Osteoporosis means porosity or thinning of the bones. It is a skeletal
disease in which the amount of bone tissue is reduced, causing bone to become
weak and more susceptible to fracture. In normal young adults, the bones
are strong and only break when there is severe trauma, such as an accident.
With aging, especially after menopause, bones become thinner and weaken
so they break much more easily. These fragility fractures are the hallmark
of osteoporosis and are particularly common in the wrist, spine, and hip.
Bone tissue is constantly dissolving and regenerating. During childhood
and adolescence, the amount of bone in the skeleton increases, reaching
a maximum in the 20s. As we age, the amount that dissolves exceeds the amount
created, resulting in an unstable bone. This bone loss continues throughout
life for both men and women. For women this becomes especially dramatic
during menopause when estrogen levels decline, since estrogen aids in bone
Age. The older you are, the greater your risk of osteoporosis. Your
bones become weaker and less dense as you age.
Gender. Your chances of developing osteoporosis are greater if you
are a woman. Women have less bone tissue and lose bone more rapidly than
men because of the changes involved in menopause.
Family History and Personal History of Fractures as an Adult. Susceptibility
to fracture may be, in part, hereditary. Young women whose mothers have
a history of vertebral fractures also seem to have reduced bone mass. A
personal history of a fracture as an adult also increases your fracture
Race. Caucasian and Asian women are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
However, African American and Hispanic women are at significant risk for
developing the disease.
Bone Structure and Body Weight. Small-boned and thin women (under
127 pounds) are at greater risk.
Menopause/Menstrual History. Normal or early menopause (brought
about naturally or because of surgery) increases your risk of developing
osteoporosis. In addition, women who stop menstruating before menopause
because of conditions such as anorexia or bulimia, or because of excessive
physical exercise, may also lose bone tissue and develop osteoporosis.
Lifestyle. Current cigarette smoking, drinking too much alcohol,
consuming an inadequate amount of calcium or getting little or no weight-bearing
exercise, increases your chances of developing osteoporosis.
Medications/Chronic Diseases. Medications to treat disorders such
as rheumatoid arthritis, endocrine disorders (i.e. an under-active thyroid),
seizure disorders and gastrointestinal diseases may have side effects that
can damage bone and lead to osteoporosis.
- What Do We Know about Prevention?
Building strong bones during childhood and adolescence can be the best
defense against developing osteoporosis later. Other life-style choices
- Eating a balanced diet that contains adequate calcium (1200 mg a
day for adult women and vitamin D (400 to 800 units a day)
- Doing weight-bearing exercises and muscle-strengthening exercises
- Quitting smoking
- Reducing alcohol consumption
- Seeing a physician to review your need for a bone-density test
- Why Do We Think Soy Can Make A Difference? Some Background…
The use of over-the counter soy isoflavone supplements is becoming more
common for post-menopausal women as prevention for osteoporosis. Post-menopausal
women are particularly susceptible because their estrogen production has
declined. Estrogen, or hormonal replacement therapy known as HRT, has
been shown to reduce bone loss and fractures, but recent studies have
outlined some risks. The possibility of those risks has made a number
of women seek alternative ways to prevent the debilitating and costly
disease of osteoporosis.
Soy products have been used for centuries in other cultures where there
is less osteoporosis. Inside the soybeans are substances called isoflavones.
Isoflavones are natural products synthesized by plants. They are often
called "plant hormones" or "phytoestrogens" because
they have chemical structures similar to estrogen. Traditionally, isoflavones
have been viewed as being very weak estrogens but recent research demonstrates
that while isoflavones do share some of biological properties of estrogen
they are also quite different from estrogen. For example, estrogens can
increase the risk of developing potentially harmful blood clots whereas
isoflavones do not. Similarly, estrogens can increase a type of fat (triglycerides)
in the bloodstream that increases risk of heart disease whereas isoflavones
do not. Thus, it is more accurate to think of isoflavones as having 'estrogen
like' rather than estrogenic properties. They are anti-oxidants and may
have a role in preventing aging. Consequently, no conclusions about the
health effects of isoflavones should be made on the basis of what estrogen
does or doesn't do.
There have been several small studies showing the benefit of isoflavone
supplementation on post-menopausal women, but there have been no rigorous,