Osteoporosis is a condition which affects the bones, causing them to become weak, fragile thereby increasing the likelihood of fractures. The bones which fracture most commonly include the wrist, hips, arms and pelvis but it can also affect other bones in the body.
Osteoporosis - The Silent Epidemic
Our bones are essential to our well-being, but gradually lose their density as part of the ageing process. For around 50% of women and a 20% of men over 50 in the UK severe bone thinning – called osteoporosis - will cause a painful broken bone that can lead to loss of mobility and, eventually, social isolation. Osteoporosis has been dubbed the silent epidemic as it can often go unnoticed until a fracture occurs. Numerous clinical research trials have indicated that certain supplements can help to stop bone erosion, therefore there are ways to potentially help limit the risk and how badly a person is effected.
Our bones are made up of an outer shell and an inner mesh which looks like honeycomb. Osteoporosis causes some of these inner honeycomb structures to become thin or break, which makes the sufferer’s bones more likely to break or fracture. The condition can also cause the person to suffer a loss of strength and height.
Because we cannot feel or see this thinning process happening, the first sign of osteoporosis is often only when a broken bone occurs - commonly this occurs in the wrists, hips or spine. Sometimes bones become so fragile that a powerful cough breaks a rib or the smallest slip whilst walking fractures a hip.
Nearly 500,000 older people end up in hospital or a nursing home in Britain each year after falling and breaking a
hip, caused at least in part by osteoporosis. Only 75% ever go home again.
Who is at risk?
Women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis than men for two main reasons.
- Women are born with less bone mass
- Due to hormonal changes women lose bone mass more quickly.
Others at high risk include:
- Postmenopausal women
- Women who have had an early menopause or hysterectomy with the removal of both ovaries before the age of 45
- Women who have had children
- Women with small bone structure
- Women with large hip bone structure
- Heavy alcohol users
- Heavy caffeine users
- Women on high protein diets
- People with a family history of osteoporosis
- Women who are diabetic with thyroid disease
- Women with asthma or other lung diseases
- People who take glucocorticoids (for example, cortisone or prednisone prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis)
- People with medical conditions which leave them immobile for long periods of time
- People with medical conditions which affect the absorption of foods, such as Crohn’s disease or coeliac disease
- Men with low levels of testosterone
- People who have broken a bone after only a minor fall
- Women who are underweight or who have developed an eating disorder
If you think you may be at high risk of osteoporosis you should discuss your medical history with your doctor who may refer you for a 'DEXA scan' which is used to check the 'density' of bones. This test uses X-rays to show how strong bones scan, a simple and painless way of measuring bone density.
Supplements which boost bone health
First and foremost a healthy and balanced diet is recommended for everyone and can help to protect the body from a huge variety of conditions including osteoporosis.
There are 4 main vitamins and minerals which are important for bone health:
Calcium works to fill holes in old and worn-out bone made by cells called osteoclasts. It is also needed for normal bone growth and development in children.
The current recommended intake of Calcium is at least 700mg per day, however the majority of nutritionists recommend that women of menopausal age should take at least 1200mg of Calcium per day day to help slow down bone loss. Nutritionists will often go further by advising the majority of women – including teenagers – to take Calcium in order to help protect bone health later on in life.
Our intestines can only absorb less than 500mg of Calcium at a time therefore you will need to get your intake across a number of tablets. Calcium is also a 'bulky' mineral which means tablets can often be large in size so a lower dose per tablet but more of them is very common. Any Calcium tablet advertising more than 500mg of Calcium is pointless and a waste of money.
Magnesium contributes to the maintenance of normal bones (and teeth) and helps to keep bones strong.
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin which contributes to the maintenance of normal bones and is essential for strong bone formation and repair.
Vitamin D is another fat-soluble vitamin which is necessary for the proper absorption of Calcium from the intestines. It is also needed for normal bone growth and development in children.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.