Osteoporosis: Top 10 Myths

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Osteoporosis is an old person’s disease – fact, or fiction? Join us as we explore the top 10 misconceptions people hold about osteoporosis.

    1) So, what about it – is osteoporosis an old person’s disease?

    Yes. It’s also a young person’s disease. Just about anyone into puberty and beyond can be diagnosed with osteoporosis. While aging is a risk factor, so is under-consumption of calories and/or vitamins; over-consumption of alcohol; smoking; and the use of certain drugs. If you’re reading this, you’re a candidate for osteoporosis – at some point in your life.

    2) Most of us don’t have to worry about osteoporosis, especially if there’s no family history.

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    Only about 3% of Americans over the age of 50 have been positively diagnosed with osteoporosis. But you can still experience health issues without being in full-blown osteoporosis.  About half of American women over age 50 will experience a bone fracture due to thinner bones sometime during their life – something to think about.

    3) You can tell if you have osteoporosis because you’ll feel pain or weakness in your bones. 

    Osteoporosis is known as “the silent disease” for good reason: its symptoms are very subtle, nearly non-existent. In fact, the first symptom of osteoporosis is most often a broken bone. Loss of height and/or stooped posture as you age could also signal osteoporosis, but there’s no pain or weakness that tells you your bones are thinning: they do so gradually, and very quietly.

    4) Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements, and exercising, make it unlikely you’ll get osteoporosis.

    Making sure your calcium, vitamin D, and other bone-friendly minerals are at healthy levels, and exercising, certainly cut your risk of osteoporosis. But if you have risk factors such as family history; if you take certain drugs; if you smoke, or if you drink to excess, supplements and exercise can’t guarantee bone health.

    5) Bone fractures over age 50 are mainly due to accidents; they’re just as random and unlikely as they are at age 20.

    In fact, bone fractures over age 50 are cause for alarm, as they may signal the onset of osteoporosis. Fully 50% of women and 25% of men over the age of 50 who break a bone discover, after testing, that the fracture was related to thinning bones.

    6) X-rays, including DEXA scans, should be avoided as much as possible, since they expose you to unnecessary radiation.

    While the DEXA scan – the chief screening tool for osteoporosis – does expose you to radiation, it’s minimal. In fact, you’ll receive the same amount of radiation exposure from a cross-country plane trip, or a standard chest X-ray.

    7) Breaking your hip means a hospital stay, but a hip fracture’s not much more serious than other fractures.

    Here’s what the National Osteoporosis Foundation Web site says: “At six months after a hip fracture, only 15 percent of hip fracture patients can walk across a room unaided. An average of 24 percent of hip fracture patients aged 50 and over die in the year following their fracture.”

  • That sounds a bit more serious than breaking your wrist…

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    8) Most American adults get enough vitamin D from dairy products, supplements, and simple exposure to the sun.

    Not so. According to a study released in 2009, only about 23% of Americans measured in 2004 had healthy vitamin D levels (above 30 nanograms per milliliter, the standard measurement) – down from 45% in 1994. Experts theorize some of this decline may be due to lack of exposure to the sun, through the increased use of sun-block.

    9) Women’s bones become more and more fragile as they age; it’s natural.

    Not so. Many women maintain good bone density right up into their 80s. For these lucky women, a combination of genetics, lifestyle, and diet is sufficient to keep their bones healthy.

    But even if your family history predicts you’ll develop osteoporosis, it’s possible to prolong the time before onset by not smoking, drinking responsibly, exercising, and following a healthy diet, including the proper supplements.

    10) Osteoporosis is a worldwide concern. 

    In fact, osteoporosis is almost unknown in Africa. And its prevalence in third-world countries is much lower than it is in the United States; the U.S. has one of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world.


    And that’s one of the reasons HealthCentral maintains this site: to keep you aware of your risk of developing this “silent disease.”

Published On: February 10, 2011