Osteoporosis and bone health
Osteoporosis is a chronic progressive disease in which your bones gradually become weaker causing changes in your posture and making one more susceptible to falls and bone fractures. Osteoporosis is a term derived from Latin that means “porous bones”.
Bones are constantly restoring themselves. Explained simply, cells known as osteoblasts are responsible for making bone, whilst osteoclasts, are responsible for removing old bone. The minerals from the old bone are absorbed and used elsewhere in the body. If the osteoclasts break down bone more quickly than it is built, your bones tend to become less dense, making them more prone to breaking easily.
There are three basic types of osteoporosis. The first one is linked to hormonal changes, particularly a loss of oestrogen which causes the loss of minerals from bone to speed up. Type two is linked to dietary deficiencies, particularly a lack of adequate calcium and vitamin D which is necessary for the absorption of calcium. Type three is linked to drug treatment for other illnesses which are unrelated to osteoporosis.
Bones are at their strongest around the age of 30 but then they start to deteriorate.1 For women, the decline accelerates around the onset of menopause.1 In some men low testosterone levels may cause the bone to thin and accelerate bone turnover rate. This causes the bone to become less solid.2
Essentially, if too much bone mass is lost in your later years or if insufficient bone mass has been accumulated during your formative years, you may be at risk of osteoporosis. Your genetics may also play a part as small, fine-boned women may also be more at risk than women with larger frames and heavier bones.1
Your dietary and lifestyle habits are the main things to consider to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Ideal foods are nutrient dense ones. For example, fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh dairy products, legumes, wholegrain foods, lean proteins, nuts and seeds. Your diet should be healthy and balanced and include calcium rich foods such as milk and cheese. Exercise is an important consideration too, as a lack of exercise actually accelerates the loss of bone mass.1
Other risk factors to consider:
- family history of osteoporosis
- high intakes of caffeine
- long-term use of some medications
- low body weight
- low calcium intake
- poor liver or kidney health
- little or no physical activity
- lack of sunlight
- in men, low testosterone levels
- in women, low oestrogen levels
- malabsorption conditions
There are a few lifestyle habits that can have a positive impact on bone health and help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Eating a balanced diet with calcium rich foods, maintaining adequate vitamin D levels, exercising regularly and ensuring sufficient sleep, all contribute to healthy strong bones. Weight bearing exercise is of particular importance, as the body responds by depositing more minerals into the bones, especially the bones of the hips, spine and legs.1
If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis your GP may have a number of suggestions to help you manage this disease. Your doctor may recommend:
- certain lifestyle changes; such as regular exercise, eating calcium enriched foods, having your vitamin D levels checked and ceasing smoking
- medications to stop further bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures
Calcium and vitamin D work together to build and maintain strong bones. More than 99% of all the calcium in the body is stored in the bones and teeth. Vitamin D assists the absorption of calcium which is vital to bone density and strength.
In 2007, an analysis of 29 clinical trials was conducted, evaluating calcium and vitamin D supplementation to reduce fractures and bone loss in groups of people aged 50 years and older. The results showed that supplementation with calcium in combination with vitamin D increased bone density and reduced the risk of fractures. The research identified the optimum dose which may assist in the prevention and/or treatment of osteoporosis as 1200mg/day calcium in combination with 800IU of vitamin D.4
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHRMC) suggests the recommended daily intake of calcium for men and women aged 19-50 years old is 1000mg/day and increasing to 1,300mg/day for women over 50 to 70 years old and for men 70 years and older.5
For vitamin D, the adequate intake for women and men aged 19 – 50 years old is 5.0 mcg/day (200 IU/day) and increases to 10.0 mcg/day (400IU/day) for ages 51- 70 years old and for over 70 years to 15.0 mcg/day (600 IU/day).5
There are a few medications which can interact with Vitamin D. For further information, please consult with your GP.