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Feature Articles - Aging

Osteoporosis: The Silent Bone Thief

Lynda Johnson, Nutrition Specialist in Lafayette County, University of Missouri Extension


Osteoporosis is a "silent" deterioration of bone and a major health threat for more than 28 million Americans (80 percent are women). This disease can progress for years without the awareness of the victim. Bones become fragile and are more likely to break. In fact, the first sign of a problem may be a fractured bone or a collapsed vertebra.
Any bone can be affected, but fractures of the hip and spine have the most serious consequences. A hip fracture requires hospitalization and major surgery. The victim may be unable to walk unassisted and may experience permanent disability. Spinal or vertebral fractures may cause loss of height, severe back pain, spinal deformity, and stooped posture.


Recommended Calcium Intakes
Adult Women
50-64 years (postmenopausal)
taking estrogen
50-64 years (postmenopausal)
NOT taking estrogen
65+ years  1,500
Adult Men
25-64 years 1,000
65+ years 1,500


Bones aren’t as hard and lifeless as they seem. They are constantly being torn down and built up to make calcium available for the body to function. As people age, bones begin to break down faster than they build up. If more calcium is taken from the bones than they are producing, bones become weak and break easily. This leads to osteoporosis.

Risk factors for the disease include: being female, thin and/or small frame, advanced age, a family history of osteoporosis, post-menopausal, anorexia nervosa or bulimia, a diet low in calcium, use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids and anti-convulsants, low testosterone levels in men, an inactive lifestyle, cigarette smoking, and excessive use of alcohol.

A bone density test can detect osteoporosis before a fracture occurs and may help predict your chances of a bone fracture in the future. This test can also help monitor your bone loss.

In women, bone loss accelerates after menopause, when the ovaries stop producing estrogen. The FDA has approved four medications for postmenopausal women to prevent or treat osteoporosis: estrogens, alendronate, calcitonin, raloxifene.

Although there's no cure for osteoporosis, the disease can be prevented through a balanced diet rich in calcium, participation in weight-bearing exercise and a healthy lifestyle. People unable to get enough calcium in their diet need to take a supplement.

Originally published in Silver Threads




Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009




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