Osteoporosis: A Challenge to Healthy Ageing

Roughly 200 million men and women are affected by osteoporosis — the gradual decline in the amount and strength of bone tissue that occurs with age. Osteoporosis increases the fragility of bone and the likelihood of fractures and is one of the common problems of old age. Fractures can be a serious health concern, not only affecting mobility, but also quality of life of the elderly. While bone mineral mass is dependent of several factors, inadequate nutrition plays a key role in the development of osteoporosis. Calcium, vitamins D and C, and other minerals (phosphorus, magnesium, copper, manganese, fluoride, and zinc) are essential to healthy bone growth throughout life and can help prevent osteoporosis. While promoting healthy nutrition and active lifestyles will reduce the risk of osteoporosis, information is also needed to help diagnose this condition and identify those at risk of fractures.


Dual Energy X Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA)

DEXA uses low energy X rays to measure body composition, especially bone mineral density. By determining how much of the X rays are absorbed by the bone, DEXA can precisely determine the bone mineral content. Data can be standardized for age, weight, height, and ethnicity, making it the technique of choice for assessing bone mineral density.



Bone scan of the hip joint shows loss of mass over time due to ageing (in blue).

Healthy bone mineral density (BMD) level is shown in green on the graph



Bone scan of the spine. Graph shows changes in bone mineral density (BMD) over time (in blue).

Healthy BMD level is shown in green.



The Agency’s Initiative

Although a number of non-invasive techniques are capable of determining bone mass, harmonization of these measurements remains difficult because of the diversity of the techniques used. The IAEA has initiated studies to improve the comparability of data derived from different countries and allow researchers to draw multi-country conclusions from these data sets.

A Co-ordinated Research Project (CRP) studied the differences in bone mineral density of young adults in 10 countries: Brazil, India, Chile, China, Croatia, Hungary, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, and Singapore. Approximately 12 to 20 per cent of the global variation in bone mineral density was found to be due to differences between the actual measurement techniques, while 4 to 10 per cent were accounted for by the country of origin. In this study, significant differences were found in young adult bone mass, which, if persisting into old age, may contribute to a 2–3-fold increase in the risk of bone fracture.