What is osteoporosis?
As people get older, bone density naturally decreases due to gradual loss of minerals from the skeleton. Osteoporosis is a serious loss of minerals, when the bones become weak and prone to fracture. This disease mostly occurs in older women due to hormonal changes that occur after menopause. However, men can also suffer from osteoporosis.
Four out of five women over age 50, who have passed menopause, suffer from osteoporosis, although the disease can also affect men or younger women. Every year, hundreds of thousands of fractures occur – particularly of the spine, hip and wrist – because of this. By age 80, one in two women suffered at least one fracture caused by osteoporosis.
Often, the disease doesn’t present any symptoms until a fracture occurs after a fall. However, back pain can exist if the vertebrae (bones of the spine) weaken and collapse. Other signs of osteoporosis are detached teeth, loss of height and kyphosis (excessive curvature of the upper spine). An analysis of the bone density indicates the severity of osteoporosis.
How osteoporosis occurs?
Bone density increases during childhood, adolescence and several years after. New bone cells are produced continuously, and the old ones are decomposed. Usually, the bones are more dense and resistant towards the age of 30. Osteoporosis, meaning “porous bones”, occurs when the bone tissue decomposes faster than it’s produced. As a woman approaches menopause, more bone tissue is destroyed than it’s produced, and the bones become less dense. Osteoporosis can be caused by a natural decreased level of estrogen, which helps the body to absorb calcium.
After menopause, the loss rate of bone minerals increases and, with it, the risk of osteoporosis. In men, the risk of osteoporosis increases more slowly.
The amount of available calcium plays a major role in determining the rate of bone formation and resorption. If the dietary intake of calcium is insufficient and the level in the blood doesn’t meet the needs of the body’s vital components, such as the heart, nerves and muscles, cells called osteoclasts (bone destroying cells) release calcium from the bones, which make them become more porous, fragile and lighter.