As more people live longer osteoporosis or “brittle bone disease” has become a major health concern. It affects far more women than men, though either sex can suffer the progressive loss of bone density that leads to fractures of the wrists, spine or hips. Bone is not a static tissue- it is constantly being broken down (a process known as resorption) and rebuilt throughout our lives. If less bone is being made than is disappearing it becomes porous and easily broken.
Known as “the silent epidemic,” osteoporosis often makes its presence known only when a sufferer incurs a surprise fracture after a minor fall. Visible symptoms are loss of height ant he development of a stoop or “dowager’s hump” as the skeleton weakens and shrinks.
Up to one in four in one women are believed to be at risk of osteoporosis, which is thought to be closely linked to fall in hormone levels during the menopause; this interferes with the absorption of calcium and slows the formation of new bone.
Particularly at risk are those who have had an early menopause or who have had their ovaries removed. Smoking, habitual dieting, prolonged absence of periods, and treatment with corticosteroid drugs are also risk factors. Heredity also plays an important part. Increasing numbers of young men now suffer from osteoporosis, which indicates that diet and lifestyle may be important factors in the cause of this disease.