Can Osteoporosis Be Reversed?

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What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is diagnosed when a person has suffered a significant loss of bone mass because their body can’t produce enough new bone to keep up with old bone loss. “Bone is living tissue that constantly breaks down and is replaced” (Mayoclinic.com). With this disease, bones become hollow and carry a high risk of fracture. About 10 million people in the US have osteoporosis and many others are at risk.

In this article, we talk about how to identify your risk for osteoporosis and share four strategies that can increase bone density.

Osteoporosis & Fall Risk Facts

As we age, we focus more on preventing falls for older adults, and that’s with good reason.

Over 300,000 adults ages 65 and older experience a hip fracture each year, 95% of those fractures resulting from falling.

Those hip fracturing-falls have severe side effects, too. Only half of these adults regain their quality of life after the fracture.

About 20% move into assisted living communities afterwards. And about one in every four older adults die within a year of having a hip fracture.

Hip fractures are a big concern for both men and women. However, falling and breaking a bone isn’t the only cause of this issue. Having weak bones is also a key underlying factor, just like with osteoporosis.

Data from the CDC shows that 48% of older adults have low bone density, usually in the most common locations: hip and lower back. For adults with osteoporosis, bones are fragile and susceptible to breaking when falls or other high-risk incidents like car accidents occur.

Osteoporosis Stages - 4 Stages of Bone Density Loss

Risk Factors for Osteoporosis

While it’s easy to associate osteoporosis with older women, the process of bone loss starts well before 65 years old. People generally start to lose bone density in their early 30s. They’re at an increased risk for fractures after age 50.

Additional risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Being female – This can increase risk of osteoporosis because of the lost estrogen during menopause, which can contribute to bone loss.
  • Having a smaller/thinner frame – This means someone already has less bone mass in their body to begin with.
  • Past fractures – These are a sign that your bones are more fragile than normal.
  • A family history of osteoporosis – This may mean you’re already predisposed to develop the disease.

How to Assess Your Bone Strength

Osteoporosis is diagnosed through a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan. A DEXA scan is a quick process (less than 20 minutes) where a person lies face up while a low-level x-ray scans down and then up the body. They use an even lower level of radiation than standard X-rays, so they’re very safe.

These bone density test results provide an accurate assessment of bone density, muscle tissue, and fat tissue. “Where a regular X-ray can show changes in bone density after 40 percent bone loss, the DEXA detects changes as small as 1 percent.”

You can find a DEXA scan by using a search engine like Google and typing in the keywords “DEXA scan near me”. DEXA scans are recommended at a frequency of every 1-2 years starting at the age of 50 if someone has risk factors for bone loss, especially for women during or after menopause.

Dexa Scan for Osteoporosis Infographic

Can Osteoporosis Be Reversed?

We know that about half of older adults have low bone density, this increases the risk of experiencing a fracture, and that people start losing bone strength in their 30s.

Unfortunately, once you have osteoporosis, it can’t be fully reversed or “cured.” Thankfully, you can strengthen your bones at any age and there are proven methods for reducing the risk of a fracture. Below are four effective strategies for reversing bone loss.

4 Strategies for Strengthening Bones

1. Vitamin D3

Vitamin D, specifically vitamin D3, increases calcium absorption from the food we eat. It also promotes calcium uptake in bones. Supplementing with vitamin D3 can decrease the risk of fractures in the hip and spine, and can increase bone density.

2. Magnesium

A two-year study of menopausal women taking a magnesium supplement showed an increase in bone density while also reducing fracture risk. Healthy magnesium levels are shown to enhance the function of bone-building cells and sufficient levels of parathyroid hormone and vitamin D (both of which regulate bone homeostasis).

3. Calcium

When thinking of bone strength, it’s common to think of calcium first. Research shows calcium consumption isn’t the silver bullet for strengthening bones that we might think it is. However, meeting a minimum amount of recommended daily consumption (2,000-2,500 mg/day according to mayoclinic.com) is critical to maintaining bone health. Also, supplementing calcium can reduce the risk of hip and spine fractures. However, some studies suggest that taking calcium supplements can decrease absorption of other nutrients like iron and zinc, so be mindful of your supplement intake and, as always, consult with a physician to be sure you’re taking the right supplement combination for your needs.

4. Strength Training

Strength training is a uniquely effective way to improve bone health and treat osteoporosis. It can improve bone strength in all areas of the body at any age. In a year-long study, strength training helped women, ages 65-75 years old, gain bone strength in their hips and lower back.

Following five minutes of training, women between the ages of 18 and 26 years old increased bone density in their legs and wrists. Three studies with men, ranging from 50 to 79 years old, showed strength training either stopped or reversed their age-related bone loss.

Strength training is a uniquely effective way to improve bone health and treat osteoporosis. It can improve bone strength in all areas of the body at any age. In a year-long study, strength training helped women, ages 65-75 years old, gain bone strength in their hips and lower back.

Following five minutes of training, women between the ages of 18 and 26 years old increased bone density in their legs and wrists. Three studies with men, ranging from 50 to 79 years old, showed strength training either stopped or reversed their age-related bone loss.

Is It Safe To Exercise With Osteoporosis?

The risk of fracture is serious, but there’s no reason not to exercise safely.

The National Institute of Health said it best:
“No one who has broken a bone wants to revisit that pain and loss of independence. However, living your life “on the sidelines” is not an effective way to protect your bones.”

Staying active with a doctor-approved program like slow-motion strength training can not only help you stay healthy, it’s also the best way to build bone density and strengthen your body to stay upright and active.

Next Steps

If you are currently strength training and are looking to enhance your bone density, examine your diet. Check to see if you are lacking regular consumption of the vitamins and minerals above, and look for ways to increase daily consumption.

Strength training will ensure you won’t lose bone density going forward. If you are not currently strength training, talk with your doctor and get started as soon as you can. Combining that with adequate levels of vitamin D3, magnesium, and calcium can make substantial improvements in your bone strength.

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  2. MacLean, C., Newberry, S., Maglione, M., McMahon, M., Ranganath, V., Suttorp, M., … Grossman, J. (2008). Systematic review: comparative effectiveness of treatments to prevent fractures in men and women with low bone density or osteoporosis. Annals, of Internal Medicine, 148, 197-213.
  3. Nickols-Richardson S.SM., Miller, L.E., Wootten, D.F., Ramp, W.K., & Herert, W.G. (2007). Concentric and eccentric isokinetic resistance training similarly increases muscular strength, fat-free soft tissue mass, and specific bone mineral measurements in young women. Osteoporosis International 18(6), 789-796.
  4. Rhodes, E.C., Martin, A.D., Taunton, J.E., Donnelly, M., Warren, J., & Elliot, J. (2000). Effects of one year of resistance training on the relation between muscular strength and bone density in elderly women. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 34(1), 18-22.
  5. Schnell, S., Friedman, S.M., Mendelssohn, D.A., Bingham, K.W., & Kates, S.L. (2010). The 1-year mortality of patients treated in a hip fracture program for elders. Geriatrics Orthopaedic Surgery & Rehabilitation, 1(1), 6-14.
  6. Soijka, J.E. (1995). Magnesium supplementation and osteoporosis. Nutrition Reviews, 53(3), 71-74.

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