Think you’re too young to be concerned about bone density and osteoporosis? Think again … this bone degenerating disease knows no gender or age.
According to Durban radiographer Jafar Khan, your 30s is when you reach the peak in terms of bone density. In other words, the older you get, the more your body starts to shred those healthy minerals needed to support strong healthy bones.
He says, “Bone mineral density tends to decrease as we get older, weakening the structure of the bone, making it less resilient. The first stage of bone degeneration is known as osteopenia, which can develop into osteoporosis and eventually lead to the bones becoming brittle and more vulnerable to fragility fractures.”
Khan is the director of the J Khan Inc Bone Mineral Density centre at the Kingsway Hospital in Durban.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a medical condition where the bones become brittle and fragile due to loss of tissue because of hormonal changes or a vitamin D deficiency.
This is according to Khayalitsha physician Dr Manduleli Bikitsha, who explains that, “The bone itself is composed of a variety of elements, including calcium, magnesium, and many other elements. When these elements are diminished, the bone loses its density, and becomes weak and brittle.”
Osteoporosis symptoms you should be aware of include:
- A change in height [people tend to become shorter]
- A change in posture [they prefer to bend forward]
- Lower back pain, and bone fractures
“Another effect is bone composition and body weight. People who are petite and undernourished have a higher risk of osteoporosis because they lose less bone mass than larger people. Even larger people are in danger when they don’t exercise.”
Khan adds that although osteoporosis is most commonly associated with women after menopause, men and women of all ages can be affected, and even children in rare cases.
What’s diet got to do with it?
According to Pretoria-based registered dietitian Jason van Heerden, resistance exercise is connected to healthy bone mass and maintaining bone mass. He says we need calcium-rich dense foods to prevent osteoporosis, and dairy is highly suggested as a calcium source.
“Phosphate, magnesium, vitamin K, and zinc are required for normal bone mineralization. These are usually found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.”
Kale, white beans, broccoli, pinto beans, red beans, sweet potato, and spinach are a few of the foods people should eat to prevent and treat osteoporosis, says Van Heerden.
He also explains vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the food you consume, and well-balanced meals are crucial for those with osteoporosis.
“Our primary source of vitamin D should be sunlight (UV B rays). The sun then converts the cholesterol in our skin into vitamin D. Aim for 10 to 20 minutes of daily sun exposure for lighter-skinned persons, whereas darker-skinned folks would require more.”
He adds that folks should be aware of UV radiation between +/- 11 am and 3 pm. We can also acquire vitamin D from tuna, mushrooms, liver, and eggs, he explains.
Tips to prevent osteoporosis
Van Heerden says that our bodies need calcium, vitamin D, phosphate, magnesium, Vitamin k and protein. Therefore, people can prevent osteoporosis by consuming meals rich in calcium and vitamin D.
Other tips according to Khan include:
- No smoking.
- Regular weight-bearing and aerobic exercise.
- Following a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet.
- Having regular routine health screenings.
- Speaking to your doctor about whether you should be taking calcium supplements.
- Monitoring your bone mineral density with your doctor as you grow older.
“Too often, people only become aware that they have low bone density when they suffer a fragility fracture, commonly in a spinal vertebra or a hip, which can seriously affect independence and quality of life as we get older. Prevention is better than cure when it comes to osteoporosis and this starts with awareness in our families and communities,” Khan concludes.
Get the Health For Mzansi newsletter: Your bi-weekly dose of kasi health, wellness and self-care inspiration.