Osteoporosis is a condition that results in the loss of bone strength, or bone density. This makes bones more fragile and more likely to break. It occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, faster than the body can replace them.
According to Osteoporosis Australia, an estimated 1.2 million Australians are affected by osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is sometimes called a “silent disease” because people usually do not notice their bones becoming thinner and weaker until they break! As the disease progresses, even a slight bump or fall can cause a serious fracture.
Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:
- Increasing age
- Being female
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Low vitamin D levels
- Low calcium intake
- Low body weight
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Physical inactivity
- Reduced oestrogen levels (e.g. post menopause)
- Long-term corticosteroid use
If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, your community pharmacist can advise on diet, appropriate supplements if you need them, and what type of exercise would be best.
Your pharmacist can also help with advice, support and products to help you give up smoking.
Some pharmacies also conduct bone density screening to assess your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Sometimes a doctor will prescribe medicine to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, or to prevent it from worsening. Your pharmacist can advise you how and when to take this medication, what side effects to watch out for, and whether other medicines are appropriate.
Fortunately, the risk of developing osteoporosis can be reduced by maintaining healthy and strong bones. If you are concerned you may be at risk of developing osteoporosis, talk to your pharmacist.
Calcium is a key to minimising the risk of osteoporosis and the recommended daily intake of calcium is about 1000mg for young adults, and for teenagers and older adults about 1300mg a day is recommended.
This equates to three to five serves of dairy foods each day. However, calcium absorption is reduced (and, the risk of osteoporosis increased) by the lack of vitamin D as well as excessive intake of caffeine, alcohol, and many soft drinks.
If you are unable to get an adequate calcium intake from your diet, or if you can’t manufacture sufficient vitamin D from exposure to the sun, calcium and vitamin D supplements – both of which are evidence-based complimentary medicines – may be required.
Your community pharmacist can advise on tips to increase calcium intake and improve vitamin D levels, appropriate supplements if you need them, check the medicines you are taking and recommend what type of exercise would be best for you.