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Vanishing Bones: Understanding Osteoporosis

Posted Aug 24 2008 1:49pm
ANNOUNCE: At birth, the human skeleton is made up of 275 different bones, but even as bones mature and appear to be quite strong, over time they can easily fracture, and for millions of Americans, those fractures are linked to osteoporosis.

SHONNI SILVERBERG, MD: Osteoporosis is a condition in which there is architectural degeneration of bone, and it is in fact a very serious condition affect -- causing 1.5 million fractures in the United States alone every year.

ANNOUNCE: But to understand how osteoporosis breaks down bone, we have to consider the function of bone in our bodies.

SHONNI SILVERBERG, MD: Bone is the matrix that composes the skeleton, and the skeleton is what carries us around each and every day. It allows us to walk upright. From another point of view, the skeleton and bone are a sink for minerals, for calcium and phosphorous in the body.

ANNOUNCE: Since bone is the foundation of the skeletal system, clearly something depletes within the bone, which results in osteoporosis. But before we talk about osteoporosis, let's find out what makes your bones healthy.

SHONNI SILVERBERG, MD: A health bone contains two main components. One is mineral -- that is to say, calcium and phosphorous -- and the other is the bone cells. And there are two different types of bone cells -- the osteoblast, which acts to form bone, and the osteoclast, which acts to absorb bone or to chew up little pieces of bone.

ANNOUNCE: Long before pieces of bone are chewed up, each of us develops peak bone mass.

SHONNI SILVERBERG, MD: Peak bone mass is developed sometime between the 20s to the 30s, depending on the individual. Peak bone mass is something that is achieved slowly, as calcium is laid down in the skeleton, during the teenage years, primarily. After that, we are in a state of decline.

ANNOUNCE: Osteoporosis is the result of that state of decline, rendering bones susceptible to bone fractures. But, Dr. Silverberg adds, we may be predisposed to fractures.

SHONNI SILVERBERG, MD: Unfortunately, it is possible to do all the right things and still have osteoporosis. A huge component that goes into our peak bone mass is our genetic makeup, and therefore, even if one does all the right things -- eat healthily, exercise regularly, does everything that you're supposed -- if your mother and your grandmother and your siblings have had osteoporosis, you are at extremely high risk.

FEMALE SPEAKER: My mother has severe osteoporosis, and my sister was just diagnosed with osteoporosis, so I'm doing everything I can to prevent it. I'm exercising, I'm eating right, and I'm just trying to stay health.

ANNOUNCE: Anyone can develop osteoporosis. Over 28 million men and women have the condition, and nearly half of all women over the age of 50 will be touched by it in their lifetimes.

SHONNI SILVERBERG, MD: Men and women both begin to lose bone at some period after having achieved peak bone mass. Women begin to lose quickly at around the time of menopause, and may lose between 5 to 7% of their bone mass each year. Men also begin to lose it around the same time, but much more slowly -- only about 1 to 2% per year.

ANNOUNCE: We lose that much bone mass, and yet it often happens without warning.

SHONNI SILVERBERG, MD: Initially, there are no clinical consequences, and actually what happens is that one's bone density can go down for a while with virtually no signs or symptoms. Osteoporosis is called a silent epidemic just because of that. Eventually, though, the bone density can become so low that people can start to fracture in the absence of trauma.

CECILIA JOHNSON: I came to discover I had osteoporosis almost by accident. I was at the Leahy Clinic and the endocrinologist I was seeing noticed that I had very rounded shoulders -- not quite the dowager's hump, but I was getting there.

ANNOUNCE: But while osteoporosis is a silent disease, it is also treatable and preventable. If caught at its early stages, there is much that can be done.

SHONNI SILVERBERG, MD: It's very important to have a diet that is adequate in calcium, and the amount of calcium that is required depends on your age. It is also important to have an adequate amount of vitamin D and to exercise regularly.

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