Understanding Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a cruel, silent and debilitating disease, affecting bone density. Osteoporosis itself is painless, however due to the weakening of bone strength, fractures occur easily resulting in limited mobility. Currently osteoporosis is the most prevalent bone disease worldwide. Current figures show by the year 2011 there will be an 83% increase in hospital admissions due to hip fractures which will be directly related to osteoporosis.

Generally osteoporosis has been associated with the elderly and postmenopausal women. This is due to specific physiological changes within the body.

Others who may be susceptible are those with:

limited mobility
a lack of access to sunlight
poor calcium and vitamin D intake.
a genetic predisposition

However doctors now have the knowledge to combat the severity of the disease. But in order to reduce it's crippling affects, society must be educated about this cruel disease, so as to lessen its severity or prevent it from occurring.

A normal part of maintaining healthy bones is what is called bone remodelling; it is a continual process up until the mid-thirties. Healthy remodelling is when the rate of bone mass remains constant. This means the rate of bone deposit and resorption is equal. Basically osteoporosis is a disorder in which there is a reduction of an individuals total bone mass. This occurs when the rate of bone resorption is more than the rate of bone deposit. Resulting in a reduction in total bone mass, causing the bones to weaken in structure. Although the natural bone remodelling in adults continues until about the age of 35, genetics, nutrition, lifestyle choices (e.g. smoking, caffeine and alcohol consumption) and the amount of activity all contribute to the individuals bone strength. After the age of 35 age related bone loss begins.

The main bones affected are:

Vertebrae (due to compression fractures)
the ribs
proximal femur- what's usually referred to as a hip fracture
distal radius- often called a colles's fracture, which is located in the vicinity of the wrist

So what can you do to keep your bones in tiptop condition?

Much of how we can maintain strong bones is directly related to nutrition and exercise.
Most of us are already aware that consuming dairy products helps to maintain strong bones due to the high levels of calcium. Although Calcium is vital for normal bone mineralisation, many people are unaware of the importance of Vitamin D in the role of healthy bone remodelling. Vitamin D is vital for the absorption of calcium. We obtain Vitamin D through a chemical process involving the sunlight on the skin, which alters specific substances in the body to produce Vitamin D.

Very few foods contain Vitamin D; fish liver oil is one of these. Therefore Vitamin D is often added to milk (check the nutritional information on the milk carton to check whether it has been added).

The body does not easily absorb some foods containing calcium. The best sources of readily absorbed calcium are Swiss cheese, canned salmon with bones, steamed broccoli, and yoghurt.
* To obtain high levels of both calcium and Vitamin D the best source is fortified milk.

It is important to know how much calcium you should allow in your diet for strong bone formation.

* The RDI (The Recommended Daily Intake) for Calcium is:
11-24 years of age 1200mg (equivalent to 3 glasses of milk).
Adults 800mg
Post menopausal women 1000-1500mg

* The RDI for Vitamin D is:
10-50 years of age 2.5ug
50 years > 5ug

You may find the nutritional values on most food packages, and therefore you are able to calculate the RDI for calcium and Vitamin D for your age.

The other extremely important factor to healthy strong bones is regular weight-bearing activities (at least 3 times a week). Without this, all the calcium you consume will not benefit you much, as weight bearing exercises cause an increase in bone formation through stressing the muscles and bone resulting in higher density bone formation (e.g. strong bones). This means bones are more resistant to the development of osteoporosis.

Although there can be a genetic predisposition for some, it is important that these factors (high levels of calcium, and Vitamin D, and regular weight bearing exercises) be incorporated into your lifestyle as early as possible. The sooner you start the more chance your bones have of becoming strong and healthy, thus (although it can not be guaranteed) your chances of developing osteoporosis is lessened.

- Louise Ganey (RN)

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