Osteoporosis – how to prevent the bone disorder

Osteoporosis is a debilitating disease that affects, mostly the elderly. It makes the bones brittle and susceptible to fractures. Osteoporosis can be prevented by changing the diet. Eating the right foods makes a difference, as it provides the right nutrients to strengthen bones and prevent rapid bone loss.

Osteoporosis is a bone disorder which according to data, has in recent years, become alarmingly common, as life expectancy has increased and because people are leading more sedentary lifestyles. According to medical experts, women are at a higher risk of the disease – but one in 12 men, suffer from it too.

Facts about bones

  • Did you know that bones aren't solid? They are made up of a dense outer shell with a strong inner bony mesh – much like the girders and struts used to support the weight of huge, man made structures
  • Bone mass leaches, almost continuously, releasing calcium into the bloodstream. But, the same is replaced at varying speeds
  • In young people, the lost calcium is replaced almost as rapidly, as it is used. However, as we grow older, the speed with which the calcium is replaced slows down, drastically. The bone loss, as we grow older, happens faster than it can be replaced, causing the tough honeycomb mesh, that lies within, to become less dense and hence weaker
  • Osteoporosis, literally means, 'porous bones'. And people suffering from this condition have weak and brittle bones, making them more vulnerable to fractures, even after minor falls
  • This is why the elderly are more prone to suffer from fractures
  • The regions most at risk, of fractures are the spine, the hips and the wrists

Understanding osteoporosis

Our bones go through a continual process of renewal, called remodeling, even as the body breaks down bone cells to be resorbed, newer cells are forming to replace them. As we get older the rate at which the resorption takes place is faster than the formation. This leads to the bones becoming porous and extremely weak. The bones are now susceptible to fracture, even at the slightest pressure. This condition is called osteoporosis.

The key contributing factor for osteoporosis is the hormone oestrogen. However, a drop in androgens, the male hormone is also known to cause the condition. All of these factors coupled with an insufficient intake of both calcium and vitamin D, create an unhealthy environment that allows osteoporosis.

Understanding bones

Our bones keep growing throughout childhood, in density and in length. When we reach adolescence our bones continue to build density and stop growing in length. The bone mass is reached when we are in our twenties. The denser our bones are at this age, the lower is our risk of osteoporosis, at a later stage. Once we achieve the peak bone mass, it cannot be improved further. And this is determined primarily by nutrition and genetics.

Loss of bone mass

We begin losing bone mass, irrespective of our gender, with increasing age. In women though, the loss is accelerated, quite significantly, with the decline in the oestrogen production, post-menopause.

What depletes bone mass ?

Did you know that light weight-bearing exercises are good for your bones? Exercise, is in fact, the best way to improve bone strength. However, adolescent girls, indulging in high-level physical activity cause their bodies of losing fat that is required for the production of and the accumulation of oestrogen. So, girls who train excessively are at a higher risk, especially if their menstrual cycles are irregular. Girls, who starve themselves in a bid to lose fat, are also putting themselves at risk of developing early osteoporosis.

Smoking is another cause for the condition. Nicotine restricts with the body's capacity to use calcium. Women who have their ovaries removed face a sudden stop of oestrogen production, as compared to when a normal menopause. They tend to be at a high-risk. Kidney disease and steroid drugs also increase the risk factors.

How to prevent osteoporosis ?

The prevention begins in childhood when your bones are still developing. A healthy diet coupled with exercise is the recipe you need to follow. The diet, of course, must include plenty of calcium and lots of vitamin D. Phosphorous too is essential for building healthy bones.

Build healthy bones

  • Calcium : To build and maintain healthy bones and teeth we need calcium. Between the ages 9 and 18 the human body requires 1300 mg of calcium per day. The requirement decreases after that to 1000 mg, until the age of 50, after which it goes up to 1200 mg.

    Foods rich in calcium and phosphorous all dairy products, dried peas and beans, lentils, tofu, soy products and rice-based beverages, nuts, canned fish with bones and dark leafy greens. Here is a tip, the darker the color of your greens, the richer they would be in calcium. However, spinach is not good, as it is rich in oxalic acid that obstructs the absorption of the mineral. There are a number of non-dairy foods rich in calcium that must also be consumed.

    Skim milk and low-fat variants are equally rich in calcium.

    Those who rely on calcium supplements must know that all supplements aren't the same -
    • Calcium citrate is absorbed very easily
    • Calcium carbonate is slightly difficult to absorb, especially in those above 50 and can result in gas, bloating and constipation
    • Calcium gluconate gets absorbed easily, but can cause diarrhea

    Supplements must be taken at mealtime, as it helps in the better absorption of the mineral

  • Vitamin D : Vitamin D is essential to absorb calcium. The recommended daily intake is 200 IU for adults up to fifty and 400 IU for those older. People above seventy years and above need 600 IU of the vitamin.

    The main source of the vitamin is of course sunlight, so catch some sunlight, it is good for you. However, milk also provides vitamin D, as do egg yolks, oily fish and butter. Fortified foods and beverages are also a good source of the vitamin

  • Phosphorous : This mineral is found in calcium-rich foods, as well as eggs, poultry and meat

  • Vitamin K : There is evidence that vitamin K can help build bone density and reduce the risk of fractures. This is based on studies that indicate that the instance of hip fracture in people whose diet is rich in the vitamin is lower than others.

    Vitamin K is produced by the good bacteria that reside in your intestines. But, you can also obtain the vitamin from various foods, like green leafy veggies, peas, cabbage, spinach, liver, dairy products such a cheese and yoghurt or curd and egg yolks. Oils such as olive oils, soy oil and canola are also good sources of the vitamin

  • Vitamin C : Research shows that higher intake of the C vitamin is linked to higher bone density. Vitamin C is required to build connective tissues that grip the bones together. So, it helps to consume the vitamin for the overall health of your bones.

    Vegetables and fruits are rich in vitamin C, especially fruits belonging to the citrus family. Apart from these, berries, peppers, green chillies, guavas, melons, potatoes and broccoli are also good sources of the vitamin

  • Flax seed : Flaxseed helps postmenopausal women manage a lot of problems that arrive, with the stopping of periods. This is based on studies carried out on postmenopausal women, who consumed flaxseed, as part of their daily diet. Flaxseeds are a rich source of lignans and can help retain bone mass. They are rich in antioxidants and prevent the leaching of calcium through urine

  • Soy products : Soy and soy products contain isoflavones, which is a plant-based oestrogen which replaces the natural oestrogen in the body and may help preserve bone mass in premenopausal and menopausal women, thus preventing osteoporosis

Regular weight-bearing exercise

Your own body weight can be used for weight-bearing exercise. Walking, sports, jogging and dancing are all excellent forms of exercise that help maintain good bone health. These forms of physical activities encourage the remodeling process of the bone and also help with better circulation which brings minerals and vitamins to the bones.

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Guest Author: Puranjay10 Oct 2017

Osteoporosis is a disease which is very challenging to manage specially in elderly and heavy weight people.
One thing which I have observed in my friends and relatives that even though some of them are suffering from this disease, those who are slim and trim are not much affected and able to move and work without any risk of fracturing of bones. At the same time those who are bulky have miserable time as their weight becomes their number one enemy in managing this dreadful ailment.
So people taking regular dose of calcium and vitamin D with an average body weight can manage this disease easily.

Guest Author: Deepanshu11 Oct 2017

Your observation is right and there is a valid explanation for this. The weak bones of overweight people suffering from osteoporosis, cannot take the load of their heavy bodies. And this actually amplifies the condition, since overweight people cannot put much pressure on their fraying bones, they do not get enough exercise, which in turn leads to further weakening of the bones.

Prevention is the best cure for osteoporosis and we must begin taking care of our bodies when we are young. As we age, diet restrictions do not allow us to consume certain foods. Our metabolism also slows down, slowing down the process of absorption of nutrients, leading to deficiencies. If we do not care for our bodies when we are young, we become trapped in a vicious cycle of diseases, and medication and side-effects.

Guest Author: charan raj11 Oct 2017

An timely informative article about osteoporosis (weakbones) that affects women far more than men in India. This makes them more vulnearble for fracture even with minor injury or slips and fall in bathrooms. This coupled with obesity, diabetes and coronary artery disease increases the chances of complications associated with treatment of fractures of hip or pelvis in the background of osteoporosis.

Sunlight is good for vitamin D production ( especially mornings between 11:00AM-1:00PM for 10-15 minutes). A healthy diet and the supplements the author has mentioned go a long way along with weight control and regular exercises.

In elderly people with osteoporosis a combination of vitamin D3 and calicum is better as replacement therpay.Elderly people who unfortunately have a trip or fall at the bathroom, at the stairs or at the doorstep, need careful assessment as fractures are possible despite the trival nature of the fall and early treatment helps them to recover faster.

Lastly there are many reports of young apparently fit looking people with stress fractures and weak bones. These are people who follow strict diet without supplements to loose weight, people after obesity surgery who do not take regular calcium supplements end up with osteoporosis related fractures.

Guest Author: Ranjit14 Oct 2017

My Grandmother often says she is having pain in her legs although she is not that much old. The pain is unbearable sometimes during sleep. We have tried various kind of medicines/ lotions but still she has this problem. Reading this article, I realized that bone disorder could be the reason for her pain and low bone density may have caused such pains.

I feel there are few things which should be taken care of by all of us to keep a check on our health so that we don't suffer such problems in future. Vital nutrients, vitamins and supplements need to be taken to avoid risk of osteoporosis.

Please suggest any diet or food supplement for people of my grandmother's age (70 years)for pain in leg or because of bone disorders.

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