Right now you are picturing blue-haired, frail, little women who are hunched over. That's the telltale sign of osteoporosis right? It affects older white women with small bones only. Wrong.
Osteoporosis does affect four times as many women as men but men are still at risk. And, young people are too. And, by the time a person suffers from poor posture, they already have osteoporosis, a disease that typically takes years to develop. Before they've reached this point, they hit osteopenia, low bone mineral density (aka, weak bones).
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a debilitating bone disease characterized by deterioration of bone tissue leading to bone fragility and an increased fracture risk. It doesn't just affect the structure of your body (how straight you stand) but also how you feel.
Just living with osteoporosis can be very painful. And, when osteoporotic bones break, the health consequences can be drastic. Fractures of the hip and spine are among the most serious. Hip fractures often result in hospitalization and surgery. Spine factures typically lead to loss of height, severe back pain and deformity of the spine.
Osteoporosis is considered a silent disease because it can develop over the course of many years and go undetected until someone suffers from a fracture. You won't feel your bones getting weaker. The only symptoms are fractures, severe back pain, loss of height and spinal deformities (stooped posture for instance).
Aside from a lack of symptoms, another issue is that people can suffer from vertebral fractures without even knowing that is why they have back pain!
How Does Osteoporosis Develop?
Peak bone mass is achieved at approximately 20-35 years of age and bone gradually demineralizes as we age. You will indeed lose bone but how much you lose depends on a number of factors:
Un-Modifiable Risk Factors
- Being Female
- Older Age
- Family History Of Osteoporosis Or Broken Bones
- Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic heritage (Although those of African decent are also at risk.)
Modifiable Risk Factors
- Being Small And Thin (No, you can't change your height.)
- History Of Broken Bones
- Low Sex Hormones
- Low Estrogen Levels In Women, Including Menopause
- Missing Periods (Amenorrhea)
- Low Levels Of Testosterone And Estrogen In Men
- Low Calcium Intake
- Low Vitamin D Intake
- Inactive Lifestyle
- Alcohol Abuse
- Certain Medications Such As Steroid Medications, Some Anticonvulsants
- Certain Diseases And Conditions Such As Anorexia Nervosa, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Gastrointestinal Diseases And Others (Some of these of course are not modifiable though with anorexia nervosa, one can seek help.)
Although age is a risk factor and osteoporosis is typically seen in older people, I have tested the bone density of women in their 20s who meet the criteria for osteopenia and osteoporosis thanks to years of dieting, poor calcium intake and menstrual irregularities or lack of a menstrual cycle. Youth doesn't make you immune.
Bodybuilding Can Help Decrease Your Risk Of Developing Osteoporosis
You can decrease your risk of developing osteoporosis by controlling the modifiable risk factors as much as possible. Luckily, as a bodybuilder, you are already following the recommendations for decreasing your risk of developing this debilitating disease.
Engage In Regular Weight-Bearing Exercise
Weight-lifting itself can actually help you prevent this disease! There are two main ways that weight-lifting helps with your bones. Muscle pulls on bone making it stronger and the actual act of weight lifting puts pressure/resistance on bone making it stronger.
The key is varying your stimulus and adding impact exercise. As a bodybuilder you better vary your training program or you'll plateau. When it comes to making your bones stronger, varying the stimulus also helps. And, adding various kinds of impact exercise will help tremendously. Plyometrics are great for stimulating your bones because you are constantly hitting the surface at different angles.
And finally, for those who have gained muscle weight, that's great. When you have more weight to carry around everyday, that places mechanical stress on your bones, making them stronger.
Get Your RDI Of Calcium And Vitamin D
As a bodybuilder, you are acutely aware of your diet. And, though some of you shy away from milk and other dairy products, you definitely (I hope) take whey protein shakes and the majority of whey shakes are fortified with both calcium and vitamin D (hopefully in the form of vitamin D3).
Bodybuilders also take their multivitamins daily and these contain some vitamin D and calcium. Keep in mind that some people don't get enough vitamin D from the sun (and no I don't recommend tanning beds or baking in the sun to get your vitamin D, unless of course you want wrinkled skin and other not so pleasant changes in your skin texture and appearance), so, check your supplements.
If you don't think you are getting enough, choose a calcium citrate + vitamin D product and take it in divided doses (no more than 500 mg at a time) during the day. You can take these on an empty stomach.
Avoid Smoking And Excessive Alcohol
As a bodybuilder you are definitely not drinking alcohol in excess. And you definitely don't smoke either (if you do, work on quitting). There's nothing like trying to lift heavy weights and coughing like a smoker and struggling to get your breath during the eccentric phase of your lift.
Get A Bone Density Exam If Appropriate
As a bodybuilder you take care of your health and get regular exams. If you have any of the risk factors above, be sure to ask your doctor for a bone density exam (ask specifically for one done by DEXA, dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry), which will examine the bone density in your hip and spine.
Additional Tips To Help Prevent Osteoporosis
- Don't go on drastic diets or yo-yo your weight (extreme weight loss can decrease bone mass).
- Get enough magnesium (halibut, nuts, spinach, cereal oatmeal) and phosphorus (milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, chicken, turkey, salmon). Supplement if you need to (not magnesium oxide which isn't very absorbable).
- Consider probiotics. The healthy bacteria in your intestines produce vitamin K2, which may stimulate bone formation and suppress bone breakdown.
As my optometrist told me the other day "nothing gets better with age." Well, hopefully some things do but your bones aren't one of them. Instead, with your bones, it's a matter of keeping what you have. So keep weight lifting (and tell your friends you go to the gym to prevent disease) and eating right and you can take comfort in the fact that one of your favorite hobbies, keeping your body looking great, also helps you prevent a debilitating bone disease.
- National Osteoporosis Foundation. http://www.nof.org/
- Arden N, Cooper C. Present and future of osteoporosis: epidemiology. In: Osteoporosis: Diagnosis and Management. London, England: Mosby, 1998:1-16.
- Krall EA, Dawson-Hughes B. Osteoporosis. In: Shills ME, Olson JA, Shike M, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. Philadelphia Volume 2: Lea and Febiger. 1994:1559-1568.
- Jensen LB, Quaade F, Sorensen OH. Bone loss accompanying voluntary weight loss in obese humans. J Bone Miner Res 1994;9(4):459-463.
- Iwamoto J, Takeda T et al. Effects of vitamin K2 on osteoporosis. Curr Pharm Des. 2004;10(21):2557-76. Review.
- Iwamoto J, Takeda T. Menatetrenone (vitamin K2) and bone quality in the treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. Nutr Rev. 2006;64(12):509-17. Review.