By Rayni Joan

Osteoporosis -- which means "porous bone" -- is a deterioration and weakening of bone density suffered by an estimated ten million people worldwide, 80% of whom are post menopausal women. Not everyone with osteoporosis has obvious symptoms -- such as curved shoulders and back. Very often, people have no idea how much bone density they have lost until they fracture a bone, most commonly a wrist, hip, rib, or spine. For this reason, doctors recommend a bone density scan for women at age 50. Many women this age have signs of osteopenia, which means their bones are getting thin but not thin enough to be osteoporosis. Osteopenia usually signals a tendency to lose bone density, and often warrants treatment which can slow down bone loss and possibly prevent osteoporosis.

Few people realize that bone tissue is constantly in flux. Cells called "osteoblasts" create new bone, and "osteoclasts" are the "vaccum cleaners" that sweep out old and weak bone. In osteoporosis, osteoblast cells do not create new bone as quickly as osteoclasts get rid of the old, and thus, bones tend to thin out and weaken. At this point in history, the most common pharmaceutical treatments interrupt the sweeping job of osteoclast cells which allows weak bone tissue to remain longer. Scientists are researching new ways to motivate osteoblasts to produce new bone tissue at faster paces.

What are the risk factors for osteoporosis?

With thinness in vogue, it is ironic that women who manage to maintain youthfully slim figures in middle age may be walking around with thin bones, and unfashionably obese women have healthier bones, and far less likely to develop either osteopenia or osteoporosis.

Other risk factors for osteoporosis are:
poor nutrition in adolescence and child-bearing years, particularly the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia;
age -- the older you are, the weaker your bones become;
overconsumption of sugar, salt and sugary carbonated beverages (soda pop);
sedentary lifestyle;
heredity (if Mom has osteoporosis, you're more at risk);
early menopause -- either naturally or through hysterectomy.

Treatment for osteoporosis includes:
weight-bearing exercise, particularly walking;
proper nutrition with emphasis on cooked green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, Swiss chard, collard and dandelion greens,
dietary calcium in the form of sardines, salmon with bone in, as well as non-fat or low-fat dairy products.

Calcium supplements are often recommended for osteoporosis, as well as an adequate Vitamin D level, which may require supplementation even in a sunny climate. But it's wise to avoid calcium carbonate, which is not easily absorbed.