Cases of weak bones (osteoporosis) and life-changing fractures from falls are on the increase. Keep reading to find out what you can do to keep your bones fit for purpose whatever your age.
Check out your family history
Family history is a key indicator of bone health - if you have a parent or sibling who has or has had osteoporosis then you are more likely to develop it.
Boost calcium consumption
It's probably pretty safe to say that when people think bones, they think calcium. This mineral is essential for the proper development of teeth and bones. (as well as being a key helper in proper muscle function, nerve signalling, hormone secretion, and blood pressure.) Foods that are good sources of calcium include dark leafy greens, yoghurt, cheese, broccoli, spinach, chinese cabbage and collard greens.
Remember the importance of vitamin D
Where there’s calcium, there must be vitamin D - the two work synonymously to help the body absorb bone-boosting calcium. Boost vitamin D consumption by eating oily fish,mushrooms, eggs (in the yolks) and fortified cereals, or opt for a vitamin D supplement. The body also produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun - 10 to 15 minutes of exposure three times per week is sufficient.
It would be wise to get your vitamin D (specifically vitamin D3) levels checked at your next doctor’s appointment, and to discuss the use of supplements with your doctor. Vitamin D’s importance to bone health has been proven in studies on 'seasonal bone loss' - elderly people can lose more bone mass during the winter because of lack of sun exposure.
Boost bone density with vitamin K
Vitamin K is mostly known for helping out with blood clotting, but it also helps the body make proteins for healthy bones. Precisely how vitamin K contributes to bone health is unclear - two studies on young girls showed that vitamin K had different effects - one showed that vitamin K slowed bone turnover, but it didn’t have any effect on bone mineral density, while the other found the reverse. Another study specifically compared the effects of vitamins K and D on calcium absorption in rats, and it turns out the two vitamins work well as a team - vitamin D stimulated calcium absorption in the intestines, while vitamin K reduced the amount of calcium excreted by the body. Regardless of how vitamin K might help, fill up on it with foods like kale, broccoli and spinach.
Adults need approximately 0.001mg a day of vitamin K for each kilogram of their body weight. For example, someone who weighs 65kg would need 0.065mg a day of vitamin K, while a person who weighs 75kg would need 0.075mg a day.
Ramp up your potassium intake
Potassium isn’t necessarily known for aiding bone health - it’s a mineral that helps nerves and muscles communicate and also helps cells remove waste. It has been discovered that potassium may neutralise acids that remove calcium from the body. Studies in both pre and post-menopausal women have shown that a diet high in potassium can improve bone health. The study, which involved pre-menopausal women, showed an 8% difference in bone density between women with high potassium intake and those with low potassium intake. Ramp up your potassium levels by consuming foods like sweet potatoes, white potatoes (with the skin on) and bananas.
We know, you've heard this one countless times before! However regular exercise really is key to keeping a number of health issues at bay, including your bone health. It's important to know that living a sedentary lifestyle is considered a risk factor for osteoporosis. One study comparing bone density in college women with various body weights and activity levels found that athletes with low body weight had the highest bone density of any group in the study. This shows that exercise (and low body weight) can have a positive effect on bone density. Some types of exercise are more effective than others - for example weight-bearing exercises like running, walking, jumping rope, skiing and stair climbing keep bones strongest. Resistance training has also been shown to improve bone health in several studies, so pick up the weights after going for a jog. Furthermore, improved strength and balance helps prevent falls (and the associated fractures) in those who already have osteoporosis.
Drink less caffeine
It is widely known that caffeine does have some health benefits - unfortunately these benefits do not extend to our bones. When you drink too much of it, it can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium - one study showed that drinking more than two cups of coffee per day accelerated bone loss in subjects who also didn’t consume enough calcium. Another study (on elderly women) showed that more than 500ml of coffee per day can accelerate bone loss by negatively interacting with vitamin D. So while a good cup of coffee can be enjoyed, it's best to drink it in moderation and ensure that you consume enough calcium too.
Cut down on the booze
Note the use of the words used here are 'cut down' - there’s no need to quit entirely! While heavy alcohol consumption can cause bone loss (because it interferes with the functioning of vitamin D in the body), it's ok as long as you moderate your consumption! This means one drink per day for women and two per day for men. In fact recent studies actually show it may help slow bone loss when drunk in moderation. Here's to that, clink clink!