Osteoporosis & Osteopenia prevention, what you need to know
Osteoporosis is a medical condition where mineral levels are decreased, bones become more porous and lead to weakened bones. This makes them fragile and more likely to break. According to the NHS (http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Osteoporosis/Pages/Introduction.aspx), it is a condition that affects around three million people in the UK. More than 300,000 people receive hospital treatment for fractures (e.g. wrist or hip) every year as a result of osteoporosis. It can be an extremely debilitating condition, especially if you can’t walk.
Osteopenia is the beginning stage of osteoporosis, where the bones are weaker and there is a decrease in mineralisation, however not as severe as osteoporosis.
What causes Osteoporosis?
There are a number of factors that increase your risk, such oral steroid usage, inflammatory conditions, such as smoking/alcohol, rheumatoid arthritis, gut malabsorption problems and family history (see Osteoporosis Society).
However, prevention really is the best cure in the case of Osteoporosis, as most people are not aware that their bones are becoming brittle until too late. Hence, taking the following steps from early adulthood and even childhood may help strengthen your bones, whatever ever age you are (and especially, if you have been diagnosed with Osteopenia).
As advised by the NHS, regular exercise is essential to lower your risk of osteoporosis. They advise adults aged 19 to 64 to do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week. Weight bearing exercise is also very important to strengthen bones.
Eating bone friendly foods
Eating a healthy diet is recommended for everyone and may also help prevent osteoporosis.
Calcium is important for maintaining strong bones and adults need 700mg a day, which you should be able to get from your daily diet. Calcium-rich foods include dairy, such as yogurt, leafy green vegetables and nuts.
Vitamin D, which can be synthesised when sunlight hits your skin, is also important for healthy bones and teeth because it helps your body absorb calcium. In the winter vitamin D can be found in eggs, milk and oily fish, but only in small amounts, so it is better to supplement vitamin D, especially if you have darker skin.
However, calcium and vitamin D are not the only important nutrients. Zinc, boron and manganese are also essential as they are like glue that holds a framework together. We also rely on vitamin K2 to transport the minerals in to your bones. K2 also comes from green leafy vegetables.
However, there are also nutrients that can increase your risk of osteoporosis, such as fizzy drinks, which are normally high in sugar. This is because, over time, bone minerals may be taken out of the bone and into blood in order to main the correct PH (acid-alkaline) balance.
Other lifestyle choices such as smoking and alcohol consumption also increase your risk of osteoporosis, as can a high protein diet.
Asking a trained nutritional therapist to carry out a dietary evaluation would be the first step to see if any of the above applies to you, as they will be able to work out from your diet history (even if your diet is better now, it may not have been as a child) how to improve what you are eating or if you may be low in certain minerals or vitamins.
There are also certain biochemical tests, which look at biomarkers involved in bone making and turnover, as well as tests that look at whether you have optimal levels of key nutrients required to optimise your bone health, such as vitamin D.