Osteoporosis is a disease of aging. It’s the result of a natural process: bone tissue is actually constantly being destroyed and replaced, but around age 25 the breaking down starts to outpace the replacement. The reason osteoporosis is associated with old age is simply that it takes a while—often more than 20 years—for this to have a clear effect. Osteoporosis is also often thought of as a disease of women. This is mostly the case, but about a quarter of people with the condition are male. Osteoporosis can make a simple fall a devastating injury, as lowered bone mass makes the bones brittle and prone to injury. It also becomes harder for the skeleton to support the weight of the body, leading to various problems with such things as posture.
The usual treatment for osteoporosis is with medications called bisphosphonates, but these drugs can cause jaw and thigh problems, as well as having a host of side effects. These drugs work by slowing bone loss to give the regeneration process an opportunity to catch up. In rare cases, the problem is addressed from the other side, with medications being administered in order to accelerate bone regrowth rather than inhibit breaking it down. Sometimes the two re used in tandem. In some cases, surgery is performed. Surgeons are beginning to instigate ways to incorporate 3D printing technology to create artificial joints perfectly matched to the patient’s body and using the patient’s own stem cells.
Another surgical technique uses a dissolving material to create a scaffold for new bone to grow on. This, too, uses stem cells to create what is essentially cloned tissue, ensuring an exact match to the patient, who is both donor and recipient. This helps minimize the likelihood of problems after the surgery. This material has only recently been perfected, and there are no long-term reports indicating how effective the technique is over time.
Preventing osteoporosis is easier than treating it. Prevention has had snags, however. While vitamin D from sunlight can help preserve bone tissue, vitamin D supplements seem to have little effect on osteoporosis risk. Calcium, on the other hand, does help prevent osteoporosis from developing. There has long been speculation in the medical community that calcium supplements might lead to heart disease, but a recent study found no link, meaning calcium supplements are a good plan to lower osteoporosis risk.