Posted on December 9, 2009, under General health.

Osteoporosis or ‘brittle bone disease’ is caused by calcium leaching from our bones, leaving them weak and prone to fractures. It can occur in both men and women but women are much more vulnerable to it, partly because they tend to have less bone mass in the first place but mostly because the female hormone oestrogen plays in an important role in the body’s ability to use and retain calcium. Loss of calcium from the bones begins around 30 years of age and increases dramatically when the body stops producing oestrogen after menopause.

You are most at risk if you are white, slim and small-boned; if your menopause is early; or if your mother or grandmother suffered from the disease. Rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, thyroid problems and certain asthma drugs are other risk factors, and caffeine, nicotine and alcohol all accelerate loss of bone mass.

Because it replaces the oestrogen in the body after menopause, hormone replacement therapy can protect you against osteoporosis.

But prevention is better than cure. It is important to make sure you include plenty of calcium in your diet throughout life, not just at menopause, along with vitamin D to aid absorption. 700-1000mg of calcium daily is recommended before menopause and 1000-1500mg after.

Recently, it is been proposed that Vitamin K may play a role in preventing osteoporosis, and it may be a good idea to include foods rich in this vitamin in your diet — turnips, greens, broccoli, cabbage, liver and cereals. The trace element boron may also help the body avoid loss of bone mass; it is found in apples, pears, grapes, leafy vegetables, pulses and nuts.

A high intake of protein, particularly animal protein, may make the problem worse, so cutting down on meat after menopause at the same time as eating more vegetables and cereals is probably wise.

Gentle weight-bearing exercise will help strengthen and thicken your bones; you don’t have to run or jog — just walking will do, and T’ai chi is another possibility. Exercising throughout your life is the most effective strategy, but it’s never too late to start. One study of women aged 65 to 69 found that those who exercised for half an hour a day three times a week over three years increased the bone mass of their arms by 4.3%, compared with a 2.5% loss in a control group. Before you start a new exercise regimen, it’s a good idea to consult a health practitioner, especially if you already suffer from osteoporosis or heart problems.


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