Updated: Nov 24
When considering health, people tend to think about leading causes of death such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer . Contrary to common belief, you may not realize that caring for your bones is just as crucial as taking care of your heart, brain, and other body areas.
Bones — the foundation of the body — keep everything together, protect fragile organs, and aid in mobility. When bones become damaged or degrade, it can significantly impact one’s well-being, independence, mental state, and overall quality of life.
In this article, you’ll learn about bone health and what happens to the body when bones become unhealthy. In addition, we provide details about osteoporosis, including its risk factors, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
Overview of Bone Health
Bones provide support for organs and muscles, helping you walk, pick up objects, and carry out all functions of your life. The human body contains 206 bones, from the skull, chest, and pelvis down to the arms, legs, fingers, and toes. These bones come in different shapes and sizes, including short, long, flat, and irregular.
Our bones are made up of several layers of tissue. Cortical Bone is the dense outer layer. Trabecular bone is the spongy inner layer, comprised of a porous layer that makes bones strong but lightweight, as well as the bone marrow, a jelly-like inner layer that produces blood cells.
Like most people, you probably thought of bones as nothing more than nonliving, hard structures in the body. The skeletal system is actually an entire group of living, growing bones full of cells, nerves, and blood vessels. Bones are mainly a combination of collagen (a protein) for flexibility and calcium phosphate (a mineral) for hardness and strength.
How Bone Is Made and Degraded
As in all areas of the body, bone tissue goes through a continuous cycle of being broken down and built back up. In fact, every bone in your body gets a total rebuild about every ten years . That’s how bones heal from tiny fractures and major breaks.
Proteins and minerals give bones a structure that can withstand stress, and cells help replenish old bone tissue. Still, bones are susceptible to breakage and irreparable degradation. As you age, you begin to lose more bone than your body can rebuild. Also, there are many other causes of bone loss, including diseases, health conditions, medical procedures, and medications .
Unfortunately, about half of all Americans over 50 years old have weak bones. Weak bones caused by low bone density can lead to osteoporosis, further increasing the risk of broken bones. Your bones can start to degrade as early as 20, the age when your body reaches peak bone mass, so ensuring good bone health throughout your lifetime is vital .
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis comes from the root words osteo- (“bone”), poro (“pore” or “porous”), and -osis (“condition”). It’s a progressive disease where the bone tissues and structure become thin and weak. Of all bone diseases, osteoporosis is the most common. About 12.6% of the U.S. population over 50 suffers from it. Not only that, but an additional 43.1% have a low bone mass that could develop into osteoporosis. That’s a mind-blowing amount — a total of at least 54 million Americans .
Osteoporosis is often called the “Silent Disease” because you can’t feel your bones getting weaker. Many don’t find out they have osteoporosis until they break a bone, so it’s essential to understand the risk factors and ways to prevent the condition.
There are several risk factors to be aware of to help ensure good bone health. Osteoporosis risk factors are broken down into those you have control over (modifiable) and those you can’t change (non-modifiable) .
Modifiable Risk Factors:
Non-Modifiable Risk Factors:
History of falls
It’s important to note that women are more likely than men to have bone loss and develop osteoporosis. For example, in the 50-64 age group, about 13% of women have osteoporosis compared to 3% of men . Researchers also estimate that 2 out of 4 women and 1 out of 4 men over 50 will endure a bone fracture, usually without any prior symptoms . The reason for this big difference is women lose bone mass after they stop producing estrogen due to menopause.
As a silent disease, osteoporosis is often not diagnosed until after being seen for a broken bone. People tend to have these types of fractures in the hip, spine, and wrist, which are areas of the body that contain a large proportion of porous trabecular bones .
Signs to look out for when worried about osteoporosis include the following:
Severe lower back pain
Curved or stooped posture
Osteoporosis is typically diagnosed by measuring bone mineral density, which a physician can determine by conducting a bone density scan, also called a DEXA scan. In addition, blood tests can identify risk factors and rule out other medical conditions.
There is no cure for osteoporosis, but you can prevent it from getting worse. Treatment is more important than you might realize because osteoporosis can be debilitating and even lead to death — 24% of hip fracture patients over 50 die within the following year . Treatment mainly involves lifestyle changes, though medications could help.
Steps to Prevention:
Eat a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin
Perform regular weight-bearing exercise
Avoid smoking and excessive drinking
Take medication when applicable
If you’re concerned about your bone health, talk to your physician. You doctor can determine your risk, perform tests, and develop a personalized treatment plan.
Are You at Risk of Poor Bone Health?
All 206 bones in your body serve many critical purposes, yet bone health is frequently overlooked and neglected. Maintaining optimal bone health is necessary because all it takes is a hip fracture to strip away your mobility and independence.
Now that you understand how bones are made and degrade, you can take measures to reduce the risk of bone loss and osteoporosis. It’s never too late — or early — to start taking care of your bones.
For more information on bone health, listen in on our podcast episode with Laura Yecies, CEO of Bone Health Technologies. During this discussion, Laura introduces listeners to OsteoBoost, a breakthrough, non-drug treatment device using vibration to reduce bone loss.
Center for Disease Control (CDC), Leading Causes of Death, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), Bone Health Basics, https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/bone-health-basics
National Osteoporosis Foundation, What is Osteoporosis and What Causes It? https://www.bonehealthandosteoporosis.org/patients/what-is-osteoporosis/
National Institute of Health (NIH), What is Bone? https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/what-is-bone
National Center for Health Statistics (U.S.), Osteoporosis or Low Bone Mass in Older Adults: United States, 2017–2018, https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/103477
Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation, Bone Health Basics: Get the Facts,https://www.bonehealthandosteoporosis.org/preventing-fractures/general-facts/
National Institute of Health (NIH), A Comprehensive Overview on Osteoporosis and Its Risk Factors,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6225907/
National Osteoporosis Foundation, Osteoporosis Fast Facts, http://www.bonehealthandosteoporosis.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Osteoporosis-Fast-Facts.pdf