Many people don’t think of bones as living tissue, but they actually are. As you grow and change over the years, so do your bones. Studies have shown that during childhood and adolescence, your body produces more bone than you lose until you reach what experts call “peak bone mass,” which typically occurs between ages 18 and 25. After this point, the balance between bone growth and loss can begin to shift and, over time, can cause problems like osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis happens when a body starts producing too little bone or has begun to lose bone mass too quickly. Unhealthy bones become porous, frail, and prone to breaking, which can lead to serious health issues, especially as you age. Broken bones from osteoporosis typically occur in the hip, spine or wrist, but are not limited to these areas. They can be painful breaks and result in expensive surgeries that can lead to further complications if bones are not strong enough to heal correctly.
So how do you know if you are at risk for osteoporosis? There are several factors your health-care provider will consider to determine risk based on an individual basis. These include a history of broken bones, amount of exercise, diet, smoking and drinking. Age is also something to take into consideration. After age 50, you should have your height checked yearly by your health-care provider, as a decrease in height can mean that spinal bones are weakening or deteriorating.
The only way to diagnose osteoporosis before a broken bone occurs is through a bone density test. A bone density scan uses a low-dose X-ray to measure bone density. It is not painful, uses very little radiation, and takes between 5-10 minutes to complete.
Results of a bone density test will place you in one of three categories:
• Normal bone density
• Osteopenia, low bone mass or density but not yet osteoporosis
• Osteoporosis, a disease of the bones that leads to an increased risk of fracture
Based on results, your doctor can recommend treatment options and preventative measures you can take to keep your bones safe. Lab testing may also be recommended. Your OB/GYN can help set up an appointment for a bone density test.
What can you do to prevent bone problems in the future? Start by treating your body – and bones – right. Some of the best nutrients for your bones are calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamins D, C, B12, B6, K. Getting 1,200 mg of calcium and 1000 units of Vitamin D daily is an ideal amount for most people. Make sure you have a regular, well-balanced diet that’s high in these areas. This can be as simple as increasing your intake of many of the fruits, vegetables, fish, and dairy products that you already eat on a regular basis. Isoflavones, which are found primarily in soy products, have been found to increase bone density and slow bone loss in menopausal women.
In addition to knowing what types of foods are good for your bones, you should also pay attention to which foods can block nutrients from being absorbed by your bones. Things like beans and wheat bran contain high levels of phytates, which prevent calcium from being absorbed by your body. Spinach, chard, chocolate and berries have high levels of oxalates, which also inhibit calcium absorption. While these sources provide other nutrients that are beneficial to your overall health, calcium intake should be monitored if you are consuming large amounts of high-oxalate foods.
Certain things actually contribute directly to bone loss, instead of just blocking absorption of vitamins. These include salty foods, alcohol and caffeine. While none of these will have a severe impact when consumed in moderation, if these items appear regularly in your diet you should make sure that you’re getting a sufficient supply of calcium from other sources.
Exercise is another important factor in building strong bones. Two excellent types of exercise to make a regular part of your routine are weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises. Weight-bearing exercises include activities like dancing, running, and hiking that make you move against gravity while staying upright. Muscle-strengthening exercises focus on lifting weight to build and maintain muscle mass.