Celebrating mothers: Protecting the backbone of our families with knowledge about osteoporosis

Celebrating mothers: Protecting the backbone of our families with knowledge about osteoporosis

By Jamie Sikora, NP

May is a time to honor mothers and all of the women in our lives who serve as nurturers, supporters, providers and caregivers. Mothers are the backbone of our families and pillars of strength. As we pause to celebrate their sacrifices and contributions on Mother’s Day, we should also shed light on an issue that affects many women as they age: osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by weakened and fragile bones that affects millions of people worldwide. Women – especially women 65 and older – are at a higher risk, due to factors such as hormonal changes and decreased bone density associated with aging. Despite its prevalence, osteoporosis is often misunderstood, leading to many misconceptions and myths.

May also happens to be National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month, an opportunity to explore the myths and uncover the facts about osteoporosis. Let’s give our mothers and other women in our lives the power of knowledge, along with some steps that older women can take to prevent it or manage its progression.

Myth #1: Osteoporosis only affects women.

FACT: While women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, men can also develop the condition. In fact, approximately one in four men over the age of 50 will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime. However, women are more susceptible due to factors such as hormonal changes during menopause.

Myth #2: Osteoporosis doesn't cause any symptoms until a fracture occurs.

FACT: Osteoporosis is often referred to as the "silent disease" because it progresses without symptoms until a fracture occurs. However, there are warning signs that may indicate the presence of osteoporosis, such as back pain, loss of height over time, and a stooped posture. It's essential to be vigilant and seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms.

Myth #3: Osteoporosis is an inevitable part of aging.

FACT: While bone density naturally decreases with age, osteoporosis is not an inevitable consequence of aging. There are many factors that contribute to the development of osteoporosis, including genetics, lifestyle choices, and underlying medical conditions. By adopting a healthy lifestyle and taking preventive measures, such as proper nutrition and regular exercise, you can reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.

That being said, one-third of people over age 65 fall each year – and the risk of falling increases with age. For women with osteoporosis, even a minor fall can be dangerous. Help lower your risk of fractures by keeping your bones strong and avoiding safety hazards in and around your home that might lead to falls, including clutter, unlit areas, slippery floors, etc.

Myth #4: Calcium supplements are enough to prevent or treat osteoporosis.

FACT: While calcium is essential for maintaining strong bones, it's not the only factor in preventing or treating osteoporosis. Adequate calcium intake should be combined with sufficient vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Additionally, other nutrients, such as magnesium and vitamin K, play important roles in bone health. Furthermore, lifestyle factors like regular exercise, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and maintaining a healthy body weight are also crucial for preventing osteoporosis.

NOTE: always consult with your healthcare provider before starting supplements or medications, including calcium or Vitamin D, as complications related to overdose of these supplements may occur. 

Myth #5: Once you have osteoporosis, there's nothing you can do about it.

FACT: While osteoporosis cannot be cured, it can be managed effectively with lifestyle changes, medications, and other treatments. Medications such as bisphosphonates, hormone therapy, and denosumab can help prevent further bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures. Additionally, lifestyle modifications such as regular exercise, fall prevention strategies, and nutritional supplements can improve bone health and quality of life for individuals with osteoporosis.

Prevention and management

While osteoporosis can be a debilitating condition, there’s a lot you can do to prevent it or manage its progression:

  • Nutrition: Ensure a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Dairy products, leafy green vegetables, and fortified foods are excellent sources of calcium. Vitamin D can be obtained through sunlight exposure and supplementation.

  • Regular exercise: Regularly engage in mild weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, dancing, or strength training. These activities help slow bone loss, stimulate bone formation and improve overall bone health. Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise regimen.

  • Quit smoking and limit alcohol: If you smoke, quitting can help preserve bone density. Limit alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day.

  • Bone density testing: Talk to your healthcare provider about bone density testing, called a DEXA Scan, especially if you're over the age of 65 or have other risk factors for osteoporosis. Early detection allows for timely intervention and management.

  • Medications: In some cases, healthcare providers may prescribe medications called bisphosphonates or hormone therapy to help prevent further bone loss or strengthen bones.

Celebrating strength and resilience

This Mother's Day, let's celebrate the strength, resilience, and unwavering love of mothers everywhere. As we honor them, let's also empower them and all women to prioritize their health, including their bone health. Understanding the risk factors and taking preventive measures to prevent osteoporosis can significantly reduce the likelihood of fractures and improve overall quality of life as they age.

Jamie Sikora, NP is a primary care practitioner at Patina, where she works to empower her patients, listen to their goals and needs, and provide care according to their personal preferences. She is a graduate of Thomas Jefferson University, where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing, with a focus on family practice. She specializes in geriatric medicine.