What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bones’. Our bones are living tissue. They constantly rebuild themselves. Which is why, throughout our lives, we need to nourish them with minerals, vitamins and proteins to stay strong and prevent osteoporosis.
However, as we age, our bones break down faster than they can rebuild themselves, and they lose density. As time passes, the bones can become excessively fragile and prone to fractures, especially in the spine, hip and wrists, resulting in extreme pain. Unfortunately, it’s usually only when these fractures happen that osteoporosis is diagnosed. That’s why it’s often called the ‘silent epidemic’.
What causes osteoporosis?
Although the cause of osteoporosis is not entirely understood, medical professionals know that it happens when bone tissue is being lost faster than it is replaced. They understand that osteoporosis affects mainly older women, primarily because they have less bone mass than men to start with, and because they lose oestrogen, which supports healthy bones. This does, however, not entirely explain why men also develop osteoporosis – the male hormone testosterone may be involved. South African statistics indicate that approximately 33 percent of women and 20 percent of men will develop osteoporosis during their lifetime.
- Family history and body type. Osteoporosis runs in families and small-boned people lose bone density more easily.
- Drinking and smoking both raise the risk for osteoporosis. Certain medications and diseases such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis may also contribute.
- Lack of exercise. Long periods of inactivity have been shown to cause considerable loss of bone mass.
Prevent osteoporosis in 6 easy steps
The good news is that osteoporosis is not an inevitable fact of ageing. You can protect your bones against thinning and fracturing. These six simple steps will put you on the path to healthy ageing and help prevent osteoporosis.
1. Eat your greens
While dairy products are rich in calcium, they are not the only source of the bone-building mineral. Leafy green vegetables are packed with calcium as well as vitamin K, which activates a bone protein that secures calcium within the bone, increasing bone density and helping to prevent osteoporosis. One cup of kale contains almost 10 percent of the recommended daily calcium intake and 600-plus percent of the daily value of vitamin K. Spinach and parsley are other good sources of vitamin K.
(In an interesting turn of events, the value of the calcium that is found in dairy products is being challenged, with some researchers claiming that it is not as easily absorbed by the human body as vegetable-based calcium. According to senior nutrition scientist Dr Amy Lanou of the US, ‘The countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis are the ones where people drink the most milk and have the most calcium in their diets. The connection between dairy consumption and bone health is almost nonexistent.’ It is thought that the acidity in dairy products actually leaches minerals like calcium from the bones. We will be following this research.)
2. Go for nuts and seeds
Nuts are your bones’ good friends. They contain calcium, protein and magnesium, which are essential for strong bones and help prevent osteoporosis. Enjoy a handful of almonds, walnuts or Brazil nuts as an afternoon snack. Sprinkle seeds over salads.
3. Ditch the fizzy drinks
Studies conducted at Tufts University in the US suggest that women who drink fizzy drinks (both regular and caffeine-free or sugarfree) had bone density levels far lower than women who drank little to no carbonated beverages. Experts state that the phosphoric acid in fizzy drinks, especially colas, leaches calcium from the bones. Excessive consumption of caffeine has also come under the spotlight as it appears to reduce the body’s ability to store calcium. Instead, drink water or tea. A survey of tea drinkers in China revealed that people who drank three to four cups a day for 20 years or more showed higher bone density than non-tea drinkers. Tea contains flavonoids, which may benefit bone and help prevent osteoporosis.
4. Hold the salt
High amounts of salt are linked with bone fractures. A Japanese study found that older women who consumed a high amount of sodium (found in salt) were four times as likely to suffer bone fractures. To prevent osteoporosis, the US National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that you don’t sprinkle extra salt onto your food and avoid foods that contain more than 20 percent of the recommended daily sodium intake (about 5 mg or one teaspoon a day). Processed and canned foods can be particularly high in sodium, so read the labels. (When buying salt, choose natural varieties that have not been refined and processed. Natural salt contains other useful minerals apart from sodium. However, use it sparingly.)
5. Love the sun…
…well, for just 15 minutes three times a week. We’re not advising spending the day soaking up the rays, but just long enough to up your body’s vitamin D production. Vitamin D, which is made by your body in the presence of sunlight, aids in the absorption of calcium. Without it, your bones could become weak, brittle and even misshapen.
6. It’s never too late to exercise your bones
Weight-bearing exercises help you build muscle and keep your bones strong. Walk, jog or climb stairs to strengthen bone tissue and help prevent osteoporosis. Exercise also improves your balance, coordination and stability, helping you to stay steady on your feet.
While we encourage you to play a conscious role in making the most of your health, if you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition such as osteoporosis, it is vital to consult your medical professional. Do not treat yourself without discussing the severity of your condition and all your therapeutic options with your doctor.
Acknowledgements & Photo credits
Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.
- 6 Easy Ways to Strengthen Your Bones and Prevent Osteoporosis. Huffington Post; Jan. 2014.
- Lanou, A.J., Castleman, M.C. Building Bone Vitality: A Revolutionary Diet Plan to Prevent Bone Loss and Reverse Osteoporosis. McGraw-Hill, June 2009.
- Mercola, J. How Exercise Helps Strengthen Your Bones and Avoid Osteoporosis, Safely and Naturally.
- Osteoporosis. Health24.com www.health24.com/Medical/Osteoporosis/About-osteoporosis/Osteoporosis-20120721
- Tucker, K et al. Study: Cola Linked to Lower Bone Density in Women. 2006. http://enews.tufts.edu/stories/22/2006/10/20/StudyColaLinkedToLowerBoneDensityInWomen