Why do we care so much about bone density? It’s true that as we age, bones lose density and become more porous, softer and susceptible to fracture. Doctors prescribe Calcium, vitamin D and even bone hardening drugs called bisphosphonates for patients with either low bone density, or who are at risk of developing fragility fractures.
What Makes Bones Hard?
Minerals in bone like calcium are responsible for the hardness. Bones are rigid organs that support all the soft tissues that make up the body. There are 206 bones in the adult body with the femur (thigh bone) being the largest and the small bones deep in the ear that regulate sound being the smallest.
Bones have several functions other than providing a skeleton for the body. They server to store minerals, acting as a reserve for calcium and phosphorous; they store growth factors; the marrow stores fat; they trap some of the heavy metals in the environment and other toxins; and the marrow in some of the bones is a repository for blood cells and stem cells.
Why Do Bones Get Weak?
Bones typically become weak as we age due to osteoporosis, which is a deterioration in the concentration of minerals over time. As the mineral levels diminish, the bone’s structure also weakens and fractures can result.
You can keep your bones healthy and strong by eating foods high in calcium, taking the recommended amount of Vitamin D per day (between 400 and 1200 IU depending on your age) and by maintaining a healthy level of exercise, including the use of light weights and weightbearing exercises.
Most fragility fractures occur in typical places such as the wrist, the hip and the vertebrae. Some of these fractures require little treatment, others may require surgical treatment or casting.
Typically, a hip fracture, which occurs at the top of the femur bone, requires some type of surgical fixation with metal or a hip replacement type of surgery. Fractures of the wrist, if deformed, may required fixation with removable wires, or permanent hardware such as a plate and screws. Fractures of the vertebrae are rarely treated surgically unless severe and can be treated usually by a very short course of rest and then gentle physical therapy with pain management using mild medications.
Who Needs Bone Stimulating Drugs?
If bone mineral density levels are very low, as determined by a Bone Mineral Density (BMD) scan and blood tests for mineral levels, your doctor may prescribe you a once-weekly bisphosphonate drug that is designed to increase the deposit of minerals back into bone. Most of these are relatively safe, some may have mild side effects. There are a few reports of fractures of the hip even with the use of these medications.
The people at highest risk of having osteoporosis include post-menopausal women, people with calcium or vitamin D deficiencies and elderly men and women.
For more information on osteoporosis, please visit: http://www.osteoporosis.ca/ .