Most of us are told we need calcium for strong, healthy bones when we are growing up but other than that we may not give our skeleton much thought (until it starts to cause us some problems). Ensuring that my clients are minimising their risk of osteoporosis as they age is just one of the many things I focus on in my naturopathic consultations (especially with my, ahem, more mature clients).
You may know that osteoporosis, (a severe loss of bone density resulting in fragile bones) is a major risk factor for falls and fractures as we age but are you actively doing anything to prevent it? In osteopenia, the amount of bone loss is less severe but it may be a precursor to developing osteoporosis.
Our bone density is probably at its best in our 30s and then begins to decline as you age (and for women this decline accelerates after menopause). According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare it is estimated that approximately 23% of women over 50 years of age and 6% of men in the same age bracket have osteoporosis. Furthermore it is estimated that 2 in 5 women and one in 4 men over the age of 50 will experience a trauma fracture at some time in the future.
Risk factors for osteoporosis include:
- being of thin build
- family history of osteoporosis
- high caffeine intake
- high alcohol intake
- physical inactivity (especially weight bearing activity)
- low magnesium levels
- low vitamin D levels
- being female
- menopause before the age of 45
As you can see having sufficient calcium in your diet is really only a small part of the healthy bone equation. There are many other factors which could influence the strength of your bones.
Having healthy bones is not just about preventing osteoporosis
A strong skeleton is important for good posture, freedom of movement and a sense of vitality.
Bones also store minerals and release them into the blood on demand to help maintain critical mineral balances in the blood. The minerals in our bones are vital to maintenance of acid-base balance.
The larger bones also contain bone marrow which is vital for production of blood cells.
It’s never too late to take some action to preserve or improve the quality of your bones. Just like every other cell in your body, your bones are living tissue which break down and rebuild continually throughout your life.
Degeneration or loss of bone density occurs when the rate of breakdown of tissue is greater than the rate at which new tissue is grown. So it is possible to influence this balance by taking steps to limit the rate of bone loss (which increases as we age).
Tips for supporting good bone health at all ages
To improve and maintain the health of your bones, consider the following:
- achieving and maintaining good Vitamin D levels (via safe exposure to sunlight or through a supplement)
- weight bearing and resistance exercise such as yoga, weights training, pilates, walking, climbing or other exercises where you are working against gravity
- practice exercises which improve your balance
- minimise caffeine and alcohol intake
- minimise soft drink and salt, both of which decrease the availability of calcium
- don’t overdo animal protein in the diet as it can increase calcium losses (increase plant sources of protein and reduce your reliance on animal sources)
- make sure you are getting enough bio-available calcium…sources other than dairy include sardines, salmon with bones, cabbage, dark green leafy vegetables, figs, almonds, sesame seeds and brazil nuts
- Vitamin K, boron and zinc are also important nutrients for bone health