Healthy Living

Preventing Osteoporosis

Preventing Osteoporosis

What can you do to protect your bones?

There are many ways to reduce osteoporosis risk. The best protection against osteoporosis is to build strong healthy bones from infancy through to your mid-twenties and then maintain them through adulthood by getting adequate calcium every day. Although the disease emerges with increasing age, its prevention begins at birth. The more bone mass we can accumulate during our first three decades of life, the less likely we are to develop osteoporosis later in life.

You?re never too young or too old to improve the health of your bones. Osteoporosis prevention should begin in childhood. But it shouldn?t stop there. Whatever your age, the habits you adopt now can affect your bone health for the rest of your life. Now is the time to take action to an osteoporosis-free future.

In order to reduce or prevent bone loss and fracture, it is vital to have adequate levels of calcium in the body, and calcium intake needs to be high enough to maintain these body levels, particularly in bone. If you have osteoporosis, calcium, vitamin D, daily weight-bearing/ strengthening exercise, combined with an osteoporosis medication is usually the recommended treatment to prevent further bone loss and reduce the risk of a fracture or further fractures. Most clinical trials have shown that calcium supplementation, especially when it is combined with vitamin D, not only reduces the rate of bone loss and fracture in people who do not get enough calcium through their diet, but improves the effectiveness of osteoporosis medicines in people who have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Essential factors of prevention

Osteoporosis prevention is based on three essential factors for keeping your bones healthy throughout your life: eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet that's rich in calcium and vitamin D; engaging in regular, appropriate physical activity; and maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviours and habits.

Healthy balanced diet

While multiple factors influence bone health, a healthy balanced diet and the nutrients that it may contribute can play a significant role. Research shows that a calcium and vitamin D rich diet can play a significant role in improving bone mineral density throughout the lifespan, but protein also plays a critical role. In fact, about half of the volume of bone contains protein, and the bone remodelling process requires an ongoing supply of protein. Other micronutrients involved in bone health include vitamins A and K, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc. Adequate amounts of all these nutrients are needed not only for the development of bone, but also for its maintenance throughout all stages of life.

Body Weight

Low body weight is where BMI (Body Mass Index) is below 19kg/m². Low body weight often means bones are finer and smaller so osteoporosis is more likely as bone loss increases in later life. There is also less padding when an older person falls which may increase fracture risk. Small amounts of oestrogen are produced in fatty tissue which may help to protect women?s bones in later life. On the other hand recent studies suggest that some hormones associated with excessive weight -obesity may play a role in the development of osteoporosis. Normal body weight is an advantage for maintaining bone density because the mass of the body itself is bone loading. Excessive dieting or thinness is a major risk factor for osteoporosis. For healthy bones and overall health, maintain a body mass index (BMI) of between 20 and 24 kg/m2, and avoid exceeding a BMI of 25.

Physical Activity

Regular physical activity and exercise plays an important role in maintaining healthy bones. It is recognised as one of the most effective ways to help make bones as strong as possible, develop strength and balance, help lower your risk of falls thus reducing the risk of fractures later in life. The more work bones do, the stronger they get. Weight-bearing exercise -or a resistance activity such as weight training- is important to bone health. The pull of muscle on bone stimulates bones to increase their mass in order to spread the load over a larger amount of bone. That helps build bone strength and density and maintain it in later years. For example, if you walk frequently your leg bones will respond by growing stronger. If you play tennis often, your arm bones will respond by increasing their mass. Make weight-bearing exercise a priority in your daily life. Try activities like walking, running, cycling, golf, basketball, cricket, netball, aerobics and dancing.If you decide to take up a new bone boosting exercise, choose an enjoyable activity which fits in with your life. It is also important that you avoid excessive exercise and unnecessary weight loss

Lifestyle behaviours 

While many risk factors for osteoporosis are beyond your control, there are many lifestyle changes you can make to manage or even prevent osteoporosis.

Stop cigarette smoking. Smoking has an adverse effect on bone and also on general health so it?s another good reason to try to give up. It has been shown to slow down the work of the bone building cells, osteoblasts. Smoking may also result in an earlier menopause in women and can also increase your risk of a broken hip later in life.

Limit alcohol use. Reduce an excessive alcohol intake as it increases the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Even minor alcohol intoxication is associated with an increase in falls, which can result in breaking a bone. Alcohol damages organs that are involved in the absorption of two essential nutrients for bone health, calcium and vitamin D, and it increases the production of hormones involved in bone breakdown. Like smoking, alcohol kills osteoblasts and also impedes the healing process if you suffer a fracture.The current daily recommended upper limit, as suggested by the Department of Health, is two to three units for women and three to four units for men. A unit equals one small glass (125ml) of wine or a normal size glass (300ml) of beer.