The newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis literally means "porous bones". It is a condition in which bones become so weak and brittle that they break easily. Osteoporosis leads to bone fractures, particularly in the hip, wrist and spine, under conditions which would not normally cause broken bones. Individuals with osteoporosis may also show a stooping posture and loss in height.

Approximately half of all Caucasian women over age 50 will suffer a bone fracture due to osteoporosis, while about one-third of men over age 75 have some degree of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is associated with a reduction in body levels of calcium and other minerals, which the body uses to build and strengthen bones. Thus, osteoporosis can be slowed or halted by increasing intake of calcium and vitamin D, a substance which helps the body absorb calcium and deposit it in the bones.


What causes Osteoporosis

Some degree of osteoporosis occurs normally with aging, but it proceeds faster in women, especially following menopause. In post-menopausal women, estrogen supplements can decrease the rate of bone loss, but cannot increase bone mass.

Individuals who lead sedentary lifestyles are also at heightened risk for osteoporosis. Other risk factors include being White or Asian, having a thin or small-framed body, smoking, and excessive intake of alcohol or caffeine. Osteoporosis can also be caused by some drugs and medications (such as steroids), by various diseases (such as hyperthyroidism), or by prolonged periods of inactivity (such as an extended period of bedrest).

Osteoporosis treatment

Several drugs are in development which may be able to rebuild bone mass in individuals with osteoporosis. However, currently available drugs work only to slow the rate of bone loss. Thus, it is important to detect osteoporosis as early as possible. A simple, painless bone density test is often recommended for post-menopausal women who are not taking hormone replacement therapy, particularly if they have other risk factors for osteoporosis.

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by Catherine E. Myers. Copyright © 2006 Memory Loss and the Brain