.

Obviously, it’s important for young people to build up their bone mass in their teens and twenties, almost like a reserve. The more bone mass you have, the less likely you’ll have problems when you’re older. There are ways to ensure healthy bones, including getting enough calcium and vitamin D, to safeguard against osteoporosis.

Who Gets Osteoporosis?
Most of us think of osteoporosis as something that older women get (and the image of a stooped-over old woman often comes to mind). But men can get osteoporosis, too. Here are some sobering statistics on the disease, courtesy of the National Osteoporosis Foundation:

  • Osteoporosis is a major health risk for 44 million Americans ages 50 and older.
  • About 10 million people in the U.S. have osteoporosis, and 34 million are at risk for developing it.
  • Of those 10 million, 8 million are women and 2 million are men.
  • Another way to look at it is that 80% of those with the bone disease are women and 20% are men.
  • Osteoporosis is more likely to occur in white women and Asian women than in Hispanic or African-American women, but the risk is increasing rapidly in Hispanic women.

What Are the Risk Factors for Osteoporosis?
Knowing what your risk is for osteoporosis is one of the first steps for preventing it. Here are the factors that can increase your chances of getting this bone disease:

  • Older age
  • Female sex
  • White or Asian race
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Low body weight and small frame size
  • History of broken bones
  • Tobacco use
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Menopause
  • Use of steroid medications
  • Little or no physical activity
  • Having certain medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism

More on osteoporosis next week!



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