Bone Density: What You Need to Know

May 28, 2019

You may be surprised to find that not only older women, but women of all ages need to be aware of the condition of their bones and work toward maintaining habits that will reduce the risk of osteoporosis and frail bones in the future.

What is bone density and why is it important?

Bone density is the measurement of how strong one’s bones are.  In general, bones that are denser are healthier, meaning the bones have more calcium stored. Bones are a living tissue and go through phases of formation.  At a younger age our bodies carry out this process quickly, but as we age our bodies slow and bones may not be reformed at the same pace they once were.  This deficit leads to a lower bone density and we become more at risk for fractures and signs of osteoporosis.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that affects your bones.  When bones are lost or not made quickly enough, they become frail and are more prone to breakage.  According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, 1 in 3 women aged fifty years and over are at risk of an osteoporotic fracture. Those at a greater risk are older in age, female, have a low body weight, are undergoing menopause, and are often smokers. There are no symptoms of this bone disease until a bone is fractured, which is why it is important to be screened regularly. Some preventions and treatments include regular calcium and vitamin D intake, regular weight-bearing exercise, and specific medications if necessary.

How can I improve my bone density?

Getting enough calcium and taking additional supplements if needed are your best plan of prevention.  Some examples of foods and drinks with high levels of calcium include: greens and vegetables, salmon, milk, cheese, yogurt, nuts, seeds and foods containing soy.

The most natural way of promoting good bone density is to get outside and spend time in the sun.  This increases your Vitamin D intake, which is important for bone formation.  Maintaining an active lifestyle and participating in light weight lifting can also help to strengthen bones. Depending on your health, medical history and age, some good exercises include walking, light weight training, water aerobics and yoga. Regular exercise and healthy eating pair well in improving bone strength!

What can affect bone density?

Gender: Bone density is especially important in women. In general, women tend to have lower bone density throughout life and lose mass more quickly.  In the first few years after menopause, most women go through rapid bone loss which then slows but continues throughout the postmenopausal years. During menopause, estrogen levels drop, making it more difficult for calcium to penetrate into the bones; this results in further lost bone.

Low Body Weight/Eating Disorders: People in the underweight range and those with eating disorders tend to have less bone mass than those at a healthy weight.  Eating disorders can affect bone density even more significantly if women stop menstruating.

Age: As mentioned previously, as our bodies age, the rate in which we repair and grow bone mass slows, leaving bones at a greater risk for fracture.

Genetics: Osteoporosis can run in the family.  If your mother or grandmother has osteoporosis, you have a greater risk of developing it as well.

What is a bone density test?

A bone density test is performed to determine whether you have or are at risk for osteoporosis.  Bone density tests, also known as bone mineral density tests or bone scans, are used to evaluate the strength of bones. Since we all lose bone mass as we age and bones naturally become thinner, it is important to be aware of the current strength of your bones. With this information, your physician will be better prepared to recommend steps to prevent fractures and further bone loss.

Should I have a bone density test done?

We recommend that all women age 65 or older, those with a family history and postmenopausal women under the age of 65 should be tested.  Women with a history of fractures, excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, low estrogen levels, and women who smoke should mention these factors to their physician.

Scheduling an appointment with your women’s health provider sooner, rather than later, will help to determine the best course for keeping your bones healthy and strong!

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