Osteoporosis Risk Higher for Smokers

So, if the risk of heart disease, cancer and emphysema isn't enough to make you quit smoking, how about adding the risk of osteoporosis to the list?

The Silent Danger

Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that you may not even know you have until you break a bone, and by that time the disease is well advanced. The word "osteoporosis" is a compound word made up of the words osteo, meaning bone and porosis, meaning porous (holey). Healthy bones have porosity as part of their intricate honeycomb-like design. However, when bones are affected with osteoporosis, the holes are bigger which weakens the bones considerably, making them more prone to breaking.

Any bone in your body can be affected with osteoporosis, but the spinal column (vertebrae), when affected, produces the most serious repercussions. Spinal fractures cause intense and severe back pain that can easily lead to spinal deformity as the spine weakens under the stress of carrying the body's weight. Curvature of the spine and hunching forward are two visible and common results of osteoporosis of the spine. It can cause you to become shorter as your bones compress because they aren't strong enough or supportive enough to hold the body erect.

No Respecter of Age

Although it is most frequently seen in older people, osteoporosis also strikes younger people. Women, especially post-menopausal women, are most susceptible to developing osteoporosis, but men shouldn't think they're above it. Of the 10 million Americans suffering with osteoporosis, 80% are women. That means that about two million men are living with this condition.

Smoking Impairs Muscles, Bone and Joint Health

A study done several years ago and reported in the Journal of American Academy of Orthopedics (January/February 2001) showed that smoking impairs muscle, bone, and joint health. This translates into much higher risk for smokers to develop osteoporosis than non-smokers.

In the paper, there was a presentation of "The Musculoskeletal Effects of Smoking" that highlighted the relationship and findings between smoking and musculo-skeletal disease. Included in those findings were the following:

- A high number of smokers experience back pain that could be the result of cardiovascular disease caused by smoking.  Lumbar discs may be malnourished due to poor blood supply that is caused by smoking.  The lack of proper blood supply can cause back pain and, in the end disc disease.

- Tissues are robbed of adequate blood supply that promotes healing.  Carried by the blood supply, oxygen that is necessary to promote healing is in short supply in smokers. Smokers tend to take a lot longer to heal, a fact confirmed by studies on smokers who break hips, have surgical procedures or traumatic wounds.  Broncospasms, which cause a reduction in the amount of oxygen available in the blood stream, is also a result of smoking.

- It is possible that the inhibition of estrogens, an effect of nicotine, causes women who smoke to have significantly lower bone mass.  Women smokers start menopause about five years earlier than non-smokers.  Considering the combination of these two factors, the risk of osteoporosis and hip fractures in women smokers is significantly higher due to weakened bones.

- The effect on the production of bone cells also affects men smokers, making them more prone to osteoporosis.

- Smoking cessation counseling is important for people who are receiving orthopedic treatment for an injury or condition.  The success of spinal fusion surgery and the rate of healing are decreased in smokers.

The truly amazing thing is that osteoporosis is preventable. If you're a smoker, you're at risk. In order to keep your bones strong and healthy for the rest of your life, you need to make some lifestyle choices to that end. Watch your diet, exercise regularly, get enough vitamin D don't drink excessively, and stop smoking.