As we age, there are growing health concerns we have to consider. Bone health is one of those that are often overlooked until something happens. Women, in particular, are at risk for weakened bones and health complications, but men can be too.
If you don’t take care of your bones and make sure they’re as strong as possible and you were to fall or get into an accident, you could be seriously injured. A broken bone can be a debilitating injury that’s difficult to recover from.
The following is a guide to bone health and the essential things everyone should know.
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What Causes Weak Bones?
Weak bones or osteoporosis is a condition causing your bones to become brittle and more at risk of breaking. When someone has osteoporosis, their bones lose density. Your bone density is the amount of calcified bone tissue within your bones. When you’re diagnosed with osteoporosis, you’re more at risk of fractures from everyday activities and minor falls.
You need minerals and in particular calcium and phosphate, for bone strength.
Throughout your life, your body will absorb old bone and then create new. Your skeleton in its entirety is replaced around every ten years, but as you age, this slows.
When there’s an optimal balance of new and old bone, your bones are considered strong and healthy. If more old bone is reabsorbed than is created, that leads to bone loss.
Some level of bone loss as you get older is normal. In other cases, it may be a genetic issue where you lose more than what’s normal. Older, white women are most likely to experience bone loss, raising their risk of a fracture.
When your bones are very weak, you can experience a break even if you don’t have an apparent injury.
Women over the age of 50 and men older than 70 have a higher osteoporosis risk than younger people. For women, it’s due largely to a drop in estrogen occurring at menopause, and for men, it is connected to a decline in testosterone.
Particular risks that could make it more likely you won’t be able to make enough bone to replace what you lose include:
- You’re not getting enough calcium in your diet
- Your body can’t absorb enough calcium from food
- More calcium is removed via urine from your body than normal
- Too much alcohol can damage your bones
- Men and women who smoke are at higher risk for weak bones
- Young women who don’t have a period for a long time have a higher risk of bone loss
- Lower body weight associates with less bone mass and bone weakness
- Chronic medical conditions that keep people in a chair or bed lead to bone loss
- Medical conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease, an overactive parathyroid gland, and diabetes are associated with an increase in bone loss.
- Hormone-blocking medications for breast or prostate cancer are associated with bone loss, as are certain medicines for epilepsy or seizures.
- Glucocorticoid steroid medicines taken over the longterm can contribute to an increase in bone loss.
- A condition or treatment that impairs the absorption of vitamin D or calcium is a risk factor, including gastric bypass, cystic fibrosis, and conditions that impact the small intestine and make it harder to absorb nutrients.
How Is Osteoporosis Diagnosed?
Often, someone doesn’t know they have osteoporosis until they break a bone, and by that point, it’s serious. However, there are some symptoms of this so-called silent disease. Loss of height of an inch or more is a red flag, as is a change in posture. For example, if you notice you’re bending forward or stooping, you might need to speak with your doctor.
Shortness of breath can occur because of compressed discs leading to smaller lung capacity.
Pain in the lower back is also a symptom.
If you believe you have symptoms of bone loss, your health care provider can order certain tests.
One such test is a bone mineral density test or BMD. These are also known as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scans. These X-rays use small amounts of radiation to determine how solid the hip, wrist, or spine are. It’s advised that all women over the age of 65 have this test, and if you have risk factors, you may have it earlier.
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How Can You Keep Your Bones Strong?
If you’re diagnosed with osteoporosis, your doctor may speak with you about treatment options, but if you just want to proactively maintain strong bones or reduce bone loss, there are certain lifestyle treatments available to you.
- Include plenty of vegetables in your diet. Vegetables are a good source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can protect your bone cells from damage, and it stimulates the production of bone-forming cells. Vegetables may also increase bone density. Having a lot of green and yellow vegetables helps with the maintenance of bone mass and is beneficial for older women.
- Perform strength-training exercises. Exercise, in general, is good for your bones, but weight-bearing or high-impact moves help promote new bone formation. Studies in older people who did weight-bearing exercises found increases in bone mineral density, bone strength and size, and reduced bone turnover and inflammation.
- Get adequate protein. Around 50% of bone is made up of protein. Low intake of protein can reduce calcium absorption and may also affect your rates of new bone formation and breakdown.
- Have foods high in calcium. Calcium is essential for bone health. Make sure that you’re getting at least 1200 mg a day if you’re a woman. Be aware as well that the amount of calcium you absorb can vary significantly. It’s good to spread out your intake of calcium throughout your day rather than having it all at once. It’s also better to get the mineral from food instead of supplements.
- Adequate vitamin D is important because it helps your body absorb calcium. Vitamin K2 is also important for bone formation, so get enough of both.
Finally, avoid having a diet that’s too low in calories. You want to have at least 1000 calories a day because otherwise, it can harm your bone health as well as slow down your metabolism.
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