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Osteoporosis is a condition of bone that results in fractures. Senile osteoporosis is osteoporosis that develops as a part of the process of aging. But senile osteoporosis is not inevitable.

Senile osteoporosis is a complex condition of aging bone. In both men and women, bones eventually lose their mineral content whether or or not estrogen and testosterone levels are low.

Is senile osteoporosis inevitable?

Eighty-seven year-old Ronny (not his real name) had enjoyed a long, active, and interesting life. The second son of immigrant parents who had arrived in a small town in Texas just before World War I, Ronny witnessed Bonnie and Clyde rob the local bank at the age of four, started working in a grocery store at age 10, and managed to be valedictorian of his class at 16 despite never speaking English at home. Ronny left home at the age of 17 to become a successful artist in the "big city," Dallas.

Liberated from the limitations of a small Texas farm town, in the 1930s and 1940s, Ronny became a male exotic dancer, and eventually also one of the first male professional belly dancers. For the next half-century Ronny racked up a lifetime of stories around the world, making life one big party, living on alcohol and candy and good times, until he returned at the age of 80 to take care of his 104-year-old mother. When his mother passed on, Ronny became a local "character" well known for walking to the market in short shorts and tank tops to display his surprisingly youthful physique. Rumors swirled that Ronny had a very active love life. Even at age 85, Ronny still performed professionally.

But when at age 87 he attempted to show his moves to a friend just for fun, disaster struck. Without any warning signs, Danny shattered his hip in the middle of his routine. Breaking a hip proved to be the beginning of the end. Even though he was rushed into surgery to repair the fracture and then sent back to surgery to get an artificial hip a week later, Ronny died, never getting out of bed again, five weeks after he broke his hip.

Senile osteoporosis seems to come out of nowhere

Ronny's story of senile osteoporosis is not that unusual. Senile osteoporosis can strike active people. It is a condition of both men and women. It seems like bones just wear out, but that's not really the case. Senile osteoporosis is the result of two processes in bone that get out of sync.

Stresses and strains of everyday life are constantly causing tiny microfractures in bone. There's a repair process in healthy bone in which bone recycling cells called osteoclasts remove damaged bone, and bone rebuilding cells called osteoblasts repair it.

In senile osteoporosis, the osteoblasts can't keep up with the osteoblasts. The problem may be inflammation that accelerates the bone recycling process. Or it can be aging that makes the bone rebuilding cells less active. Or, as was likely the case with Ronny, it may be that decades of a diet deficient in calcium and vitamin D and micronutrients just do not supply the building materials for bone. But eventually the damage is irreversible.

There is a pattern for the fractures caused by osteoporosis. Most of the time, but not always:

  • Wrist fractures occur first. 
  • Then there are fractures of the spine, especially in the lower back (lumbar spine).
  • Finally senile osteoporosis shows up as a broken hip, although some active people may shrug off aches and pains of the wrist and back as "getting old."

What you can do to prevent senile osteoporosis

You don't have to hover around the endocrinologist's office starting at age 55 for the rest of your life to take effective steps to prevent senile osteoporosis. Don't avoid treatment for osteoporosis if you have a fracture, but don't panic about the possibility of aging bones and fractures, either.

Instead, starting now, do this:

  • Start taking a calcium supplement. No matter what the natural health gurus say, bones do need calcium. Even calcium oxide, the "cheap stuff," reduces the risk of osteoporosis. Calcium is essential. It is just not enough. You need at least 1000 mg of calcium a day, in at least two doses, because your body can't absorb more than about 500 mg of calcium at a time.
  • Start taking vitamin D. Your body can't use calcium without this vitamin. Your skin makes vitamin D if you get sun, but if you are stuck indoors, or you are slathering on sunscreen because you have had skin cancer, you need to take a supplement. Also, if you have kidney disease, or diabetes, or you are overweight (fat cells suck up vitamin D and lock it away from circulation), you need D. Just about about everyone can benefit from 1,000 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D per day.
  • Get your magnesium. If you eat lots of leafy greens, you may not need a magnesium supplement. But if you are getting less than five servings of vegetables per day, make a point of taking 200 to 600 mg of magnesium daily.
  • Put your binge drinking days behind you. It's OK to be a professional belly dancer at age 85, but don't imbibe six exotic drinks at your after party. Or five or four or three and probably not more than two. Occasional consumption of alcohol, not more than two drinks per day, not more than six drinks per week for men and not more than one drink per day, not more than three drinks per week for women, may actually help your bone health. Excessive consumption of alcohol hurts it.
These are the basics of bone health for everyone. There's a lot more you can do to maintain healthy bones if fractures appear. But following these four simple rules will go a long way toward keeping your bones fracture-free for a long and healthy life.

  • Czerwinski E, Badurski JE, Marcinowska-Suchowierska E, Osieleniec J. Current understanding of osteoporosis according to the position of the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Osteoporosis Foundation. Ortop Traumatol Rehabil. 2007 Jul-Aug. 9(4):337-56.
  • Gosfield E 3rd, Bonner FJ Jr. Evaluating bone mineral density in osteoporosis. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2000 May-Jun. 79(3):283-91.
  • Kanis JA, McCloskey EV, Johansson H, Oden A, Melton LJ 3rd, Khaltaev N. A reference standard for the description of osteoporosis. Bone. 2008 Mar. 42(3):467-75.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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