The bones form the skeleton of our body, consists mainly of collagen, a type of protein that provides a soft framework, and calcium, a type of mineral that adds strength and hardens the collagen framework.
This unique combination makes bone strong enough to provide support to the body, yet flexible enough to be able to withstand knocks and stress.
Contrary to what most people think, bone is living and growing tissue. Continuously and throughout one's life, "old" bone is removed from the skeleton, a process called resorption, and "new" bone is added to the skeleton, a process called formation.
During a person's younger life, the childhood and teenage years, new bone is added to the skeleton faster than old bone is removed, resulting in denser, heavier and larger bones, which are able to repair quicker and better. Bone formation continues at a faster pace than resorption until around 30 years of age, when we reach our maximum bone density and strength, called the peak bone mass.
After the age of 30, however, bone resorption gradually begins to occur at a faster pace than bone formation, resulting in "bone loss".
Women have accelerated bone density loss
Ageing is associated with an annual loss of bone density of roughly 1% in both males and females. However, females have an accelerated loss in bone density after the menopause. Bone loss occurs most rapidly in women in the first few years after menopause but does continue throughout the postmenopausal years.
Osteoporosis, one of the most common conditions affecting bone, is a condition of the bones associated with a loss of bone density, and may be linked to bone resorption occurring too rapidly, bone formation occurring too slowly or not reaching an adequate peak bone mass around 30 years of age.
Osteoporosis can then lead to bone being more porous and brittle than normal bone and therefore being more likely to fracture. Fractures of the hip and spine are particularly common in osteoporosis and these can lead to severe deformities of the back and mobility problems.
The risk factors of osteoporosis
Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:
- Gender. Women generally have less bone tissue and lose bone more rapidly than men, especially after the menopause.
- Age. Bones become less dense as one ages.
- A lower peak bone density, which occurs at about 30 years of age.
- An inactive lifestyle
- Excessive alcohol use
- Certain long-term medication use, such as steroids
- A family history of osteoporosis
- Illnesses and conditions that affect nutrition and absorption
Osteoporosis often has no or few symptoms and the first sign of its presence may, in fact, be a fracture of a bone. Bone pain may, however, be present in some people.
As each person is unique and the fact that osteoporosis may have no symptoms, a doctor should always be consulted if one has risk factors or if osteoporosis is suspected.
While osteoporosis tends to be a chronic condition, it is possible to manage it and to reduce the likelihood of complications. Speak to your doctor for more information.
Medi-Clinic supports World Osteoporosis Day on 20 October.
Visit Health24's Osteoporosis Centre