Dubai: Nearly 70 per cent of the UAE’s population suffers from Vitamin D deficiency, and coupled with calcium deficiency, it is leading to a rise in osteoporosis in people beyond the age of 60, experts say.
Osteoporosis is a condition in which depletion of mineral bone mass leads to brittle and fragile bones that can break easily.
Aggravating this issue is a general lack of awareness about bone health in the UAE, according to Dr Amr Al Shawarby, medical director of neuroscience of Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha).
Bone health is as important an indicator of good health as are other markers like a healthy heart and preventative approaches to lifestyle diseases like diabetes and hypertension.
Osteoporosis can be prevented with early detection and non-invasive screening called the Bone Mineral Density (BMD) test.
On World Osteoporosis Day, marked on October 20 every year, here are some reasons why osteoporosis requires greater awareness.
“Bone is a living tissue, which is constantly broken down and remodelled to be assimilated in the body through a process of resorption,” Dr Sudhanshu Dev Singh, specialist endocrinologist at Prime Hospital, explains. “However, when there is accelerated breaking down of bone tissue — due to advancing age, deficicency of important minerals for bone health and other harmful lifetsyle factors — it leads to rapid depletion of bone mass, making bones weak and prone to fractures.”
Dr Al Shawarby points out that “at least one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50 [in the UAE] will suffer from a fracture due to osteoporosis. Despite being a serious health issue that is only set to become more common as our population ages, awareness of osteoporosis is low in the UAE — even among some health care providers.”
Osteoporosis largely affects women above 65 years of age and men above 70 years. In women, the condition is more prevalent due to the onset of menopause, which leads to a drop in oestrogen levels. Oestrogen plays a big role in maintaining bone health, so women need to be particularly careful about ensuring that they address their bone health from an early age.
In an osteoporosis patient, fractures of the hip, spine, ribs and wrist are fairly common, resulting in pain, inactivity and loss of productivity, which combined severely affect an individual’s quality of life.
If you tend to experience frequent fractures, even in low-impact collisions, you need to take the BMD test. “If a person has a bone mineral density that is lower than 2.5 Standard Deviation [SD], he or she is considered to be having the condition,” Dr Dev Singh says.
A diet rich in dairy products, poultry and fresh fruits, reasonable exposure to the sun daily and a physically active lifestyle can prevent osteoporosis. People must take care to ensure that their intake of Vitamin D and calcium is adequate. “Nowadays, despite sun exposure, many people are found to be deficient in Vitamin D. It is important to address calcium and Vitamin D deficiency in your body if you wish to avoid osteoporosis in later life,” Dr Dev Singh says.
With life expectancy going up and the average age of an individual going beyond 75, it is important to maintain healthy bones for a qualitative life.
People above the age of 40 must undergo a BMD test. If you have been diagnosed with low BMD, you need to do the following:
Prevent chances of falling. If you are 60 or above, use walkers and walking sticks and try to install support devices in bathrooms and bedrooms.
Avoid moving in dark, poorly lit places.
Be careful when approaching slippery surfaces. Ensure all such surfaces at home are fall-proofed by using coarse mats or tiling on the floor, especially in bathrooms.
Avoid the use of tobacco which can trigger bone mineral loss.
Avoid alcohol which can make you unsteady and increase the chances of falling.
Eat foods rich in calcium — poultry and dairy products. The earlier in life you begin to eat these foods, the stronger your bone health.
Be physically active, get adequate exposure to sunlight and if you are diagnosed with a Vitamin D deficiency, take a supplement after consulting a doctor.
Weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises.
Undergo a BMD screening once every two years to track your bone health.
Consult an endocrinologist who can prescribe medication to keep your BMD in check.