Our bones support us through life, help maintain posture and make it possible to move. Although our bones appear to be as solid as a rock, if you were to look at them under a microscope, you’d see that they look more like a sponge.
Every day, our bones are in a constant state of renewal and remodeling. Old bone is removed and new bone replaces it. When we’re toddlers and kids, we make much more bone than what is being removed, so that we reach our peak bone mass between 20 -30. and after that, lose a little more than is rebuilt.
Building bone requires nutrients
Our bones are made up of calcium and other minerals, which is why children are encouraged to drink milk and beverages such as calcium fortified orange juice to help strengthen their growing bones. And yet, surveys indicate that teens and young adults are not consuming as much dairy or other foods rich in calcium as they should. Our bones not only provide our body with its framework, they protect our organs and anchor our muscles and the calcium gives our bones their strength and structure.
So, it is essential that adults take care of their bones. We want to avoid “bone thinning” or osteopenia which can lead to osteoporosis. As we age if we don’t have a strong skeleton, strong core muscles, then we’re at risk for life limiting falls and fractures. I’m currently caring for a friend with a fractured tibia/fibula who will not be able bear weight for 6 weeks!
What You Can do for Your Bones
Fortunately, you can take steps to slow down the thinning of your bones. Tips that will help:
- Get your dairy (cow, goat, sheep) and fortified plant-based milks (almond, soy, rice)
- Eat lots of vegetables
- Vegetables are an excellent source of Vitamin C, which stimulates the production of bone-forming cells. Greens and yellows have been shown in studies to help with bone mineralization.
- Leafy greens – collard, mustard, turnip, kale, bok choy, spinach
- Fruits, beans, nuts, and some starchy vegetables are good sources.
- Winter squash
- Edamame (young green soybeans); Tofu, made with calcium sulfate
- Canned sardines, salmon (with bones)
Get Enough Vitamin D
We need vitamin D to absorb the calcium needed for bone health. For adults 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily is required. However, most Americans are not getting enough vitamin D from the natural source – the sun. You might want to discuss taking a supplement with your healthcare provider.
Why weight bearing exercise works
Bones get more dense and stronger under pressure. Weight bearing exercise exerts this kind of pressure. Weight-bearing exercise is defined as an activity that forces you to move against gravity, or gives you resistance as you move. High-impact weight-bearing exercises are best for building bones. These should be limited if you have been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis.
This type of exercise includes:
- Running or jogging.
- High-impact aerobics.
- Stair climbing
- Sports such as tennis or basketball
A new exercise program called OsteoStrong has been developed by the people at LiveStrong. The goal is to improve skeletal/bone health and posture with a non-pharmaceutical routine that will promote healthy joints, strong bones, muscle strength, and better balance.
There are centers to go to and special equipment, but you can also do the OsteoStrong exercises at home.
Not everyone can do high impact exercise due to arthritis or other factors. Strength training using light weights and resistance bands that emphasizes functional fitness and balance can still help your bones and prevent falls.
Be sure to clear any exercise plans with your healthcare provider.
Quit Smoking and Limit Alcohol
Tobacco causes even more loss bone mineral density, as does too much alcohol consumption.
Get Your Bone Density Tested
A DXA test is a quick painless non-invasive X-ray that measures bone mineral density and helps determine your risk of osteoporosis. Recommendations are that women are tested within two years of menopause. Those with a history of steroid therapy or use of other medications that increase risk might want to get tested earlier.
Discuss Medications with Your Healthcare Provider
Many women consider hormone therapy to increase estrogen levels, especially if they have symptoms of menopause, and risk factors for bone loss. And women and men diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis can take various medications to prevent dangerous hip and spine fractures. And remember you still need calcium and vitamin D as building blocks for your bones.
There are newer bone building agents that are available by prescription that help build bone quickly and reverse bone loss and the risk of developing a fracture.
Are there Risk Factors for Thinning Bones? Yes.
- Being a woman. You’re at greater risk of osteoporosis if you’re a woman, because women have less bone tissue than do men.
- Your body type. You’re at risk if you are extremely thin (with a body mass index of 19 or less) or have a small body frame because you might have less bone mass to draw from as you age.
- Your age. Your bones become thinner and weaker as you age.
- Your race and family history. You’re at greatest risk of osteoporosis if you’re white or of Asian descent. In addition, having a parent or sibling who has osteoporosis puts you at greater risk — especially if you also have a family history of fractures.
- Hormone levels. Too much thyroid hormone can cause bone loss. In women, bone loss increases dramatically at menopause due to dropping estrogen levels. Prolonged absence of menstruation (amenorrhea) before menopause also increases the risk of osteoporosis. In men, low testosterone levels can cause a loss of bone mass.
- Eating disorders and other conditions. Severely restricting food intake and being underweight weakens bone in both men and women. In addition, weight-loss surgery and conditions such as celiac disease can affect your body’s ability to absorb calcium.
- Certain medications. Long-term use of corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, cortisone, prednisolone and dexamethasone, is damaging to bone. Other drugs that might increase the risk of osteoporosis include aromatase inhibitors to treat breast cancer, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, methotrexate, some anti-seizure medications, such as phenytoin (Dilantin) and phenobarbital, and proton pump inhibitors.
For more information on keeping bones healthy visit the International Osteoporosis Foundation, INOF