How to Tell What Your Bones Are Doing

We think of our bones as solid, stable structures, but they are not. Bone is a living tissue that is constantly being broken down and remodeled. As we get older, issues around bone thinning, or osteoporosis, can become a problem.

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Facts and Figures

  • Osteoporosis is a major public health threat for 44 million Americans, 68 percent of whom are women.
  • In the United States today, 10 million individuals already have osteoporosis, and 34 million more have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for this disease.
  • One out of every two women and one in four men age 50 and older will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.
  • More than 2 million American men suffer from osteoporosis, and millions more are at risk. Each year, 80,000 men have a hip fracture, and one-third of these men die within a year.
  • Osteoporosis can strike at any age.
  • Osteoporosis is responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures annually, including approximately 300,000 hip fractures, 700,000 vertebral fractures, 250,000 wrist fractures, and more than 300,000 fractures at other sites.

So we exercise, take calcium, vitamin D, etc and hope for the best. Dexa scans are used to determine if there is bone thinning. This is a static test, showing the condition of the bone as it is now. What it can’t show is how well the bone is responding to therapy.

A good test for this is looking at the actual breakdown products of bone. One such test looks at a breakdown product of bone called cross-linked N-telopeptides (NTx). This can be measured in the blood or the urine. The more of this substance that shows up, the more bone is being broken down and not being rebuilt. Knowing this can help by either assuring you that your bone maintenance program is successful or warning you that it needs to be changed.