Osteoporosis: Yet Another Complication of Diabetes? (Part 1)

As if you didn’t have enough to contend with managing diabetes, many of you will need to consider your risk of developing osteoporosis at some point. Women are certainly at higher risk of getting this bone disease, but men aren’t off the hook either. And while most people don’t usually link diabetes with osteoporosis, there actually is a connection, so it’s important to take steps to keep your bones as healthy as possible.

What is Osteoporosis?
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation[1], osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become more fragile and are more likely to break. The word “osteoporosis” actually means “porous bones.” A person with this bone disease may get a fracture from such innocuous activities as bending over, sneezing, or coughing. Fractures commonly occur in the spine, wrist, or hip and can be quite debilitating. If you or a loved one has ever suffered a broken hip, you know that the aftermath can be devastating and even life-threatening for some. The key, of course, is to prevent osteoporosis from happening in the first place!

What Causes Osteoporosis?
We sometimes forget that bone is a living tissue—it’s not simply a solid structure that stays solid throughout our lives. Bone is made up of many minerals, including calcium and phosphorous. The fewer the minerals in your bones, the less dense your bones are. And less dense bones put you at higher risk for osteoporosis. To understand why your bones might not be as dense as your friends’, it helps to understand a little bit of bone physiology.

Bone is constantly breaking down and building up again, a process called remodeling (out with the old, in with the new!). When we’re young, our bodies usually make new bone faster than old bone is broken down. Peak bone mass is usually reached by age 30 or so. After that, we start to lose a little more bone than we actually make. Once women hit menopause (late 40s/early 50s), bone loss accelerates. This is the time when osteoporosis can appear.

Obviously, it’s important for young people to build up their bone mass in their teens and twenties, almost like a reserve. The more bone mass you have, the less likely you’ll have problems when you’re older. There are ways to ensure healthy bones, including getting enough calcium and vitamin D, to safeguard against osteoporosis.

Who Gets Osteoporosis?
Most of us think of osteoporosis as something that older women get (and the image of a stooped-over old woman often comes to mind). But men can get osteoporosis, too. Here are some sobering statistics on the disease, courtesy of the National Osteoporosis Foundation:

What Are the Risk Factors for Osteoporosis?
Knowing what your risk is for osteoporosis is one of the first steps for preventing it. Here are the factors that can increase your chances of getting this bone disease:

More on osteoporosis next week!

  1. National Osteoporosis Foundation: http://www.nof.org/

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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