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The loss of minerals in the bones that accompanies aging reduces bone mass and increases the porosity and brittleness of bones. The result may be chronic pain in the joints of the lower spine and hips, a height reduction of several inches, other skeletal deformities (eg, dowager's hump), and an increased danger of fractures to the vertebrae, hips, ribs, and wrists. These are the symptoms of osteoporosis, a disorder that is four times more common among postmenopausal women than men in the same age range (45-50 years). Osteoporosis affects almost half of all women over 50, and as many as 90% of women over 70. It is more common among whites and Asians than among blacks and is also associated with chronic hyperthyroidism, long-term steroid therapy, and heredity.

Foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, or daily supplements of these and other substances (e.g., estrogens, fluoride, vitamin K, magnesium, growth hormones) are prescribed treatments for osteoporosis. Preventive treatments include hormone replacement therapy and progesterone, and a program of exercises that place stress on the long bones (walking, jogging, dancing, bicycle riding). Also recommended is that the intake of alcohol and certain drugs, as well cigarette smoking, be controlled.

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