On the Menu: Getting to the bones of the story

Reduce your risk of osteoporosis by including plenty of calcium and vitamin D in your diet

Make sure your diet is full of calcium-rich foods. Photograph: Thinkstock

Make sure your diet is full of calcium-rich foods. Photograph: Thinkstock

Tue, Jul 8, 2014, 01:00

Bone is a living tissue. Bone cells are constantly breaking down and constantly being replaced. Many different nutrients are needed to build new and healthy bone cells and we get these from the food we eat.

It’s rather like a bank account, where you make “deposits” of nutrients for new healthy cells and “withdrawals” of bone cells that need replacing. As we get older, more bone is naturally lost than is replaced. There is a natural decline in bone strength.

People with osteoporosis lose more bone at a faster rate than is normal. Osteoporosis causes bones to become fragile. Therefore, they break easily. Even a minor bump or fall can cause a fracture.

The disease affects both men and women. It is more commonly seen in older people but osteoporosis can affect all age groups, even the young.

It is estimated that someone in the EU has a hip fracture as a result of osteoporosis every 30 seconds. The most common bones to fracture are the hip, spine and wrist. However, it can affect any bone in the skeleton.

There are many reasons for an increased risk of developing osteoporosis. nFamily history: 80 per cent of bone is determined by genetics. If a parent or grandparent had osteoporosis or any of the above symptoms, then you may be at a higher risk yourself. nAge: Bone loss increases in later life. It’s estimated that about half of

all people over the age of 75 will have osteoporosis. As we get older, our bones become more fragile and are more likely to break.

nGender: After the menopause, women experience acceleration in bone loss. The female hormone oestrogen has a protective effect on bones. At the menopause (normally around the age of 50), the ovaries almost stop producing this hormone, reducing protection for our bones.

nEating disorders: People who have a history of eating disorders may have missed out on vital nutrients to nourish their bones at a vital stage of development.

nGastrointestinal disorders: Disorders such as coeliac, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis or primary biliary cirrhosis increase the risk.

nRheumatoid arthritis: The disease itself and steroid treatments can increase the risk.

nEndocrine disorders: High levels of prolactin, cortisol or thyroid and parathyroid hormone problems, diabetes, Turner’s syndrome, Klinefelter’s syndrome, etc can increase the risk.

nSome medications: For example, corticosteroids and some anticonvulsants, can also increase the risk.

Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease in the world, but it is preventable and treatable in the majority of people. Changing what you eat and becoming more active can help reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

The dietary guidelines are similar to those recommended for everyone, so you don’t need to eat any special or expensive foods, but you may identify some improvements or changes to your nutrition plan.

Calcium is required for healthy blood vessels to contract and dilate; muscle function; nerve transmission; and hormonal secretion. Less than 1 per cent of our total body calcium is needed to support these crucial functions. The remaining 99 per cent of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones and teeth where it supports their structure and function. Calcium’s most notable role is in helping to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

You can get enough calcium by eating a variety of foods, including the following:

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