Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario on January 01, 2009
Ethel Siris, MD, Dir., Toni Stabile Osteoporosis Center, Columbia University Medical Center, President, National Osteoporosis Foundation, Director, National Osteoporosis Risk Assessment Study (NORA)
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DENISE MCLAUGHLIN: I have something called osteopenia, which means the calcium is a little low in my bones. But it's the stage before osteoporosis.
DR. ROBERTO PACIFICI: And that's a period of time where the risk for fractures is increased, but not dramatically. And that's actually a good time for intervention.
DAMON MAHARG: Dr. Roberto Pacifici is an expert on osteoporosis and says there are several complex biological mechanisms that play a role in the growth and deterioration of our bones.
DR. ROBERTO PACIFICI: Among the most important and most frequent are estrogen deficiency.
DAMON MAHARG: Following Dr. Pacifici's advice, Denise incorporates bone strengthening routines into her lifestyle, such as taking proper amounts of vitamin D and calcium, and regular weight-bearing exercises.
DENISE MCLAUGHLIN: It was clear that swimming wasn't weight-bearing. Neither was bicycling. But that hoofing it up and down hills is, and doing free weights.
DAMON MAHARG: The greatest benefits can be gained before age 25, while the skeleton is still developing--
COACH: And now we're going to go down into toe raises.
DAMON MAHARG: --and after age 50, when our bodies most need shoring up. Anyone at risk should also limit excessive drinking and smoking.
DR. ROBERTO PACIFICI: Smoking alters the metabolism of estrogen, basically lowering the blood level of estrogen in women.
DAMON MAHARG: Osteoporosis is a major health threat for about 44 million adult Americans. It's a condition that strikes women sooner and more frequently, but can also affect men.
DR. ROBERTO PACIFICI: The difference is that men develop osteoporosis about 10 or 15 years later than women. And you know, Denise, you have an excellent space between your last rib and the pelvic bone. And that indicates that your spine is not shortened.
DAMON MAHARG: Most FDA-approved treatments these days work by inhibiting bone deterioration. Newer, more potent drugs hold out the promise of promoting bone growth.
DR. ROBERTO PACIFICI: Do you have any discomfort or pain while I do this?
DENISE MCLAUGHLIN: Nothing usual.
DAMON MAHARG: While those provide significant help to those at risk, researchers continue to search for the underlying cause of the disease.
DR. ROBERTO PACIFICI: What we know is that there is not one single gene for osteoporosis. There are many, many genes that work together in controlling the efficiency of skeletal development and its maintenance throughout life.
DAMON MAHARG: Until science is able to unravel the mysteries of osteoporosis, the best defense is prevention.
DR. ROBERTO PACIFICI: That's great.
DAMON MAHARG: For WebMD, I'm Damon Maharg.
DR. ROBERTO PACIFICI: Good strength.