Osteoporosis is a bone disease. The amount of calcium in the bones slowly decreases over time to a point where the bones are very weak and easily broken.

Calcium is lost when it is released from the bones into the body. The released calcium is used by the body for blood clotting, heart and kidney functioning, and other important activities.

Bone cells can rebuild the skeleton. Adequate calcium intake every day is vital to this rebuilding process.

After age 30, the release of calcium from the bones becomes greater than the replacement. The release is faster with menopause due to the loss of estrogen in a woman’s body.

In men, this process starts later and more slowly. A testosterone drop accelerates bone loss in men.

Large holes appear in the bones if density was poor to begin with and daily calcium intake was inadequate. The bones lose thickness and become brittle and can break with as little force as a sneeze. People usually are unaware they have osteoporosis until a fracture occurs.

Some risk factors for osteoporosis are low intake of calcium and vitamin D, inactivity, smoking, excessive alcohol and coffee consumption, small body frame, Caucasian race, genetics and the aging process. The following measures can be helpful for women and men at any age:

• Get adequate amounts of calcium every day. Cheese, yogurt, milk, broccoli and fortified orange juice are good sources.

• Use calcium supplements that contain Vitamin D for better absorption of calcium.

• Participate in regular weight bearing exercises such as running, use of the stair stepper, racquetball, team sports and walking.

• Weight training builds bone density.

• Stop smoking or never start.

• Reduce alcohol intake.

• Limit coffee consumption to two cups daily.

No cure exists for osteoporosis at this time. Treatment options are available but the best course of action is prevention.

Prevention starts in childhood to make the bones as dense as possible while the skeleton is being built.

See the National Osteoporosis Foundation Web site at www.nof.org for questions or more information on diagnosis or treatment.