Are you frightened by what you hear about bone loss and osteoporosis? You certainly don’t need to be! That’s because much of what we’re told about bone health is actually a myth. In reality, there’s a lot you can do to build bone strength, prevent osteoporosis and reduce fracture risk. Let’s set the record straight:
Myth 1: Lack of calcium causes osteoporosis.
Yes, calcium is important, but it’s a myth that simply taking a high amount of calcium will guarantee bone health. To protect your bones, you need enough of 19 additional essential bone nutrients, not just calcium. In fact, you need some of those nutrients just to get any benefits of calcium.
For example, without enough vitamin D, your body only absorbs about 10-15% of the calcium from your diet, but when you take enough, the absorption rate jumps to 30-40%. Other critical nutrients for bone health are vitamin K, magnesium and strontium.
Myth 2: Osteoporosis is normal… as your bones age they should get weak.
Bone loss — even osteoporosis — can affect you in your 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.
One of the most dangerous bone health myths is that osteoporosis is inevitable as we age. While there are some fixed risk factors — such as our age and gender — you can control many of the risk factors that lead to excessive bone loss, osteoporosis and fracture. The truth is, you can have strong bones at any age.
Myth 3: A diagnosis of osteoporosis means you’ll suffer a fracture.
Research shows that over half of the people with thin “osteoporotic bone” never experience a fracture. What’s more, many people who have normal bone density do experience fractures. To identify your personal fracture risk, take a fracture risk assessment rather than relying only on a bone density test (DEXA).
Myth 4: Osteopenia leads to osteoporosis.
An osteopenia diagnosis means you have a state of relatively low bone mass, compared to the standard. For many women this may be only in one area — not necessarily throughout your body. And it doesn’t automatically mean that you’re currently losing bone. Your bones are alive. It’s never too late to build bone because it’s living tissue that constantly repairs itself. One study finds that even nursing home residents, average age of 81, build bone mass from doing light exercises and taking calcium and vitamin D daily.
Myth 5: Lack of estrogen causes osteoporosis — it’s a woman’s problem.
We hear all the time that osteoporosis is a “women’s disease” and men don’t really need to worry about it. This may stem from the long-standing belief that low estrogen levels cause bone loss. But in many countries, women maintain healthy bones for life — even though they experience the same lower estrogen levels with menopause the rest of us do. So while estrogen may play a role in osteoporosis, it’s certainly not the major cause. And unfortunately, men get osteoporosis too!
Myth 6: You don’t need to worry about osteoporosis until menopause.
Bone loss — even osteoporosis — can be secretly affecting you in your 20s, 30s and 40s. We normally achieve peak bone mass in our 20s and then begin to lose it, some of us more quickly than others. The earliest type of bone loss takes place for women who are thin, have celiac disease, suffer from irregular menstrual cycles or poor nutrition, or use steroid drugs.
Myth 7: There’s nothing you can do once you have osteoporosis other than take a drug.
The U.S. Surgeon General recommends much more than drugs! In fact, in 2004 the Surgeon General provided a pyramid outlining the best ways to promote bone health and prevent osteoporosis and fracture. The first steps in the pyramid are the natural approach to bone health combining nutrition, physical activity and fall prevention. Next comes assessing and treating the underlying causes of compromised bone health. Finally, as the final resort, is the use of bone drugs.
Myth 8: Osteoporosis is common all over the world.
Osteoporotic fracture rates vary greatly around the world, with the U.S. having one of the highest fracture rates. It’s clear that certain lifestyle factors play major roles in bone loss, including:
- High levels of stress and anxiety
- Lack of exercise
- High caffeine intake
- Use of certain prescription drugs
- Poor nutrition
Myth 9: Osteoporosis isn’t linked to other health issues.
More and more, research appears to indicate that there’s a link between the existence of osteoporosis and other diseases. When you build your bones, you’re likely building a healthier, stronger body and improving metabolic fitness, muscle strength, blood pressure regulation and cardiovascular health — all at the same time.
Myth 10: There aren’t any signs or symptoms of bone loss.
While many women don’t realize they have a bone issue until they fracture, there are early signs and symptoms of bone loss. These include receding gums; decreased grip strength; weak and brittle fingernails; cramps, muscle aches and bone pain; height loss and low overall fitness. Another good way to know if you are losing bone is to test your pH level to see if your body is acidic, which can deplete your bone mass systematically until you begin eating a more alkalizing diet.
By knowing these facts about bone loss, osteoporosis and fracture, you can take the steps to have better bones now and for life. A good next step is to take my Fracture Risk Assessment to find out your true risk. Why don’t you take it right now?
I’m Dr. Susan Brown. I am a nutritionist, medical anthropologist, writer, and speaker. Get my free weekly newsletter here.