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Osteoporosis: An Overview

Ten million Americans over age 50 have osteoporosis, the ''brittle bone'' condition. Many more are at high risk for the condition. Because of low bone mass, the bones are prone to fracture. About 40% of women and 10% of men over age 50 will break a hip or wrist, or suffer a spinal fracture due to osteoporosis.

Here is what you need to know, from risk factors to diagnosis to treatment, along with lifestyle tips for reducing your risk for osteoporosis.

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Osteoporosis Risk Factors

Doctors know that some people are more likely than others to develop osteoporosis due to certain risk factors. Some of these risk factors -- such as age and gender -- are not under your control. Osteoporosis is more likely in older people. Women are more likely than men to get osteoporosis.

Family history increases the chances that you, too, will develop it. The condition may not have been diagnosed in your parents. However, if one or both had a noticeable amount of height loss, they may have had fractures in the spine, and that could be the result of osteoporosis.

If you have a small, thin frame, you are more likely to get osteoporosis.

Bone Health and Your Lifestyle Habits

Your everyday habits -- good and bad -- affect bone health. How do your habits stack up?

  • Vitamin D and calcium. Not getting enough vitamin D or calcium can weaken your bones. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends adults under age 50 get 400-800 IU of vitamin D and 1,000 mg of calcium daily. Those 50 and older should get 800-1,000 IU of vitamin D and 1,200 mg of calcium daily.
  • Fruits and vegetables . Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables provides you with magnesium, potassium, and vitamin K -- all good things for bone health.
  • Protein. Very high amounts of non-dairy animal protein can weaken the bones. Sufficient protein is important for bone health. Ask your doctor how much protein you should consume each day.
  • Caffeine . When used in excess, caffeine can threaten bone health.
  • Alcohol. Excess alcohol intake can decrease bone formation. If you are tipsy from the alcohol, you're more likely to fall. In older people, falls are linked with broken bones.
  • Activity level. Physical activity can help keep bones strong. If you're not an exerciser, ask your doctor for guidance on doing weight-bearing exercises such as fast walking. Ask about lifting weights or other muscle-strengthening exercises. Both types are good for your bones.
  • Smoking . Smokers absorb less calcium, which is bad for the bones.
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