Ask what you can do to keep them healthy! Without bones - you won't have a leg to stand on!
Bones aren't dead... they're 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 it takes the skeleton just two years to completely renew itself, but in adults the process takes seven to 10 years! Did you know that one in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 will break a bone, mainly as a result of poor bone health which has lead to osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a bone thinning condition, and it's by no means new. The Romans were referring to non-healing hip fractures and other similar sounding conditions in the 6th century. By the early 19th Century, physicians were concerned about the 'spongy' texture of bones in old age, even before they were able to see them on X-ray. Bone loss increases in later life, so by the age of 75 years about half of the population will have osteoporosis, as measured on a bone density scan (DEXA)
It's estimated that around three million people in the UK have osteoporosis, a silent insidious disease linked to hormonal changes at the time of the menopause. Inevitably as we age there will be some bodily changes, such as the natural thinning of the bones in both men and women's skeletons. Muscles also weaken and are less able to support the bones and changes may also occur in the joints with arthritis, rheumatism and backache also painful reminders of the passing years.
Today osteoporosis is regarded in many cases as a preventable disease, but despite its association with ageing and the menopause, the condition can also affect younger women and men. Although more cases are being diagnosed, it doesn't necessary follow that osteoporosis is on the increase. As more of us live longer the chance of osteoporosis will increase with longevity. The statistics are alarming but research has shown that we can help ourselves to better bone health.
Osteoporosis is caused by the loss of bone mineral, making the bone fragile and susceptible to fracture, especially at the hip, wrist and spine, resulting in pain and disability. To some extent our genes determine our risk of osteoporosis, some families have a smaller, finer build and osteoporosis and fractures are more common. So if one of your parents had a broken hip you are more likely to have a fracture yourself. People who are Afro-Caribbean are at a lower risk than those of Caucasian or Asian origin because their bones are bigger and stronger.
Osteoporosis is most common in menopausal women as the decline in oestrogen levels leads to an increase in the normal rate of mineral loss from bone. Young women who experience an early menopause before the age of 45, and women who are excessively thin are at increased risk of developing osteoporosis. But the good news for many women is that carrying a slight amount of excess weight can encourage bones to strengthen. However being considerably overweight puts too great a pressure on your bones. Research suggests that after the menopause it is better to stay the weight you are rather than to go on a sudden weight-loss programme. Losing more than 10% of your body weight can double your risk of osteoporosis.
Other risk factors include poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyles and lack of exercise, and young women who have missed or have irregular periods are vulnerable. A study of young women suffering from anorexia and missing periods for a year showed 77% had spinal bone loss caused by poor nutrition, weight loss and loss of ovarian function. Young women athletes who train excessively are at risk if they become underweight and their periods stop. They can lose 5% of bone density in a year.
Research has found that eating a nutritious, varied diet from an early age is the best way to prevent the disease. We need to eat food rich in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins D and K, calcium and magnesium, and we need to lead active lives to encourage the formation of strong bones. Regular exercise plays an important role in helping prevent the disease, but for exercise to be beneficial it needs to be weight-bearing activities such as walking, running and push-ups. Simple brisk walking with its constant strike action is a great way to energise your body and encourage strong bones. The more you use your bones and the more demands you make of them the greater the response and the stronger they become. Lack of exercise is a significant factor in increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
A major component of the structure of bone is the mineral calcium commonly found in diary produce. Since we all lose some calcium everyday, mainly in our urine it's vital that this is constantly replaced. So make sure your diet supplies a large amount of calcium - a daily dose of 1,000 mg is recommended, with an increase to 1,500 mg close to and after the menopause. Or consider taking a calcium supplement, as I do. Vitamin D is also essential for building strong bones and works by promoting calcium absorption from the intestinal tract, helping to maintain normal levels of blood calcium. I find taking combined calcium and vitamin D supplement is a convenient way to ensure I get my recommended daily allowance (RDA).
Other risk factors we can control to help prevent osteoporosis include drinking too much caffeine, excess alcohol and carbonated drinks, plus the addition of too much salt in our diet. So look after your bones - it's never too late to make small changes in your lifestyle. If you support your bones they will support you for many years to come!