Bones perform several functions in the body: they provide support, protect internal organs, fix muscles and store calcium. It is important to develop strong and healthy bones in childhood and adolescence, but steps can also be taken in adulthood to protect bone health.
Why is bone health important?
Our bones are constantly changing – new bone is created, the old bone is destroyed. When you are young, the body produces new bone tissue faster than it destroys old bone, and body weight increases. Most people reach peak bone mass by around the age of 30. After that, the process of bone renewal continues, but more bone mass is lost than gained.
How likely you are to get osteoporosis – a condition in which bones become weak and brittle – depends on how much bone mass you’ve gained by the age of 30 and how quickly you start losing it after 30. The greater your peak bone mass, the more bone tissue you have in reserve, and the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis as you age.
What affects bone health?
A certain number of factors affect bone health. For example:
- The amount of calcium in your diet. A diet low in calcium promotes lower bone density, early bone thinning and an increased risk of fractures.
- Physical activity. Physically inactive people are more at risk of osteoporosis than more active people.
- Smoking and alcohol. Research proves that smoking contributes to weak bones. Similarly, regular consumption of alcohol in excess of the recommended dose increases the risk of osteoporosis due to the fact that alcohol prevents the body from absorbing calcium.
- Gender. Women have a higher risk of osteoporosis, as women have less bone tissue than men.
- Composition. Very thin people (with a body mass index of 19 or less) or those with a small build are also at risk, as they have less bone mass to spare that the body can use as it ages.
- Age. Bones become thinner and weaker with age.
- Race and family history. People of Caucasian or Mongoloid race are at higher risk of osteoporosis. In addition, if parents or blood relatives have osteoporosis, the person is at higher risk, especially if there have been fractures in the family.
- Hormone levels. Excess thyroid hormone can lead to bone thinning. In women, the risk of bone thinning increases significantly during menopause due to decreased oestrogen levels. The prolonged absence of menstruation (amenorrhoea) before menopause also increases the risk of osteoporosis. In men, low testosterone levels may lead to loss of bone mass.
- Inappropriate diet and other conditions. People with anorexia or bulimia are at risk of thinning bones. In addition, gastric surgery (gastrectomy), weight-loss surgery, and diseases such as Crohn’s disease, gluteal disease and Cushing’s disease affect the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
- Certain medications. Long-term use of corticosteroid drugs such as prednisone, cortisone, prednisolone and dexamethasone is bad for the bones. Other medicines that may increase the risk of osteoporosis include aromatase inhibitors for breast cancer, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, methotrexate, some anticonvulsants such as phenytoin (Dilantin) and phenobarbital, and proton pump inhibitors.
How to keep our bones healthy?
A few simple steps to prevent bone breakdown:
- There should be enough calcium in the diet. For adults aged 19 to 50 and for men aged 51 to 70, the recommended intake is 1,000 mg of calcium per day. The norm increases to 1,200 mg for women after 50 and men after 70.
- Good sources of calcium are dairy products, almonds, broccoli, cabbage, canned salmon with bone, sardines and soy products such as tofu. If there is not enough calcium in the diet, supplements should be taken.
- Pay attention to vitamin D. The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. For adults between the ages of 19 and 70, the recommended intake of vitamin D is 600 international units per day. The rate increases to 800 for adults aged 71 years and over.
Excellent sources of vitamin D are oily fish such as tuna and sardines, egg yolk, and vitamin D supplemented milk. If you do not get enough vitamin D from food, ask your doctor for advice on taking special supplements.
- Make it a habit to exercise regularly. Strenuous exercise, such as walking, running, tennis or climbing stairs, helps to strengthen bones and slow down bone thinning.
- Get rid of bad habits. Quit smoking. Keep to the recommended daily intake of alcohol.
Talk to your doctor
If you are concerned about your bone health or if you are at risk of osteoporosis, including a recent fracture, see your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe a bone density test. The results of this test will help your doctor determine your bone density and the rate at which your bones are thinning. By analysing this information and the risk factors, your doctor will know whether to prescribe medication to slow down bone thinning.