Osteoporosis is a condition that causes thinning and weakening of normal bone. The word 'osteoporosis' literally means 'porous bone'. It is characterized by a decrease in normal bone density due to the loss of calcium and collagen. A loss of bone density causes bones to become brittle, and in turn, leads to frequent fractures and other serious effects.

The strength of your bones depends on their size and density. Bone density depends in part on the amount of calcium, phosphorus and other minerals in the bones. When your bones contain fewer minerals than normal, they're less strong and eventually lose their internal supporting structure. Scientists do not fully understand why this occurs, but the process involves how bone is made. Bone is continuously changing; new bone is made and old bone is broken down, a process called remodeling, or bone turnover. A full cycle of bone remodeling takes about two to three months. When you're young, your body makes new bone faster than it breaks down old bone, and your bone mass increases. You reach your peak bone mass in your mid-30s. After that, bone remodeling continues, but you lose slightly more than you gain. At menopause, when estrogen levels drop, bone loss in women increases dramatically. Although many factors contribute to bone loss, the leading cause in women is decreased estrogen production during menopause.

Your risk of developing osteoporosis depends on how much bone mass you attained between ages 25 and 35 (peak bone mass) and how rapidly you lose it later. The higher your peak bone mass, the more bone you have "in the bank" and the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis as you age. Not getting enough vitamin D and calcium in your diet may lead to a lower peak bone mass and accelerated bone loss later. The best defense against osteoporosis is building strong bones, especially before the age of thirty, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Although there are treatments for osteoporosis, there is no actual cure for it.

There are no obvious physical signs of osteoporosis. It can therefore go unnoticed for years. Quite often the first indication of the disease is when a person breaks one of their bones in what might have been normally a minor accident. Early detection is important in osteoporosis. Consider your risk factors, and then discuss your prevention strategy with your doctor. If you're a woman, it's best to do this well before menopause.

If your doctor suspects osteoporosis, he or she can order a bone scan to test the strength or density of the bones. The results will tell how much risk there is of fractures. This procedure is quick, simple and gives accurate results. It measures the density of bones in your spine, hip and wrist, the areas most likely to be affected by osteoporosis, and it’s used to accurately follow changes in these bones over time. It takes about fifteen minutes while the bones are X-rayed. The dose of radiation is tiny, about the same as spending a day out in the sun. Other tests that can accurately measure bone density include ultrasound and quantitative computerized tomography (CT) scanning.

The following three factors are essential for keeping your bones healthy throughout your life, regular exercise, adequate amounts of calcium and adequate amounts of vitamin D. It is important to take supplements of vitamin D and calcium together, as this increases calcium absorption in the bones. Regular exercise increases bone density and muscle mass in the body. The best forms of exercise are aerobics, jogging, weightlifting and resistance training.

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