Osteoporosis is a condition in which a woman’s bones become thin, brittle, and weak, increasing the risk of fractures. Women are five times more likely to get osteoporosis than men, and while a number of risk factors can contribute to osteoporosis, one of the most common is the onset of menopause. The decrease in estrogen that naturally occurs about one year before the last menstrual period and lasts for about three years triggers a period of rapid bone loss.
Bone mineral density (BMD) testing is recommended for all women over age 65 and for women who have reached menopause and have had bone fractures or have other risk factors for osteoporosis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, smoking, alcoholism, a history of hip fracture in a parent, or a body weight less than 127 pounds.
Exercise, good nutrition, and choosing not to smoke play a key role in preventing osteoporosis throughout your life. Brisk walking, yoga, pilates, and strength training all strengthen bones and tissues. Calcium and Vitamin D build and maintain healthy bones. Foods high in calcium include dark, leafy grains such as spinach, kale, and collards, dairy, and canned fish with soft bones, such as salmon and sardines. To increase your intake of Vitamin D, eat foods such as orange juice, cereal, and milk that are fortified with Vitamin D, and spend a few minutes in the sun a few days a week.
Some women, depending on their medical history, may benefit from medication to treat osteoporosis. A number of medications to treat osteoporosis exist; the most common are known as bisphosphonates. This class of medications slow the natural process that breaks down bone and includes alendronate (brand name: Fosamax), ibandronate (brand name: Boniva), risedronate (brand name: Actonel), and zoledronate (brand name: Reclast). Most are taken by mouth, although Recast is given by injection, typically once a year.