Many people associate osteoporosis with older age, so they do not necessarily think about osteoporosis or their risk factors while they are younger. The problem with that is your early years are the best time to develop bone-nurturing habits to prevent osteoporosis later on.
“Osteoporosis can be a serious problem, and it can increase your risk of fractures, but there are lifestyle and therapeutic interventions available that can reduce your risk,” says Sonal Chaudhry, MD, endocrinologist at NYU Langone Health in New York City.
The bones are constantly resorbing old cells and depositing new cells, and at first, you deposit more cells than you resorb, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation. But as you inch toward your 30s, that starts to change.
Because you’re dissolving more bone cells than forming new ones, bone density decreases. Some degree of this is normal and unavoidable, but if this happens at a rate that’s too high, osteoporosis may occur. Find out exactly how osteoporosis affects the body here.
There is some degree of genetic component in osteoporosis. It tends to run in families—but keep in mind that lifestyle factors like diet and activity level also tend to run in families. Since a significant amount of bone formation happens in childhood, it’s important for parents to pass on important bone-protecting habits and monitor for potential red flags.
“Parents should really be focused on your [family’s] nutrition, and make sure you’re getting enough calcium and [vitamin] D from your food, and exercise on a regular basis,” says Dr. Chaudhry.
Young women face some unique risk factors. Smaller frames mean thinner bones, and this makes them more susceptible to osteoporosis. Additionally, young women have a higher risk of eating disorders or restrictive eating, which can be detrimental to long-term bone health.
“It’s really important to have regular periods,” says Dr. Chaudhry. Factors that cause a young woman to experience amenorrhea—the absence of periods—increase bone density loss and make the individual more prone to fracture later on. (Here are things that may cause amenorrhea.)
There are lifestyle changes everyone can focus on to reduce their own personal risk of osteoporosis and fracture. Here are the six recommended lifestyle tweaks to prevent osteoporosis, according to Dr. Chaudhry:
Make sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D.
Maintain a healthy body weight.
Limit or avoid alcohol.
Avoid medicines that may thin your bones.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, there are still ways you can manage or slow bone density loss. “Your primary care physician can also treat your osteoporosis,” says Dr. Chaudhry. “If your osteoporosis is complicated, they may refer you to a specialist.”