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Clearing Osteoporosis Myths

New research in this week's New England Journal of Medicine identifies a possible new risk factor for osteoporosis.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay gives the details and other important facts you need to know about the bone thinning disease.

We've known for a long time that certain factors can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis such as a family history of the disease, a diet low in vitamin D and calcium, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and not doing enough weight bearing exercises.

Senay explains the new study suggests people with higher levels of homocysteine, which is a compound found in the blood, may raise your risk of developing osteoporosis. Past studies have indicated that high homocysteine levels put a person at an increased risk for heart and Alzheimer's disease. These studies are still preliminary, but they may one day help identify another marker for osteoporosis.

Folate and other B vitamins have been shown to lower homocysteine levels. You can get your vitamin B through foods such as broccoli, carrots and other leafy green vegetables. Daily multivitamins are another source.

Osteoporosis affects about 44 million Americans but there are still many misconceptions about the disease. The following are some common osteoporosis myths:

Myths: Limited to Older Women
Senay says one common misconception is that only older Caucasian women get the disease, but the disease does not discriminate. At least 2 million men in the United States have it and another 12 million are at risk. In fact, men over 50 are more likely to get a fracture related to osteoporosis than prostate cancer. And, studies have shown even though it's more common among whites and Asians, it certainly can affect African-Americans and Latinos. And you don't have to be old. Osteoporosis can develop at any age.

Myths: It Isn't Very Serious
Every year, more than a million and a half people with osteoporosis have fractures. Fractures take a long time to heal, and they can lead to permanent disability, especially among the elderly. Almost all have heard of someone elderly who has fallen and broken a hip and end up getting pneumonia, which can have serious consequences.

Myths: You Know If You Have It
Senay says most people with osteoporosis don't have any symptoms and may not know they even have it until they have a fracture. It's a silent illness that progresses slowly over time. One thing to look out for is loss of height over time, so you may want to consider measuring your height every year and reporting to your doctor even a slight change in height.

Myths: There Are No Treatments
There are effective treatments for osteoporosis, according to Senay. You can begin by making sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Weight bearing exercises can also help with osteoporosis. And there are also a number of medications on the market, and not just hormone replacement therapy, that can help prevent further bone loss and even replace some lost bone mass.

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