Osteoporosis, which means porous bones, is a disease that thins and weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break. The vast majority of individuals affected by osteoporosis are women. Although the disease can strike at any age, the greatest risk for fractures from osteoporosis occurs after menopause. This is because women’s bodies produce less oestrogen after menopause, and oestrogen plays an important role in helping to prevent bone loss. As the EU population continues to age, the occurrence of osteoporosis becomes an increasing source of worry. But the good news is that osteoporosis can be prevented and treated. The European Commission is involved in research studying the impact of diet and gene-nutrient interactions on calcium and bone metabolism, and a novel isotopic tracer method is also being evaluated to study and quantify these processes. This new method will be compared to already-established methods (bone mineral density, biochemical markers) in an effort to protect and improve the quality of life of Europe’s ageing population. Further research on the biomechanical aspects of bone structure and strength, and on the reliability and safety of prosthetic implants is also being carried out at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) to address the area of post-fracture treatment strategies. These projects are funded by the European Commission’s Directorates General for Research, Health and Consumer Protection, and the JRC.
Commissioner Philippe Busquin expresses his own concern: “Fractures are the most frequent and serious complication of osteoporosis. Any bone can be affected, but of special concern are fractures of the hip and spine. A hip fracture almost always requires hospitalisation and major surgery. It can impair a persons ability to walk unassisted and may cause prolonged or permanent disability and reduce the quality of life. Hospital costs for hip fractures alone amounted to over 3,500 million Euro in the EU in 1999. And the problem will only increase, as it has been quoted that the proportion of the EU population aged over 80 will triple over the next 50 years. EU action is therefore essential to tackle this problem.”
Menopause is the single greatest risk for osteoporosis; others include gender, age, family history, hormone deficiencies, low calcium, excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption, and cigarette smoking. In many cases, bones weaken when levels of calcium, phosphorous and other minerals in bones are low. As the prevalence of osteoporosis increases it must be considered as a serious public health concern.
Catherine Shiels | European Commission
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