Much like doing regular maintenance in your house, it is important to keep up the framework of your body – your bones.
Our bones support us and allow us to move. They protect our brain, heart and other organs from injury.
According to the chief executive of the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa (NOFSA), Teréza Hough, maintaining positive bone health means having a balanced diet rich in protein, vitamins and minerals and unrefined carbohydrates.
Why it is important to keep bones healthy
Specialist physician Dr Hayley de Wet believes that bone health “flies under the radar” when it comes to health prioritisation among people, yet one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50 will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture.
“An alarming statistic is that broken bones in women due to osteoporosis are more common than breast cancer, stroke and heart attack combined! Yet bone health is not as regularly assessed or screened for as these other diseases,” she says.
The good, the bad and the ugly
De Wet says bone health is often overlooked unless you have experienced trauma like a fracture or break. It is also difficult to differentiate between good and bad bone health without screening by means of a bone mineral density scan. Risk factors known to be associated with poor bone health raise one’s risk for fracture and are a good indicator for screening.
“A fracture involving the ribs, wrist, ankle, upper arm or shoulder and hip where there is no velocity involved, such as tripping and falling from a standing height, is a ‘red flag’ and actually doubles the risk for a second fracture,” de Wet adds.
While bone health concerns affect everyone of all ages, de Wet says it is most common in those over the age of 50, especially women over 60 and men over 70.
“The most common condition is osteoporosis which is associated with ageing, and it affects both women and men. It is most common in post-menopausal woman and usually presents with fracture. It affects all race groups and ethnicities.”
“Older patients may often also complain of pain, but this must not be confused with osteoporosis or [bad] bone health as these are ‘silent’ unless there is fracture.”
The best nutrition for healthy bones
“When nutrition and caloric intake is insufficient this shuts down anabolic processes in the body which are required for renewal. In athletes who are not underweight but who are not fuelling sufficiently for their training they often sustain repetitive stress fractures,” says de Wet.
Calcium and vitamin D are vital to bone regeneration and maintenance, she says.
She also advises that taking a multivitamin with vitamin D may help improve bone health.
“Dairy is the most efficient source of calcium in the diet, but most often a supplement is still required at a maximum daily allowance of 1000mg elemental calcium,” she explains.
Vitamin D is found in several foods including oily fish like salmon and sardines, red meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified foods like ghee.
Vitamin D should not be routinely supplemented unless there is proven deficiency, she cautions. “Vitamin D is not flushed out by the kidneys but rather it is stored in the body’s fatty tissues and there is potential for toxicity.”
A prominent consequence of Vitamin D toxicity is the build up of calcium in your blood which can cause nausea and vomiting, weakness, and frequent urination. Vitamin D toxicity might progress to bone pain and kidney problems such as the formation of calcium stones.
Not only is nutrition important, but exercise too. Weight bearing exercises (meaning carrying one’s own body weight) such as walking, and resistance training stimulate bone regeneration.
*Consult your doctor before embarking on a new exercise regime, or to obtain more information on your personal risk profile, screening and management options.