Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals such as calcium faster than the body can replace them. They become less dense, lose strength and break more easily. The literal translation of osteoporosis means “bones with holes”.
Most people don’t realise that they have osteoporosis until a fracture happens, as there are usually no signs or symptoms. For this reason, osteoporosis is often called a ‘silent disease’. It particularly affects women in their middle and later years, however some men are also affected.
Bone is formed by specialised cells and like the rest of the body, it’s constantly being broken down and renewed. In the early years of life, more bone is made than broken down, resulting in bone growth and by about 25 – 30 years of age, peak bone mass is achieved.
Sex hormones, such as oestrogen and testosterone, have a fundamental role in maintaining bone strength in men and women. The fall in oestrogen that occurs during menopause results in accelerated bone loss and the average woman loses up to 10% of her total body bone mass during the first five years after menopause.
Risk factors for osteoporosis
You cannot change some of the risk factors for osteoporosis, such as being female, and having a direct relative who has had an osteoporotic fracture.
Other risk factors include:
* Inadequate amounts of dietary calcium
* Low vitamin D levels
* Cigarette smoking
* Alcohol intake of more than 2 standard drinks per day
* Caffeine intake of more than 3 cups of tea, coffee or equivalent per day
* Lack of physical activity
* Early menopause (before the age of 45)
* Loss of menstrual period if it’s associated with reduced production of oestrogen, which is vital for healthy bones (the menstrual cycle can cease following excessive dieting and exercise)
* Long-term use of medications, such as corticosteroids for rheumatoid arthritis and asthma
Some conditions also place people at a higher risk of osteoporosis. These conditions include:
* Thyroid disease or an overactive thyroid gland
* Rheumatoid arthritis
* Chronic liver and kidney disease
* Conditions that affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, such as Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease and other inflammatory bowel conditions.
Steps for prevention
You’re never too young to start taking measures to prevent osteoporosis. Some steps that both men and women can take include:
* Have a healthy and varied diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains
* Eat calcium rich foods. Making sure you have enough calcium is important as it’s a vital step to building and maintaining strong, healthy bones. If there’s not enough calcium in your blood, your body will take calcium from your bones. Dairy foods have the highest level of calcium, but there are many other sources of calcium including sardines, spinach and almonds.
* Absorb enough vitamin D. This is important because it helps your body absorb the calcium in your diet. We obtain most of our vitamin D from the sun. Vitamin D can also be found in small quantities in food such as: fatty fish, liver, eggs and fortified foods. However, for most people it’s unlikely to receive adequate quantities of vitamin D through diet alone and supplementation may be required.
* Avoid smoking
* Limit alcohol consumption
* Limit caffeine intake
* Do regular weight-bearing and strength-training activities. It’s important to realise that bone is living tissue that needs exercise to gain strength, just like muscle. Weight-bearing activities (e.g.: brisk walking, jogging) encourages bone density and improves balance so falls are reduced. Strength-training (or resistance exercise) is also important for bone health. It can maintain, or even improve, bone mineral density.
How can NDH help?
Our practitioners can provide recommendations and support for any lifestyle and dietary changes which may be necessary. They may also be able to prescribe appropriate supplementation of certain vitamin and minerals if necessary.
Call our professional staff on (02) 6021 0557.