Family Forum: Wising up on cutting risk of osteoporosis

Family Forum advises on how to avoid osteoporosis, read on…


How can I avoid osteoporosis? I’m a healthy single 36-year-old woman, 55kg, I have milk on cereal and with coffee and ride 30 minutes every day on an exercise bike to keep fit. Should I take calcium supplements? I’ve heard they do more harm than good, but I don’t understand how that could be. What else should I do?


Bone is a dynamic tissue, constantly growing, breaking down and being replaced. Sometimes the balance shifts towards more bone being lost than replaced, reducing the density of bone tissue and weakening the structure. This condition, known as osteoporosis, can also lead to skeletal fractures.

Being female raises the risk of osteoporosis. One in three women and one in 12 men over the age of 50 will suffer an osteoporotic fracture. The risk also increases with age.

But there are things you can do to reduce your risk.

Healthy bone needs a good supply of calcium. Many people do not receive enough calcium from their diet. Different people have different requirements, so ask your GP to check your calcium and vitamin D levels. It may be worth taking supplements to achieve the ideal calcium intake of between 1000 and 1500mg a day and vitamin D 600 to 800IU (International Units).

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and is another necessary nutrient; there are different forms of Vitamin D. Some D2 is absorbed from food while D3 is made in the body using ultraviolet (UV) B radiation from sunlight. Too much sun exposure when the UV index is three or above can be damaging however and lead to poor health effects. Most people  receive sufficient sun exposure when the UV is less than three (such as in the early morning and evening) or will be exposed incidentally to enough sunlight simply by being outside. For some people however, supplementation may be helpful to ensure adequate intake.

Some research appears to indicate that calcium may be linked to cardiovascular disease, however this relationship is not completely clear. As such, it may be sensible to confirm that you have a deficiency before supplementing dietary calcium.

If you are at high risk (eg older age with a history of fracture and low bone density) your doctor may also prescribe other medication to help reduce bone loss.

Physical activity for 30 minutes, three to five times a week has been shown to be beneficial, but it would be good to include weight-bearing exercise in your routine. Avoid alcohol and smoking.

Other risk factors include low body weight (less than 57.5kg), use of anticoagulants, having no children or few children and lack of breastfeeding.

Specialist healthcare professionals such as exercise therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and dieticians are also able to provide education and support for people to safely and effectively modify their diet and undertake exercise and physical therapy. However, several studies have shown that higher bone mass in early life has a transient effect and does not confer protection against later loss of bone mass. You can do everything within your power and still suffer from osteoporosis later in life, because it is often a natural part of growing old. Fortunately, the things you can do now to reduce your risk will provide additional health benefits both in your youth and in later life.

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