Brittle Bones

Brittle Bones is a common condition which can affect both men and women. Since brittle bones is a degenerative disease, bone density is lost over time.

Life without Brittle Bones

We preen ourselves, pamper our skin and hit the gym, just to look good. But we often neglect the core that holds our tissues together - our bones.

In fact, not only do bones give the body structural support, they enable movement and help protect organs. Vital organs like the heart and the lungs, for instance, are held within the ribcage, said Dr Lau Tang Ching, a senior consultant rheumatologist at National University Hospital.

Bones also manufacture red and white blood cells which are essential to life, he said. A key danger of neglecting bone health is brittle bones or osteoporosis. This is a condition where minerals are leached from bones faster than the body can replace them, resulting in brittle and weak bones.

"By age 65, it is estimated that one third of females and 10 per cent of males suffer from brittle bone disease," said Dr Lau. "The danger of getting osteoporosis is that it predisposes a person to fractures." About 20 to 27 per cent of people who suffer a hip fracture die within a year from infections or blood clots, he said, while 40 per cent of the survivors have reduced mobility. Maintaining bone health has to be a continual effort, as our bones are always changing, even throughout our adult life

"Our bones keep undergoing remodelling - the shape constantly changes over time due to the constant removal and formation of bone tissue," Dr Lau said. Other than calcium and vitamin D which are needed for bone growth, one also needs protein and nutrients such as zinc, magnesium and vitamin K for optimal bone health, said Ms Ann Selina Chang, a dietitian at The Nutrition Place.

Brittle Bones and Nutrition

Zinc aids in bone formation, while magnesium is a component of bone and is needed for normal utilisation of calcium. Vitamin K, which can be found in vegetables like broccoli and spinach, is required in a chemical process that produces a bone protein called osteocalcin.

However, the daily requirements of these nutrients may vary by age. The Health Ministry's website indicated that an adult between 19 and 50 years needs about 800mg of calcium daily. This is roughly equivalent to 2'/z glasses of low-fat milk, the Health Promotion Board said. Meanwhile, adolescents aged 10 to 18 years old, adults above 51 years old and pregnant or breastfeeding women will need 1,000mg of calcium per day.

Milk apart, calcium can also be found in a wide variety of common foods like fish and vegetables. Examples of calcium-rich fish are ikan bilis and sardines with bones. Vegetables like spinach, chye sim and kailan, as well as soya beans and soya-based foods like beancurd can also be added to the list.

Going hand in hand with calcium is vitamin D, which is produced by the skin in sunlight and helps in calcium absorption. However, people who are rarely out in the sun can go for vitamin D-fortified foods, as well as fatty fish, said Ms Chang

Osteoperia from brittle bones

Most people are familiar with the bone-weakening effects of osteoporosis, but very few know that women can begin to lose bone density in their 20s.

This pre-cursor to osteoporosis is called osteopenia, and a report issued Thursday by the U.S. Surgeon General's office warned women about it.

Osteopenia is sometimes called the "young women's silent epidemic," because many young women fail to realize they are susceptible to bone loss.

Rheumatologist Dr. Harris McIlwain told The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm that 20 percent of college-aged women have osteopenia, and probably half the women over 45 have it.

The biggest risk factors of brittle bones

"First," says McIlwain, who's co-authored a book called "Reversing Osteopenia," "if your mother or grandmother has osteoporosis or fractures or stooped-over posture. If your weight is less than 127 pounds. If you haven't been very active. If you smoke cigarettes. If you're nearing the time of menopause (or are experiencing early menopause, or have low estrogen levels, or have had a hysterectomy with removal of the ovaries). These and other ... factors increase your risk tremendously."

Weight and Brittle Bone Disease

"Weight has to do with the amount of fat in the body and as the weight gets lower for your height, it increases the risk of bone loss."

Dieting can also pose a problem. Many young women "diet hard," according to McIlwain, and "when you diet, you tend to lose those parts of the diet that are dairy, that have calcium, and you have less protein and may lose a lot of bone during that time," Mcllwain says.

Bone Density test to discover Brittle Bones

"It's so simple and painless," McIlwain notes. "Anyone who has the risk factors that we spoke of. If you had a fracture as an adult, it's a big deal. If you're nearing the time of menopause, or have any of the risk factors we talked about, go ahead and have the test and you get the answer."

He recommends 1300 to 1500 milligrams a day in calcium supplements as well. Also helpful, he says, are two types of exercise: "One is weight-bearing, which makes the bones get stronger, and back exercises, because if the back muscles get stronger, the bones get harder.

"Medications may be added. Your doctor can tell you. In fact, it was shown to decrease the risk of fractures by 75 percent." View 6 min Video on Degenerative Disc Disease and other Testimonials

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