Osteoporosis, a thinning of the bones, is often a silent disease. In other words, it sneaks up on you! The first sign that your bones are weak and brittle might be a bone fracture when you do something minor like cough or turn your body too quickly. In fact, you can have a spinal fracture without knowing it since two-thirds of fractures in the spine cause no pain.
That’s why it’s so important to monitor your bone health and make healthy lifestyle changes that support the health of your bones. But first, you need knowledge and awareness. That’s the key to lowering your risk of this common health problem. Here are five surprising things you might not know about osteoporosis.
The First Evidence of Bone Loss May Lie in Your Mouth
It might surprise you to learn that your dentist may be the first person to diagnose osteoporosis. That’s because shifting teeth can be an early sign of the thinning bones. Teeth sometimes shift when the jawbone thins down a due to bone loss and the bones become too porous to hold the teeth in place, so your teeth move out of place. If your dentist tells you they’re seeing a shift in your teeth, schedule a bone density study to make sure that’s not the cause. Periodontal disease can cause teeth to shift too but osteoporosis is an underrecognized cause too.
Watch Your Height
Another sign of osteoporosis that many people aren’t aware of is a loss in height. Losing height at a rate faster than a half-inch each year is a red flag that you might be losing too much bone mass. It’s normal to have some loss of height as you age due to the discs that separate the bones in your spine shrinking but substantial height loss isn’t normal. You should also be concerned if you’ve lost more than 2.5 inches in height since you were a young adult. Changes in posture can also be an early sign of bone loss such as a hunched-over or stooped posture. Fortunately, it’s not hard to grab a tape measure and record your height so you can follow it over time.
You May Still Be Able to Build Bone Later in Life
The best way to prevent osteoporosis is adopt a bone-healthy lifestyle early in life. You may have heard that you form all the bone you’ll have by the age of 30. That’s the prevailing thought. However, there is evidence that you can build bone density later in life too. In a study called the Leisure World Study, researchers asked a group of women over 70 to take part in an exercise program. When they compared bone density before and at the completion of the study, some of the women showed an increase in bone mass. At the very least, high-impact exercise and strength-training helps preserve bone tissue, but it may also modestly boost the thickness of your bones even during late adulthood.
Being in a Bad Relationship May Boost Bone Loss
You might not think of stress or being in a bad relationship as harmful to your bones, but some research shows a link between social stress and osteoporosis. A study published in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that followed 11,000 older women found that women who reported feeling high levels of social stress experienced a greater decline in bone density over the following 6 years. The association held even when they controlled for other risk factors for osteoporosis.
How might social stress or a bad relationship accelerate bone loss? Stress can elevate the stress hormone cortisol, a hormone that’s also linked with bone loss. Therefore, it’s important to seek out ways to manage stress such as exercise, meditation, yoga, or deep breathing. Exercise has the added benefit of boosting bone health, but a combination of these strategies may work best.
Calcium and Vitamin D Aren’t the Only Nutrients You Need for Prevention
If you’re at high risk for osteoporosis, your doctor may recommend that you optimize your calcium and vitamin D intake. It’s important to do that, but calcium and vitamin D aren’t the only vitamins and minerals that support the health of your bones. Research also shows magnesium and vitamin K2 play a role in maintaining bone density. Vitamin K2 has the important task of directing the dietary calcium you consume to the bones, where you can use it, and away from your arteries, where it could contribute to cardiovascular disease.
Magnesium is also vital for healthy bones as it helps build bone density. Eating a diet rich in magnesium also helps with blood sugar and blood pressure control. Plus, you need adequate amounts for nerve and muscle function as well as blood clotting. Leafy greens, whole grains, seeds, and nuts are among the best sources of magnesium. Studies show diabetics are at especially high risk of magnesium deficiency and being deficient worsens blood sugar control. Magnesium is also important for blood pressure control and heart health.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, you’re more aware now of signs that you’re losing bone mass and are encouraged by the fact that you may be able to boost bone density even as an older adult. Take advantage of what you can do at all stages of life to boost the health of your bones. Before starting on a high-impact exercise program or weight training, talk to your physician. If you already have osteoporosis, they may recommend modifying your training. Make sure you’re getting enough calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K2, and magnesium in your diet too.
- 150 Most-Asked Questions about Osteoporosis. Hearst Books. Ruth S. Jacobowitz. (1993)
- Harvard Health Publishing. “Difficult relationships linked to bone loss”
- com. “Want Stronger Bones? Here Are Foods to Include In Your Diet”
- NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases Resource Center. “Oral Health and Bone Disease”
- National Osteoporosis Foundation. “Osteoporosis and Your Spine”
- UCSF Health. “Osteoporosis Signs and Symptoms”