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The Hard Facts About Brittle Bones

Remember when you helped the stooped little old woman across the street when you were a Boy Scout? It's likely that she was stooped over from a disease called osteoporosis and new statistics show this treatable disease targets men as well. Anyone with a sedentary lifestyle or a cigarette smoker is at risk. Caffeine drinkers fit in this category as well as people with poor nutritional habits. Sound familiar?

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is classified as a "silent disease" because bone loss occurs without symptoms. It is a painful and disfiguring disease that occurs because of inadequate bone formation. Bone is constantly changing; old bone is replaced by new bone until bone mass in the skeleton reaches its peak in the mid-20s. At this point, removal of old bone exceeds formation of new bone. You may not know you have osteoporosis until a sudden strain, bump or fall causes a vertebra to collapse or a bone to break.

Many men view osteoporosis as a woman's disease. According to a 1996 poll more than seven in 10 men said they believe a woman is at least somewhat likely to develop the disease, while less than half of the men thought it likely that a man will develop osteoporosis. Studies reveal that of men having a family history of fractures, only one in 10 views osteoporosis as more serious than prostate cancer, even though their family history may put them at greater risk for developing osteoporosis.

Facts

Osteoporosis can strike at any age.

In the U.S. today, 10 million people already have osteoporosis and 18 million more have low bone mass, placing them at risk for this disease.

One in eight men over 50 and one in two women will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.

Osteoporosis is a major health threat for 28 million Americans.

More than two million American men suffer from osteoporosis and millions more are at risk.

Osteoporosis is responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures annually, including 300,000 hip fractures, and approximately 700,000 vertebral fractures, 250,000 wrist fractures, and more than 300,000 fractures at other sites.

Are You at Risk for Osteoporosis?

Certain "risk factors" are linked to development of osteoporosis. Knowledge of these factors may give you a jump-start in defeating this disease. There are risk factors you cannot change and gender is one. It's a fact that more women than men are at risk for the disease. Age is another factor. The older you are, the greater your risk of osteoporosis. Body size is a factor. Small thin-boned women are at greatest risk. What about ethnic origin? Caucasian men and women are at greatest risk. Family history also plays a role in development of osteoporosis.

Other risk factors linked to the disease that men should pay attention to include steroids used to treat asthma, arthritis, anticonvulsants, certain cancer treatments, and aluminum-containing antacids. Any of these products or treatments may increase your risk of developing the disease.

Men also develop osteoporosis who have none of the above risk factors.

Diagnosis

Time is a precious commodity when you drive for a living, so who has time for extensive medical tests? Think of it this way: who has time for medical leave for a fractured bone? Tests for osteoporosis are noninvasive, safe and painless. (Well, maybe the blood test may hurt a little.) Other tests include a complete medical history, BMD (bone mass density) x-rays, and a urine sample. A National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) publication states:

Tests can detect low bone density before a fracture takes you off the road.

Tests can predict your chances of fracturing in the future.

Tests can monitor the effects of treatment.

To find the location of a bone density-testing center near you, call 1-800-464-6700.

Preventing Osteoporosis

Quit smoking Smoking is bad for your bones as well as for your heart and lungs. Heavy smokers may absorb less calcium from their diets according to NOF research.

Limit alcohol use Two to three ounces a day of alcohol may be damaging to the skeleton, even in young people. Heavy drinkers are prone to poor nutrition as well as bone loss and fractures.

Cut down on caffeine Excessive caffeine works similarly to alcohol in that it stops the body from utilizing calcium intake according to Dr. Dinges' findings.

"Truckers would be close to the highest risk group because of their lifestyle..."

"The ultimate answer is moderation," said Helen Gillingham of the Viola clinic.

Exercise Engage in exercise that includes a regular regimen of weight-bearing exercises where bones and muscles work against gravity. Lifting weights or using resistance machines appears to help preserve bone density.

So you already have an exercise routine. Dr. Dinges advocates your exercise program be evaluated if you are suspected to have early signs of osteoporosis. Activities such as golf, tennis, basketball, football, or any sport that requires twisting should be discussed with your physician. Types of good exercise include walking, hiking, jogging, stair-climbing, weight training, tennis, and dancing.

Watch your diet While tofu is probably not an option, you probably can eat more white meat and fish, snack on low-fat cheese, and drink calcium-fortified orange juice. Your physician can prescribe a diet that can help prevent the disease.

Take Vitamin D This vitamin supplement plays a beneficial role in calcium absorption and in bone health. The recommended daily dose for men and women is between 400 to 800 IU of vitamin D daily. This is the same amount found in a quart of milk.

Take calcium Adult men need 1,000 mg of calcium per day under age 65, 1,500 mg over age 65.

Treatment

While osteoporosis is not curable it is preventable, detectable, and treatable. A comprehensive treatment program includes a focus on nutrition, exercise, and safety precautions. Any medications will depend on your doctor's diagnosis. Additional information dealing with osteoporosis may be found at http://www.osteo.org/. LL

March/April
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