Osteoporosis in young people, particularly in young women
Although osteoporosis is more prevalent in older women and men, there is also a risk of osteoporosis developing in youth. Why does this happen? There are a few factors involved, and a few things you can do to prevent osteoporosis.
How osteoporosis develops in young females
A woman’s risk to develop osteoporosis rises sharply after menopause, because bone loss is associated with low estrogen levels (as it happens at menopause). As we know, a bone affected by osteoporosis will be more likely to fracture or cause pain.
Teenage girls and college student females can also suffer from low estrogen levels (and therefore prone to osteoporosis) if they suffer from amenorrhea. Amenorrhea (lack of menses) is also linked with low estrogen levels and usually develops in thin girls who exercise excessively (i.e. professional gymnasts, skaters, dancers). In addition to low estrogen levels, a restrictive diet that is low in calcium and other nutrients can also contribute to bone loss.
A typical case suggesting underlying osteoporosis would be a young female athlete who looks in great physical shape, but has eating problems (or follows a restrictive diet) and lack periods. Studies reveal that as many as 30% of ballet dancers experience stress fractures.
Osteoporosis in children
When it comes to age, osteoporosis does not discriminate, as it can be found even in children. In this case there are two forms: idiopathic and secondary osteoporosis.
Idiopathic osteoporosis means that the exact cause is unknown. It occurs usually before puberty and the bone mass can improve as the child grows older. The risk of fractures will still remain higher when compared with general population.
In secondary osteoporosis, there is an underlying condition and osteoporosis develops afterwards. For example, a child with rheumatoid arthritis may suffer from secondary osteoporosis near the arthritis joints. Other conditions such as anorexia nervosa, Cushing’s syndrome, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and some kidney disease or malabsorption syndrome can cause secondary osteoporosis. Some medication (i.e. chemo drugs, steroids, anticonvulsants) can impact the bone health and promote osteoporosis.
Tips to reduce the risk of osteoporosis
- Weight bearing exercises can keep the muscles and bones healthy—in both, young females and older adults.
- Diet is very important. Professional gymnasts and athletes should consult a nutritionist and receive an individualized diet – a person who exercises excessively has different nutritional requirements compared with a sedentary one, or some who has average fitness activities. Diet should be rich in nutrients (fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, lean meats and fish, healthy fats), with special considerations for calcium rich foods and vitamin D supplementation.
- Smoking should be avoided by everyone at any age. The more and longer one smokes, the higher are the changes to have fractures later on in life.
- Visit your doctor regularly, and have the bone density checked.
- In cases of secondary osteoporosis (affecting the children), treating the underlying condition will help prevent the development of osteoporosis and other complications.
- If a drug is suspected to be the cause of osteoporosis, the doctor will look into alternative drugs/options.