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Don’t wait until you’re older to worry about osteoporosis. Use these simple strategies to help ensure that your bones stay healthy and strong for years to come.

As a nail tech, you may be no stranger to back or wrist pain, or even a stooped posture, but what you may not realize is that these could be warning signs of osteoporosis. Characterized by deterioration of bone tissue and loss of calcification and density, osteoporosis is often called a silent disease because most people don’t realize something is wrong until they suffer a break, says Richard Obedian, MD, director of orthopedic surgery at Island Spine & Sports on Long Island in Hicksville, New York. Sadly, recovery time from fractures and broken bones can be long, painful and costly, and the decrease in activity won’t just impede your ability to work; the downtime makes you vulnerable to more fractures.

Of course, the older you get, the greater your risks for osteoporosis. Bones are at their most dense and strong in your mid- to late-20s; by around age 30, your body’s ability to make new bone begins to slow. Nearly half of all women 50 or older—the age when estrogen production slows and bone loss speeds up—will break a bone due to osteoporosis. As the disease develops, bones become porous and less dense, so they’re weaker and easier to fracture and break. You won’t feel your bones becoming weaker, but a severe case of osteoporosis can make them so brittle that simply coughing, picking up a box of salon supplies, or leaning over to hug a client could cause them to fracture or break. That’s why it’s important to start thinking about your bone health before it’s too late. The following steps can help to significantly lower your risk for osteoporosis.

Check Your Family Tree

Many women don’t have any idea that they need to take preventive measures, including getting a bone scan by age 50, if they have some risk factors for osteoporosis—and family history is a major one. If a broken or fractured bone isn’t the result of a car crash or other accident involving a lot of force, it’s probably due to osteoporosis, notes Brian Grawe, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Cincinnati Health Center and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. In such cases, he recommends that the individual’s children get bone density scans when they’re at the appropriate age to evaluate their risk for the disease. “In general, we do a great job educating women about the importance of annual mammograms, but we don’t do as well when it comes to educating them about getting a bone scan when they should,” Dr. Grawe notes.

Kick Butts

As if you don’t already have enough reasons to quit, smoking appears to increase the risk of osteoporosis because it slows bone formation and healing. One theory: Smoking might speed up the breakdown of estrogen, which helps the body maintain bone. It’s also suspected that smoking damages blood vessels, which hinders the metabolic process of bone turnover, Dr. Grawe says.

Cut Back on Cocktails

Binge drinking (roughly consuming more than four drinks on an occasion) five or more days per month dramatically increases osteoporosis risk, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Researchers aren’t sure why, but alcohol seems to speed the breakdown of bone and slow the creation of new bone, Dr. Grawe says. “Drinking too much alcohol has been found to interfere with the balance of calcium in the body, and it also affects the production of hormones, which have a protective effect on bone, and of vitamins, which we need to absorb calcium,” adds Andrea Singer, MD, director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Maintain a Healthy BMI

Obesity-related health complications are well established, but being underweight is a bigger problem on the osteoporosis front. Even at the age when bone density should be at its peak, thin people might have smaller and less dense bone, which puts them at an increased risk of developing the disease, says Dr. Singer. “Being underweight is also often linked with poor nutrition, which can have a negative effect on bone health, particularly when diets are insufficient in calcium,” she notes. Maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) of at least 18.5 helps protect against osteoporosis, adds Dr. Obedian.

Being heavier was once thought to reduce osteoporosis risk because the bones of larger people experience more load so are therefore stronger, but some researchers now say that obesity-related risks might offset the bone-health benefit—overweight people might be at a higher risk for falls because of decreased mobility, and they might experience more impact when they fall compared to a smaller person, wrote the authors of a 2014 study published in the journal Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism.

Get Your Vitamins

This may seem obvious, but taking the recommended daily amount of calcium is important—and yet many people don’t do that. It can be particularly difficult for African Americans, Asians, Native Americans and Latinas to get enough from diet alone because they tend to be less tolerant of the lactose in dairy products (major calcium sources) than Caucasians. Women who have trouble with dairy or choose to avoid it can get calcium from nondairy sources such as collard greens, kale and fortified tofu and orange juice to help them reach the recommended 1,000 mg. of calcium for women under 50, and 1,200 mg. for women over 50. Meanwhile, the recommended amount of vitamin D, important because your body can’t absorb calcium without it, is 600 IUs before you’re 50. If you don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D from diet alone (and many people don’t; talk to your doctor about your calcium needs), you might need to supplement. You don’t have to take vitamin D and calcium supplements at the exact same time, but doing so in one shot tends to make taking them easier to remember, Dr. Grawe says.

Mind Your Meds

Drugs that you’re taking for other conditions can deplete calcium in your body and put you at risk for developing osteoporosis—and your doctor might not think to tell you that you need a calcium supplement while on such a drug unless you ask, Dr. Grawe says. Some anti-seizure medications, antacids, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and cancer drugs can all cause bone loss.

Bear Some Weight

The kind of exercise that keeps bones strong is weight-bearing exercise, where you move against gravity while keeping your body upright, Dr. Singer says. That’s because bones react to stress, or load, which is what happens when you weight bear. Such exercises include walking, dancing, jogging, running, jumping rope and lifting weights. So, although swimming is a great low-impact exercise that benefits the body in many ways, it doesn’t do anything for bones. Bones react to stress by rebuilding, but if they don’t experience load, they’ll only break down and won’t build themselves back up. “You don’t have to be Arnold Schwarzenegger and lift heavy weights,” Dr. Obedian says. “Lifting light weights and walking produces enough stress on the bone to have a benefit.”

– by Virginia Pelley

This article was originally published in the January 2018 issue of NAILPRO.

[Images: Getty Images]

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