Osteoporosis - it's not just a health concern for women. High salt, caffeine, and alcohol intakes are contributing factors. Feed your bones to prevent osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis—it’s a term that is more likely to conjure up images of older women than of men. But it is a problem that will affect about 20 percent of Canadian men eventually.
Men in the dark
Most men probably don’t even realize that osteoporosis, the subject of much research and high-profile campaigns targeting women, is also a problem suffered by one in five men.
Both men and women begin to lose bone mass in their 30s, and although women generally lose this mass at a faster rate than men (especially in the menopausal years), men are also at significant risk of osteoporosis as they age.
Men not to blame
Men can’t really be blamed if they don’t consider themselves at risk for osteoporosis; the truth is that the medical world has not spent much time studying men’s bone health (as compared to women’s bone health) until very recently. As a result, there have been almost no education campaigns targeting men, and male osteoporosis has been sorely underdiagnosed.
One Danish study found that, in a random sampling of 600 men over the age of 60, more than 10 percent were found to have osteoporosis, with 6 percent already having at least one vertebral fracture. Only 1 percent of these men had a known diagnosis of osteoporosis on entering this study, meaning that almost all of those found to have osteoporosis were previously undiagnosed.
In Australia, 25 percent of a sample of men over the age of 70 were found to have osteoporosis on screening, but less than 10 percent of these men were aware of their condition (most of them had not been diagnosed prior to this screening).
Studies such as these ones demonstrate how far we have yet to go in improving the screening of men for osteoporosis.
Fractures a major concern
The major concern when it comes to osteoporosis is the increased risk of fractures. For both men and women, osteoporosis-related fractures take a significant toll. More than 80 percent of the fractures suffered by Canadians over the age of 50 are due to osteoporosis, with one in three of these fractures occurring in men.
Fractures of the hip alone result in more days spent in hospital by Canadians than stroke, diabetes, and heart attack combined.
In the case of men, one of the most alarming statistics when it comes to osteoporosis involves the mortality rates associated with fractures (in other words, what percentage of those who suffer a fracture will die in the first year or two after the fracture occurs).
Although 28 percent of women who suffer a hip fracture will die from associated complications, that number rises to 37 percent in men. Men are also more likely than women to require ongoing institutional care after osteoporotic fractures.
Statistics such as these truly highlight the importance of osteoporosis screening and fracture prevention in men.
Men can take charge
So what’s a guy to do? With osteoporosis screening for men still lagging well behind women’s, men need to arm themselves with knowledge about osteoporosis, its risk factors, and its prevention. Having this knowledge can improve men’s awareness of their level of risk and help them to know when they should be approaching the issue of osteoporosis screening with their doctors.
Know your risk
Factors increasing osteoporosis risk in men include
- high alcohol intake
- lack of physical activity
- inadequate calcium or vitamin D; recommended intakes for adults
- calcium: 1,000 mg per day of (total from both diet and supplements)
- vitamin D: 600 to 2,000 IU (depending on fracture risk and vitamin D status, with even higher intakes being required in those with diagnosed vitamin D deficiency)
- androgen deprivation therapy (as used in treatment of prostate cancer)
- chronic use of glucocorticoid medication (a steroid hormone generally used to reduce inflammation that can lead to bone loss in as little as three to six months of regular use)
- malabsorption syndromes (disorders that interfere with nutrient absorption, such as celiac disease or cystic fibrosis)
- chronic inflammatory diseases
- low body weight (less than 60 kg) or substantial weight loss (more than 10 percent of body weight)
- family history of hip fracture
Knowing about these factors helps you to determine your risk level and modify diet and lifestyle to help lower your risk.
Feed your bones
Nutrition is the foundation for good health of any kind, including bone health. Bone is composed of a variety of minerals and a protein matrix.
A diet rich in lean proteins, vegetables, and fresh fruit, along with moderate intake of complex carbohydrates provides plenty of what bones need to grow.
Particular attention should be paid to ensuring that there are adequate calcium foods such as low-fat milk products (or calcium-fortified milk substitutes), lightly cooked dark leafy greens, almonds, sardines with bones in, and tahini.
Supplements that can be helpful, particularly if your diet is not always what it should be, include:
- vitamin D: 600 to 2,000 IU per day is a safe range for most people; higher doses may be required, but these should be monitored by your health care practitioner
- calcium: 1,000 mg per day from a combination of diet and supplements (1,200 mg for adults over 70 years)
- trace minerals and vitamin K: in small amounts, nutrients such as zinc, copper, and vitamin K work together with calcium to keep bones healthy. (A number of calcium products now contain small amounts of these nutrients as well, to provide a more complete bone-supporting formula.)
Turf the bone wreckers
In addition to ensuring that you have adequate intake of bone supporting nutrients, you also want to kick things out of your diet that could be detrimental to bone health. Consider turfing the following.
High salt intake
Not only is salt potentially bad for your heart health, but high sodium intake can also cause calcium loss, which is bad for your bones.
High caffeine intake
More than three to four cups a day of coffee (or other beverages containing high levels of caffeine) may also cause calcium loss from the body.
Too much alcohol
There are several ways that excess alcohol consumption can get you into trouble; increased risk of osteoporotic fracture is one of them.
Keep it moving
Bones, like muscle, require use to stay strong. Bones are a living tissue that is constantly being remodelled (broken down and rebuilt). Bones that are not challengedby exercise run a serious risk of growing weaker.
Exercise that is helpful in prevention of fractures includes resistance exercises using such things as weights and resistance bands, which put a healthy stress on bones, encouraging them to stay strong.
Core strength and balance
Exercises that improve core strength and balance, such as yoga and tai chi, are also important in maintaining proper posture and stability, which helps to reduce the risk of falls, especially as we age.
Although medicine has a long way to go in understanding, diagnosing, and treating men’s osteoporosis, we are at least beginning to pay much more attention to men’s bones. While the research into men’s osteoporosis is catching up, men can take the lead in reducing the threat of osteoporosis and fracture in their lives by better understanding their risk factors and taking active steps toward addressing them through diet and lifestyle choices.