Osteoporosis literally means "porous bone." It is a disease characterized by demineralization and structural deterioration of bone tissue, leading to bones that are brittle, fragile and prone to fractures, especially fractures of the hip, vertebrae and wrists. Progressive bone loss may cause loss of height, stooped posture, a humpback and severe pain.

It is most commonly seen in post-menopausal women. The cost for bone loss treatment in the US is a staggering $14 billion per year and is expected to rise significantly over the next decade. One in two women and one in eight men over the age of 50 are expected to have osteoporosis-related fractures. Osteoporosis affects women more than men because women have less bone mass and begin to lose bone far earlier.

For women, the most rapid rate of bone loss occurs in the first five years after menopause, beginning around age 45 when body hormone supplies undergo a dramatic change. Estrogen and progesterone are hormones that play important roles in building bone. Progressive bone loss in women is more complex than simple estrogen deficiency. Up until recently, women were routinely prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as soon as menopause approached to allegedly protect against osteoporosis.

Current studies have shown many risks and side-effects associated with HRT. "Protecting" a woman from osteoporosis depends on many variables before the onset of menopause, therefore it is simplistic to think that HRT alone will "protect" a menopausal woman from this disease. Likewise, a lack of calcium is not the only reason why women develop bone loss. Taking calcium is only part of building strong bones. In osteoporosis, there is a lack of other minerals as well.

There are many risk factors that can result in bone loss, but some of the major ones are: post-menopause, inactivity, smoking and heavy alcohol use. Caffeine, high alcohol, high sugar and high salt consumption and smoking cause more calcium to be lost than taken in.

Soft drinks, such as cola, contain high amounts of phosphorous that increase the excretion of calcium in the urine. And a diet high in animal protein also contributes to bone loss. A vegetarian diet is associated with a lower incidence of osteoporosis.

As always, it is best to prevent a disease from occurring, and osteoporosis is highly preventable through a healthy diet and good lifestyle practices. Incorporating Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) into a healthy lifestyle can be very effective in preventing and reversing bone loss. According to TCM, the health of the bones is directly related to the health of the kidneys. A decline in the function of the kidneys is a consequence of aging; therefore, tonifying the kidneys with acupuncture and Chinese herbs can slow down this process.

If you are concerned about bone loss, we can help you evaluate your risk through your personal health history, family history and with a simple urine test that measures bone loss that we can arrange for you through the Great Smokies lab.

We can also order a test that could uncover any potential genetic susceptibility to osteoporosis. In addition, there is another procedure called bone densitometry that measures the mineral content and density of the bones. Bone densitometry involves the use of small amounts of X-Rays. This procedure may be warranted should you require further assessment.

After your risks have been determined, we can formulate a comprehensive treatment plan that includes diet, exercise, TCM approaches and nutritional supplements. Call us if you have any questions regarding osteoporosis.