Osteoporosis is a progressive bone disease that is characterized by a decrease in bone mass and density and that leads to an increased risk of fracture. In osteoporosis, the bone mineral density (BMD) is reduced, bone microarchitecture deteriorates, and the amount and variety of proteins in bone are altered.
Osteoporosis is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a bone mineral density of 2.5 standard deviations or more below the mean peak bone mass (average of young, healthy adults) as measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry; the term “established osteoporosis” includes the presence of a fragility fracture. The disease may be classified as primary type 1, primary type 2, or secondary.
The form of osteoporosis most common in women after menopause is referred to as primary type 1 or postmenopausal osteoporosis. Primary type 2 osteoporosis or senile osteoporosis occurs after age 75 and is seen in both females and males at a ratio of 2:1. Secondary osteoporosis may arise at any age and affect men and women equally. This form results from chronic predisposing medical problems or disease, or prolonged use of medications such as glucocorticoids, when the disease is called steroid- or glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis.
The risk of osteoporosis fractures can be reduced with lifestyle changes and in those with previous osteoporosis related fractures medications. Lifestyle change includes diet, exercise, and preventing falls. The utility of calcium and vitamin D is questionable in most. Bisphosphonates are useful in those with previous fractures from osteoporosis but are of minimal benefit in those who have osteoporosis but no previous fractures. Osteoporosis is a component of the frailty syndrome.
- Excess alcohol: Although small amounts of alcohol are probably beneficial (bone density increases with increasing alcohol intake), chronic heavy drinking (alcohol intake greater than three units/day) probably increases fracture risk despite any beneficial effects on bone density.
- Vitamin D deficiency: Low circulating Vitamin D is common among the elderly worldwide. Mild vitamin D insufficiency is associated with increased parathyroid hormone (PTH) production. PTH increases bone resorption, leading to bone loss. A positive association exists between serum 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol levels and bone mineral density, while PTH is negatively associated with bone mineral density.
- Tobacco smoking: Many studies have associated smoking with decreased bone health, but the mechanisms are unclear. Tobacco smoking has been proposed to inhibit the activity of osteoblasts and is an independent risk factor for osteoporosis. Smoking also results in an increased breakdown of exogenous estrogen, lower body weight, and earlier menopause, all of which contribute to lower bone mineral density.
- Malnutrition: Nutrition has an important and complex role in the maintenance of good bone health. Identified risk factors include low dietary calcium and/or phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, boron, iron, fluoride, copper, vitamins A, K, E, and C (and D where skin exposure to sunlight provides an inadequate supply). Excess sodium is a risk factor. High blood acidity may be diet-related and is a known antagonist of bones. Some have identified low protein intake as associated with lower peak bone mass during adolescence and lower bone mineral density in elderly populations. Conversely, some have identified low protein intake as a positive factor, protein is among the causes of dietary acidity. Imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fats is yet another identified risk factor.
- Underweight/inactive: Bone remodeling occurs in response to physical stress, so physical inactivity can lead to significant bone loss. Weight-bearing exercise can increase peak bone mass achieved in adolescence, and a highly significant correlation between bone strength and muscle strength has been determined. The incidence of osteoporosis is lower in overweight people.
- Heavy metals: A strong association between cadmium and lead with bone disease has been established. Low-level exposure to cadmium is associated with an increased loss of bone mineral density readily in both genders, leading to pain and increased risk of fractures, especially in the elderly and in females. Higher cadmium exposure results in osteomalacia (softening of the bone).
- Soft drinks: Some studies indicate soft drinks (many of which contain phosphoric acid) may increase the risk of osteoporosis, at least in women. Others suggest soft drinks may displace calcium-containing drinks from the diet rather than directly causing osteoporosis.