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by: Mel C. Siff, Ph.D.

Osteoporosis (or 'thinning of the bones') may not just be a simple matter of demineralisation of the bones, but it may concern other processes which do notrelate primarily to demineralisation.

Osteoporosis is one of the noteworthy problems associated with anorexia, overtraining among distance athletes, menopause, sedentary lifestyle and ageing. The causes of and solutions to this disease generally are spoken about in terms of loss of various minerals from the bone matrix, leading to what is popularly called 'thinning of the bones'.
  • This 'thinning' or porosity is examined in terms of impaired or reduced mineralisation in the collagen substrate comprising the bones and solutions are offered in terms of revised supplemented nutrition, various hormones to aid re-mineralisation or resistance exercise to stimulate bone growth.

  • We learn that osteoporosis is associated with a greater tendencyfor the bones to fracture. However, demineralisation would imply that there is a greater collagen to mineral ratio in the bones, which should render the bones more pliable and not more brittle. It would then appear to be strange that fractures are more common among those whose bones presumably contain less of the harder minerals which make them stiffer and harder. On the basis of this simple logic, osteoporotic people shoiuld be more 'rubbery' than more 'brittle' or rigid!

  • Does this not suggest that the term 'osteoporosis' may be somewhat misleading and that it is not just loss of certain minerals which compromises the strength and flexibility of the bones? If the bones of the osteoporotic person, in 'becoming thinner' indeed become thinner or less hypertrophied with respect to minerals AND collagen, would such a concept not be closer to the truth in explaining the dangers of osteoporosis? If osteoporotic bones really are hypotrophic bones, with decreased mass and cross-sectional area, then a tendency to easier fracture would be easier to explain.

  • If there is no noticeable osteo-hypotrophy, but a pathological change in the physical structure of the bone, would this not offer a greater likelihood of crystalline dislocation or disclination along a newly-established 'fault-line' in the bones?

  • Maybe the entire simplistic concept of osteoporotic, demineralised or 'thinner' bones needs to be revised. Maybe a broader understanding of the more subtle scientific research on the topic will provide us with a better way of approaching this disease. Maybe the answers already lie in the extensive literature on this topic, but we are missing essential parts of the picture.

Try to resolve this paradox by drawing on appropriate references or your own research.

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM YOU?   If anyone else comes across similar magazine articles filled with other F&F's or P&P's, please share them with us - they can often serve as a valuable teaching tool for fitness professionals. You can send your contributions directly to Dr. Siff at
msiff@hertz.mech.wits.ac.za or at his postal address at:
Dr Mel C Siff
School of Mechanical Engineering
University of the Witwatersrand
WITS 2050 South Africa
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