Osteoporosis is a challenging disease for any person. But for a child who is struggling with low bone mass - and the fractures resulting from the condition - the hardships may be even greater. While much research has been done on postmenopausal osteoporosis, the causes and consequences of the equivalent disease in children are less well understood.
Dr. Connie Weaver, a nutrition scientist at Purdue University, says the problem of low bone mass in youths has been long unappreciated. "Until recently, researchers imagined childhood fracture was only due to trauma," she says. And while the manifold causes of low bone mass can affect children of either gender, girls are especially likely to exhibit symptoms in short order: "The consequences show up earlier because they have smaller bodies and smaller bones."
Here are some of the major explanations for why some children develop low bone density:
Nutrition. Children need calcium and Vitamin D to grow healthy bones, but these nutrients can sometimes be lacking in their diet. For example, many children and adolescents don't drink much milk, points out Dr. Linda DiMeglio, a pediatric endocrinologist at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. Dr. DiMeglio notes that instead of milk, youths nowadays often drink sodas - a particularly poor choice because the phosphate in the sodas binds to calcium, limiting the absorption of the nutrient when it is consumed.
In addition, darker-skinned children may be especially at risk for Vitamin D deficiency, because their pigment limits their ability to produce Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight - which in turn can limit the body's absorption of calcium and harm the bones. Conversely, the Vitamin D production in very light-skinned children may also be inhibited if they never step outside without being slathered in sunscreen.
Medical Conditions. A genetic condition known as osteogenesis imperfecta - often called the "brittle bone" disorder - entails a defect in the collagen produced by an individual. Not only will the person's bones will break easily, but the disease usually involves a host of other health problems. Other potential problems that directly affect bone mass in children include human growth hormone deficiency and hyperthyroidism. In addition, malabsorption disorders, such as celiac disease, can prevent a child who is eating right from utilizing the necessary nutrients; other conditions such as cerebral palsy can limit movement and preclude the exercise that bones need to become strong.
Medication. Sometimes the culprit is not the medical condition itself, but the drugs needed to treat the disorder. Certain medicines such as corticosteroids are known to have a negative impact on bones. A child who spends a considerable periods of time on these drugs, because of asthma, cancer, transplants or a host of autoimmune disorders, is especially at risk for low bone mass - but often has little choice other than to continue the drug regimen. "They're conquering the most urgent problem even if they harm the bones," explains Dr. Weaver.
Idiopathic Juvenile Osteoporosis. This rare condition can affect otherwise healthy children, usually between the ages of eight and fourteen. The growth of bone in affected youths is impaired and possibly results in fractures, most often in the vertebral column. The cause is not known, but the good news is the ailment usually improves substantially around the age of puberty.
Published On: November 06, 2007