COMBATING OSTEOPOROSIS

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COMBATING OSTEOPOROSIS

Twenty years ago osteoporosis was a word used mainly by researchers and physicians. Over the past few years, there has been an explosion of information about this condition that can cause severe pain and crippling. No cure is known yet, but ways to lessen your potential for osteoporosis have been identified. Today, one in three Americans are 50 or older. The baby boom generation will begin to enter their retirement shortly after the turn of the century that is rapidly approaching. Thanks in part to medical advances and the emphasis on exercise and healthy diets, vast numbers of these baby boomers can expect to reach their eighties, nineties, and beyond. Yet, if present day trends unhealthy eating and lack of exercise continues, osteoporosis threatens to be one of the biggest public health dangers of modern times.

Osteoporosis, literally meaning "porous bone", is a disease of the skeleton in which the amount of calcium present slowly decreases to the point where the bones become extremely brittle and subject to fractures. The skeleton serves two functions. It provides structural support for organs and muscles and also serves as a depository for the body’s calcium and other minerals, manly phosphorous and magnesium. The bone holds 99% of the body’s calcium. The other 1-% of remaining calcium is freed to circulate in the blood and is essential for crucial functions in the body such as blood clotting, muscle, contractions and nerve functions. Bones have two main sections. The outer section of the bone is the cortical bone. It is composed of a hard shell that serves to protect the other section of the bone, called the trabecular bone. This part of the bone is an inner lacy, structural matrix of calcium that helps support the bone structure. Bone tissue is constantly being broken down and reformed to help the body cope with everyday stress and for maintaining a properly functioning body. The breakdown of the bones is called resorption and is performed by cells known as osteoclasts that did holes into the bone allowing calcium to be released into the body. Then, cells produced by the bone called osteoblasts help rebuild the bone. The osteoblasts first fill in these holes left by the osteoclasts with collagen and then by laying down crystals of calcium and phosphorous. A complex mix of hormones and chemical factors controls this osteoclast-osteoblast balance. The trabecular and cortical parts of the bone both give off calcium to the body when it is needed, but as aging progresses the amount slowly declines. The rebuilding of bones makes them denser until about the age of 35 and peak period of bone mass building is somewhere between the ages of 25 to 35. After the age of 35, the body becomes slower and slower in replenishing bone as time goes on.

Osteoporosis develops when bone resorption occurs too quickly or if formation occurs too slowly. Because weakened bones, an increased susceptibility to fractures of the hip characterize osteoporosis, spine, and wrist are prevalent. Doctors have identified two types of osteoporosis that correlate with specific types of fractures. Type I osteoporosis, often referred to, as post enopausal osteoporosis, is most associated with wrist and spine fractures. Type II osteoporosis, also called senile osteoporosis, is generally attributed to reduced calcium by old age and causes mainly hip fractures. There are more than 300,000 hip fractures, 300,000 wrist fractures, and over 700,000 spinal fractures in the US each year (Peck and Avioli 19). Osteoporosis causes more than 1.5 million fractures each year and the cost to the healthcare system for these fractures is over 13.8 billion dollars per year, greater than the cost for congestive heart failure and asthma. Of the individuals who fractured a hip, one-half will be permanently disabled, 20% will require long-term nursing care, and 20% of hip fracture victims die within a year, usually from complications caused by surgery. Hip fractures are responsible for about 65,000 deaths per year in the United States. Hence, osteoporosis represents a major public health problem.

There is no single cause of osteoporosis, and it seems that there are many factors that contribute to the disease. Some people are more prone to develop osteoporosis than others are. Factors that increase

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