Preventing Osteoporosis: 4 Crucial Questions You Need to Ask

Did you know that more than 50 percent of people aged 50 and over are affected by osteoporosis? That's a substantial risk rate.

While osteoporosis is often thought of as an older person's disease, it can strike at any age. Are your bones as strong as they could be? Read on and find out if there are more steps you can take to avoid osteoporosis.

A silent disease

Osteoporosis is a metabolic disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. It is often a silent disease in that, if not prevented or if left untreated, it progresses painlessly until a bone breaks. There are four types of osteoporosis:

Post-menopausal Osteoporosis (Type 1) occurs in women several years after menopause. After menopause, women's ovaries produce less oestrogen. Oestrogen is responsible for regulating bone growth and absorption, and therefore bone density decreases. As much as 2-3 percent of overall bone mass can be lost each year, reaching up to 50 percent of bone loss by the age of 70 or 80.

Senile Osteoporosis (Type II) can affect both men and women over the age of 70. Bone mineral density peaks at around the age of 35, and decreases gradually after this. Thus the risks associated with osteoporosis increase with age.

Secondary Osteoporosis describes osteoporosis caused by the use of a drug or as a complication related to another condition such as kidney failure, hyperthyroidism, anorexia, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and a number of other illnesses.

Idiopathic Juvenile Osteoporosis is a very rare form of the disease, which affects some children or adolescents for no known reason. The disease usually occurs just before puberty.

Are you getting enough calcium?

Calcium is bone food. Getting enough in your diet is vital for preventing osteoporosis. Take a look at these tables and see how much calcium you need and where you can get it from.

Calcium content of foods
Source: The Doctor's Pocket Calorie, Fat and Carbohydrate Counter, 2004 pp 272-275
Food source Calcium per serve
Milk, 8 fl. oz 300 mg
Yogurt, 8 oz 300 mg
Soy drink, calcium enriched, 8 fl. oz glass 300 mg
Canned salmon, with edible bones, 3 oz 300 mg
Cheese, 1 oz 200 mg
Broccoli, 1 cup 100 mg
Almonds, 1 oz 70 mg
Orange, 1 medium 50 mg
Sesame seeds, 1 tbsp 10 mg

Recommended Calcium Intakes
Source: National Academy of Sciences

Age Amount (mg) per day
Birth-6 months 210
6 months-1 year 270
1-3     500
4-8 800
9-13 1300
14-18 1300
19-30 1000
31-50 1000
51-70 1200
70 and older 1200
Pregnant and lactating
Up to 18 years 1300
19-50 1000

Are you getting enough vitamin D?

It’s also important to include plenty of vitamin D in your diet. Vitamin D plays a major role in calcium absorption and bone health by helping calcium to leave the intestine and enter the bloodstream. Vitamin D also works in the kidneys to help reabsorb calcium that otherwise would be excreted.

Good sources of dietary vitamin D include cod liver oil, cooked salmon, sardines, vitamin D-fortified milk and egg yolks. A safe amount of sun exposure (no more than ten minutes) can also provide vitamin D. You should get around 5-15 mcg of vitamin D per day, depending on your age.

Are you getting enough carbohydrate?

Restricting carbohydrates may prove to have serious consequences for bone health. On a low-carbohydrate diet, milk, nuts and most dairy products are avoided due to their carbohydrate levels, but this also means a dramatic decrease in calcium intake. Unless your diet is supplemented with calcium tablets, you won't get enough calcium. Carbohydrates should make up between 40 and 60 percent of your calories per day.

Research also shows that a low-carbohydrate diet can also cause the blood to become more acidic. This can result in an increase in the amount of calcium leeched out of the bones.

Excess protein has also been identified as a contributing factor to osteoporosis. Diets which limit carbohydrates tend to be high in meat, which could increase the risk of osteoporosis.

When you combine less dietary calcium, extra leeching from the bones, and a diet high in protein, low-carbohydrate diets aren’t really all they’re cracked up to be – unless that’s a cracking of the bones you’re after...

Are you doing enough weight-bearing exercise?

As well as getting enough calcium, vitamin D and carbohydrate, regular weight-bearing exercise is also important in preventing osteoporosis. Exercise where you are supporting your own weight helps maintain and build bone strength, and can determine the maximum bone density that a person achieves.

Examples of weight-bearing exercise include:

* Going for a walk
* Lifting weights
* Jogging
* Strength training
* Playing volleyball
* Kicking a soccer ball
* Walking the dog

Find as many ways as you can to incorporate these types of exercise into your day, and encourage your family members to join you, to keep the whole family’s bones strong and healthy.

It's never too late

By being aware of the factors that contribute to osteoporosis, you can make sure that you’re not unknowingly putting yourself at risk. The major risk factors that can lead to osteoporosis are:

* Insufficient calcium in the diet
* Insufficient weight-bearing exercise
* Hormonal changes during menopause
* Untreated digestive illnesses
* Family history of osteoporosis
* Excess amounts of alcohol, protein and phosphorus
* Insufficient vitamin D and magnesium
* Cigarette smoking

Once your bones have begun to degenerate it is very difficult to overcome the effects of osteoporosis. That's why it's important to ensure that your diet is rich in calcium right from childhood, and especially during the teenage years when your bones reach their maximum density. The more you can build up your bone density, the stronger your bones and teeth will be for the future.

That’s not to say that if you are past your teens, it’s too late to bother. Calcium and exercise are important for all ages, and in fact have been shown to substantially help reduce fractures and problems in the elderly years. Exercise itself builds strength and flexibility, both of which help prevent falls in the first place.

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