How Bones Work

Bone Loss

woman drinking milk
Give your thirsty bones the calcium they need -- and a fighting chance against osteoporosis.

Bones, like any other part of the body, are susceptible to disease, the most common being osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is the diminishing of bone mass, leaving it structurally brittle and physically porous. One in six Americans has osteoporosis or early signs of the disease [source: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases]. In especially serious cases, a bone can be broken by as little as a sneeze.

Women are greatly affected by this condition -- four out of five cases of osteoporosis occur in women, and half of all women over the age of 50 will have a fracture related to osteoporosis [source: National Osteoporosis Foundation]. But it also affects men and the young -- in fact, one quarter of all men over 50 will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture. Though any bone can be affected by osteoporosis, the hip, spine and wrist are the most common. Fractures of the hip and spine are especially problematic, resulting in immobility, severe and lasting pain and even death.

Contributing factors of osteoporosis include:

  • Sedentary life. It's important to get exercise, since any weight-bearing activity will improve the strength of your bones. Additionally, exercise will prompt glands in the body to produce hormones -- such as growth hormone, testosterone or estrogen -- that help prevent the deterioration of your bones as you age. Other lifestyle choices, such as smoking and possibly high alcohol intake, adversely affect bone mass.

  • Malnutrition. A poor diet will result in not getting enough vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin D -- all important elements of good bone health and the sustained ability of your bones to produce new bone matrix. Talk to your doctor about your diet and vitamin intake.

  • Underdevelopment of bone mass before the age of 20. You most likely will have achieved the majority of your peak bone density by about age 20, though you can still gain bone mass until you're 30 or so. Living a healthy lifestyle and gaining bone mass early on will pay dividends down the road as you age.

  • Low estrogen. Women with higher estrogen levels tend to have higher bone density.