Can osteoporosis be prevented?

For the most part, once bone has been lost, it cannot be replaced. So the goal in treating osteoporosis is to maintain existing bone and to stop further loss. Here are some things you can do:

Get enough calcium. Some good sources of calcium are dairy products, dark leafy green vegetables, dried beans, canned sardines and salmon, sesame seeds, tofu, tortillas and soy flour. Some foods that are not rich in calcium may be fortified with calcium and vitamin D; check the label on breakfast cereals, breads and orange juice. Your health care provider may also recommend calcium and Vitamin D supplements.

Maintain a healthy weight. Being underweight raises the risk of osteoporosis. On the other hand, a recent study from Harvard Medical School shows that excess abdominal fat is also detrimental to bone health. Remember that prolonged weight loss diets are dangerous: the dieter may be losing bone right along with the weight.

Get enough exercise—and the right kind. Staying active encourages bone growth and strengthens muscles to protect the bones. Seniors who have osteoporosis should consult their healthcare provider before beginning an exercise program. Certain types of exercises are most beneficial; others may actually be dangerous. A physical therapist can train the patient to use good “body mechanics” during daily activities—even during sleep.

Limit alcohol and quit smoking. Alcohol and tobacco can both contribute to weakened bone in a variety of ways. Drinking too much alcohol also increases the risk of falling and fracturing a bone.

Take medications correctly. Some osteoporosis patients take medication to slow the loss of bone. Other drugs help control pain, or manage healthcare conditions that can make osteoporosis worse. Take these medications exactly as prescribed. Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs can increase fall risk or actually weaken the bones, so have medications reviewed regularly.

Make fall prevention a priority. Reduce the risk by having regular eye examinations, keeping the house free of clutter and other hazardous conditions, and talking to your healthcare provider about a balance training program. If you use a cane, walker or other assistive device, be sure it is properly fitted and you have been trained in its use.

While some of the risk factors for osteoporosis—such as body type, family history, and age—are beyond our control, others are lifestyle choices. People who follow the above suggestions lessen the likelihood of developing osteoporosis. And though in most cases lost bone mass cannot be replaced, the same preventative measures can also slow the loss.