Narrator: Denise McLaughlin is trying to prevent osteoporosis. As a woman with a strong family history of the condition, she knows she's at high risk
Denise McLaughlin: I have something called osteopenia. It's the stage before osteoporosis.
Roberto Pacifici, MD: And that's a period of time where the risks for fractures is increased, but not dramatically and it's actually a good time for intervention.
Narrator: Doctor 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.
Roberto Pacifici, MD: Among the most important and most frequent are estrogen deficiency.
Narrator: 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 exercise.
Denise McLaughlin: He was clear that swimming wasn't weight bearing. Neither was bicycling, but that huffing it up and down hills is and doing free weights.
Narrator: The greatest benefits can be gained before age 25 while the skeleton is still developing...
: And now we're gonna go down into to raises
Narrator: And after age 50 when our bodies most need shoring up. Anyone at risk should also limit excessive drinking and smoking.
Roberto Pacifici, MD: Smoking alters the metabolism of estrogen, basically lowering the blood level of estrogen in women.
Narrator: Denise's condition is helped because she's on a type of estrogen replacement therapy, once a first-line treatment for preventing osteoporosis.
Denise McLaughlin: I don't have any signs of heart disease or breast cancer so I'm not expecting to get either of them. But I might get osteoporosis if I do not take care of this now.
Narrator: 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.
Roberto Pacifici, MD: The difference is that men develop osteoporosis 10 or 15 years later than women.
: You know, Denise, you have an excellent space between your last rib and the pelvic bone and that's indicator that your spine has not shorten.
Narrator: Many FDA approved treatments these days work by inhibiting bone deterioration. Other drugs hold out the promise of promoting bone growth.
: Do you have any discomfort or pain while I do this?
Narrator: While those provide significant help to those at risk, researchers continue to search for the underlying cause of the disease.
Roberto Pacifici, MD: 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.
Narrator: Until science is able to unravel the mysteries of osteoporosis, the best defense is prevention. For WebMD, I'm Damon Meharg.