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Osteoporosis or brittle bone disease is more common than you would think in the U.K. The lifetime risk of osteoporosis in the UK is almost half for women and 1 in 5 for men. This disease is not, however, an inevitable part of ageing. There are many ways in which you can prevent yourself becoming one of the estimated 3 million sufferers in the UK.
What is osteoporosis? The bones in our skeleton are made up of water, protein and mineral salts, the latter of which constitutes roughly half the structure. Bone strength is the result of a combination of the hardness of these minerals combined with the tensile properties of collagen (derived from the protein).
Too little of one (e.g. collagen) and the bone will be thin like an egg-shell and prone to shattering. Too little of the other (e.g. mineral salts) and the bone will be bendy like a piece of rubber. Bone is alive and constantly changing throughout life. Old, worn out bone is broken down by cells called osteoclasts and replaced by bone building cells called osteoblasts, in a process of renewal called bone turnover. In childhood, osteoblasts work faster enabling the skeleton to increase in density and strength. During this period of rapid bone growth, it takes the skeleton just two years to completely renew itself. In adults the process takes seven to ten years.
Bones stop growing in length between the ages of 16 and 18, but bone density continues to increase slowly until a person is in their mid 20s. At this point the balance between bone demolition and bone construction stays stable. After the age of 35, bone loss increases very gradually as part of the natural ageing process. This bone loss becomes more rapid in women for several years following the menopause and can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of broken bones, especially in later life. Along with this natural ageing there are other factors that increase the onset of osteoporosis: poor diet can lead to a calcium deficiency; lack of exercise will not encourage bone regeneration; smoking, particularly in women causes a drop in oestrogen which will contribute to brittle bones; family history can be a factor; low body fat, alcohol and over training are also risks.
So how can you prevent it? Logically, don’t subject yourself to the risks outlined above! So don’t smoke (see my other comments about this and Allen Carr’s Easyway), eat a balanced wholefood diet, have enough calcium, don’t drink (too much) and be sure to enjoy some form of weight bearing exercise.
Calcium is needed for the heart, muscles and nerves to function properly and for blood to clot. Inadequate calcium is thought to contribute to the development of osteoporosis. National nutrition surveys have shown that many women and young girls consume less than half the amount of calcium recommended to grow and maintain healthy bones. According to Government recommendations, adults under age 50 need 1,000 mg of calcium daily, and adults age 50 and over need 1,200 mg of calcium daily.
Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb calcium. Without enough vitamin D, you will be unable to absorb calcium from the foods you eat, and your body will have to take calcium from your bones. Vitamin D comes from two sources: through the skin following direct exposure to sunlight and from the diet. According to recommendations, adults under age 50 need 400-800 IU of vitamin D3 daily, and adults age 50 and over need 800-1,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. Vitamin D3 is the form of vitamin D that best supports bone health. It is also called cholecalciferol. Vitamin D can also be obtained from fortified milk, egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver and supplements.
Weight Bearing Exercise: one of the biggest factors that influences your chances of developing osteoporosis is how much weight bearing exercise you get while your bones are forming, so during childhood and adolescence. During this time weight bearing exercise will put lots of strength into your “bone bank” which will mean that you will suffer less from degeneration later on. So if you have children, don’t molly coddle them too much, rather than protect them you could actually be doing harm. Let them build things, run around and climb trees!
Resistance training – this is also very important. Your body responds and adapts to stresses placed upon it, so weight training will encourage less bone loss as you get older. All sessions with a Diets Don’t Work personal trainer include this type of weight bearing exercise and resistance training. All muscle groups are covered and we do this in a functional, challenging and interesting way!