What is osteoporosis? The simple answer is that it is the most prevalent bone disease in America and affects over 44 million people. Ten million Americans have osteoporosis; 34 million have low bone mass, which puts them at serious risk of osteoporosis. However, answers from many sources seem to perpetuate a series of myths about this disease. These myths include the following: osteoporosis is a normal consequence of aging; ONLY older white women develop osteoporosis; osteoporosis medication causes upset stomachs or that it always causes problems with the jaw (ONJ, or osteonecrosis of the jaw); taking calcium and vitamin D is enough to prevent osteoporosis; and exercise causes fractures in people with osteoporosis. Because these myths are so widely believed, people miss opportunities to prevent or treat bone loss.
How can we combat these damaging myths? First, research can show us what is true about osteoporosis. We now know that osteoporosis is—without a doubt—a disease, and not a part of normal aging. We also know that while many people who have osteoporosis are White, postmenopausal women, people of all races, both genders, and all adult ages can and do develop fragile bones. Recently published research also shows that the right kind of exercise builds bone, strengthens muscles, and prevents falls.
Second, we need to teach people the truth about bone loss. Despite the mention of osteoporosis in television shows and commercials, magazines, and newspapers, the American public remains woefully ignorant about it. Osteoporosis is a disease that starts in childhood and has consequences in later life. Kids today don't get enough calcium or exercise and are not achieving peak bone mass. Adolescent women who avoid calories and over-exercise for weight control stop their menses—again, a strong risk factor for inadequate bone development. Premenopausal women say, "I don't need to worry about that until menopause." Postmenopausal women say, "I can worry about that when I'm older." And older women and men who have low bone density, multiple fractures, and chronic pain say, "Why didn't someone tell me about this when it would have made a difference?"
The mission for many of us is to educate both the people who suffer from the debilitating consequences and those who are at risk of this disease. How can we teach them? We read, then listen, then read some more. This book, 100 Questions & Answers About Osteoporosis and Osteopenia, Second Edition, is an excellent first step toward learning about osteoporosis. Read it cover to cover or look up the particular questions that interest you. Either way, this is a wonderful resource for all families.
Ivy Alexander and Karla Knight have written a treasure: a book that answers questions clearly, concisely, and accurately. They provide medication information, lists of risk factors, lifestyle issues that influence bone health as well as suggestions on how best to live with osteoporosis. They rely on the recent Surgeon General's Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis (2004), recent research, and national organizations as sources for the most timely information on prevention and treatment of this bone disease. The message is clear: It is never too early or too late to prevent or treat osteoporosis. Anyone who reads 100 Questions & Answers About Osteoporosis and Osteopenia, Second Edition, will know better than to believe the myths and old wives' tales that surround osteoporosis!
Deborah T. Gold, PhD
Associate Professor of Medical Sociology, Departments of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Sociology, and Psychology: Social & Health Sciences Duke University Medical Center