Preventing and treating osteoporosis involves more than simply taking a calcium supplement or having three servings of dairy per day.
This is what I told my friend Lori after her doctor told her she was at risk for developing osteoporosis.
As I explained to Lori, there are a number of risk factors that you can’t do anything about, such as your gender (one in four women over 50 is affected by osteoporosis); your age (the risk of developing osteoporosis increases with age for both men and women); your ethnicity (having Northern European or Asian ancestry increases your risk); and your family history (a parent or sibling with osteoporosis increases your risk). The other risk factors for osteoporosis, however, can be modified through diet and lifestyle changes to significantly reduce their impact.
Boot Camp for Bones
Bone mass reaches its peak in our twenties, declining slowly thereafter until perimenopause. Bone loss can increase by up to 10 percent over the first few years following menopause due to the decline in estrogen.
Moderate weight-bearing activity, such as walking, dancing, and weight training for 30 to 60 minutes at least three times per week, has been shown to prevent bone loss and actually increase bone mass in postmenopausal women. Physical activity puts increased force on the bones that respond by increasing their mass so the load can be spread over a larger area.
Soaking Up the Ds
When sunlight reacts with a compound in the skin that is made from cholesterol, valuable vitamin D is produced. However, combine the fact that people slather on sunscreen to ward off skin cancer with the geographical latitude of living in Canada, and you have a population deficient in vitamin D.
Vitamin D plays an important role in bone strength by stimulating the absorption of calcium by the body. About 20 minutes of unprotected sun (without burning) and supplemental vitamin D of 400 to 800 IUs per day is part of a good strategy for preventing osteoporosis.
Evidence is mounting that vitamin K, the “forgotten vitamin,” plays an important protective role in fighting age-related bone loss, acting as the biological “glue” that helps plug calcium into the bone matrix. Some studies have reported that higher vitamin K intake correlates with greater bone mineral density. Vitamin K is plentiful in dark leafy green vegetables, especially collard greens, spinach, and kale–the greener the plant, the higher the vitamin K content. (See your doctor before taking vitamin K supplements if you are taking blood-thinning medications.)
A Multitude of Minerals
No discussion of osteoporosis would be complete without including calcium. While calcium supplementation has been shown to improve bone density during perimenopause and slow the rate of bone loss and hip fractures during menopause, other minerals are also important for bone formation and maintenance. Magnesium, boron, zinc, silicon, copper, and manganese all play a role, and a deficiency in trace minerals can also predispose someone to osteoporosis.
Bone Up on a Healthy Lifestyle
Excess coffee and alcohol, as well as smoking, each cause a negative calcium balance (more calcium is lost than is taken in) and are associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis. A high-protein diet increases the excretion of calcium in the urine, but be careful: dietary protein that is too low has been associated with low bone mineral density.
Another culprit in osteoporosis is soft drinks. Not only do they contain huge amounts of sugar, but their high phosphate levels cause calcium to be pulled from the bones to buffer the high acid content.
My friend Lori is now replacing unhealthy lifestyle habits with weight-bearing exercise, dark green vegetables, a balanced daily intake of protein, and pure water to help reduce her risk of developing osteoporosis.