Osteoporosis or brittle bones disease affects an estimated 200 million people worldwide. The disease weakens the bones meaning they fracture more easily, but because the condition develops over several years many people don’t realise they have osteoporosis until the first break occurs. Breakages can occur all over the body, but they are most common on the wrists, hips and spine.
Who’s affected by osteoporosis?
As we age we naturally lose bone density. Osteoporosis can affect both men and women but it is around four times more common in women, and most common in women who have been through the menopause. This is because women can lose bone density as a result of falling oestrogen levels.
Risk factors for osteoporosis
As well as menopause, other risk factors include the long-term use of corticosteroids to treat arthritis and asthma, thyroid conditions that can have an effect on the amount of calcium in the blood and bone, and low levels of bone-supportive nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and magnesium. Having low body weight is also a risk factor for osteoporosis. There is less bone tissue throughout the body and so breakages can become more frequent. Also, if you have less body fat then you will be unable to cushion a fall and fractures as a result of osteoporosis become more common.
Certain lifestyle choices, such as smoking and regularly drinking alcohol, can also make you more predisposed to developing osteoporosis, as can having a family history of osteoporosis – although why this is, is still not clear.
Help with osteoporosis
From following a healthy diet, to topping up on nutrients important for bone health, bone-strengthening exercises and regular bone density scans, there’s plenty you can do to help strengthen your bones.
A healthy diet can help
Vegetarian and vegan diets are associated with a lower risk of osteoporosis. This is in part because they are less acidic than diets rich in animal protein. Try switching to a plant-based diet or reducing your intake of animal protein, and cut down on highly processed and sugary foods. Too much sugar can cause more calcium to be secreted through the urine.
Certain nutrients can help
Vitamins C and K are crucial for healthy bones. Food sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, berries – strawberries are great - and vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus and potatoes, and food sources of vitamin K include cauliflower, sprouts, spinach and olive or soya bean oil.
Then there’s calcium. It’s the most abundant mineral in the body and with 99% found in bones and teeth, it is hugely important in the fight against osteoporosis. Try to eat four servings of calcium-rich foods a day. In additional to dairy products such as yoghurt, skimmed milk and cheese, which some people can find hard to digest, spinach, broccoli, beans, peas, sardines and pilchards are also excellent calcium providers and they contain heaps of magnesium, which is important for calcium absorption. As far as calcium supplements are concerned, calcium in calcium citrate form is one of the best.
A magnesium supplement may also help. Magnesium contributes to the absorption of calcium but it also helps convert vitamin D, also good for bones – it’s important for the absorption of dietary calcium, into its most active form.
Silica, from the element silicon, is also understood to play an important role in bone health and Urtica (or stinging nettle) may be useful in the management of osteoporosis due to its high nutrient content. Not a fan of nettle soup? Try A.Vogel’s Urticalcin. A preparation containing Urtica, calcium and silica, it may be especially useful where there is a lack of calcium absorption, as it helps to promote absorption of calcium into bones and teeth. It can also be taken alongside calcium supplements.
Exercise can help
High impact exercise, such as jogging, power walking and step aerobics can be particularly beneficial, as can strength-training exercises such as jumps, weights, sit-ups and back strengthening exercises. It doesn’t have to be anything too strenuous – even 20 minutes of walking daily is a great place to start.
Bone density scans can help
Regular bone density scans will also help you to stay one step ahead of osteoporosis and are especially recommended if there is a history of osteoporosis in your family. Often referred to as a DEXA scan, they use low-dose X-rays to see how dense or strong your bones are. Talk to your GP or healthcare provider about organising a scan if you think you might be at risk of developing osteoporosis.