Life may begin at 40, but that’s when bone cells start to die. Whether you’re a woman or a man, changes in your hormonal balance and metabolism influence the rate at which your bones build new cells and get rid of the old, dead ones.
Lose too many old cells without replacing them with new ones, and soon your bones are lighter and weaker than they should be.
The first stage, known as osteopenia, means that you’ve lost some bone mass. The second stage, osteoporosis, means that your bones have lost significant density and are at increased risk for breakage.
About 10 million Americans already have osteoporosis. Another 44 million have osteopenia, which puts them on the path toward osteoporosis.
At the Rheumatology Center of New Jersey, our board-certified rheumatologists want to keep your bones and joints healthy for life. That’s why we specialize in bone health and offer bone densitometry (DXA) scans to determine how healthy your bones are.
What’s your baseline?
Childhood and young adulthood are when you should build up your bones, because once you hit 40, your body starts making withdrawals.
Even if you consumed plenty of leafy greens and dairy as a child, adult habits such as drinking alcohol and coffee or living a sedentary life could start to affect your bone health.
If you have a small frame, are Caucasian or Asian, and/or are a woman, you’re more likely to start with bones that are already on the light side. Certain habits raise your risk for osteopenia and osteoporosis, including:
- Not getting enough vitamin D
You’re also at increased risk if you previously broke a bone, have a parent who broke a hip bone, or have rheumatoid arthritis.
What happens at 40
When you hit 40, whether your bones started out light or dense, they now start to lose mass. That’s because you stop creating enough new bone cells to replace the old ones.
The reason your bone production slows down is the same reason that everything slows down: Your hormone balance changes. Your body produces less estrogen and testosterone, which keep bone, skin, and muscles strong and dense. Your cells lose energy overall, too.
After age 40, you should do everything you can to keep your bones producing healthy new cells. That means consuming at least 1,000 mg of calcium and 1000 IU of vitamin D every day through diet and supplements.
It also means getting plenty of exercise, including high-impact aerobics to stress your bones and resistance exercise such as weightlifting.
Building muscle has two bone benefits. First, strong muscles actually put pressure on your bones to keep them producing new cells. Second, strong muscles reduce your chance of a fall, which could fracture your bones.
What happens after 50
By the time women are in their early 50s, they’ve usually gone through menopause, which drastically reduces the amount of estrogen and testosterone they produce. They now should up their calcium intake to 1,200 mg per day.
Men, too, enter a phase called andropause, during which they produce less bone- and muscle-building testosterone.
Unfortunately, women lose bone mass earlier and more rapidly than men do. That’s why it’s especially important to get regular DXA scans to monitor your bone mass and, if necessary, take medications or make lifestyle changes to maintain it.
We recommend DXA scans every two years for:
- Postmenopausal women with other risks
- Women age 65 or older
- Men age 70 or older
- Anyone on medications that weaken bones
You may also start DXA scans earlier if you have a history of fractures or have an autoimmune disease or other condition that puts you at risk for fractures. If your bone scan shows osteopenia or osteoporosis, we customize a treatment plan to protect your bones and keep them as strong as possible.
Treatments for brittle bones
Just because your DXA scan is disappointing or frightening doesn’t mean that you will eventually suffer a severe fracture. By improving your diet and adding the right kinds of exercise, you can maintain your current bone mass or even improve it slightly.
In addition to lifestyle changes, we may recommend medications.
If you’re at risk for osteopenia or osteoporosis, book a DXA scan today so you can take protective measures to keep your bones strong and dense. If you already have significant bone loss, contact us about medications that maintain bone density.
We have locations in Somerville, Flemington, and Monroe, New Jersey.