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Updated: Oct 23, 2020

Tomorrow is World Osteoporosis Day and the perfect opportunity to talk about bone health. Many people tend to think of the skeleton as being a static, virtually inert part of the body which does not change once we have reached our full height in adulthood, rather like scaffolding to hold the architecture upright and in place. But this is far from true. Our bones are actually living entities which are metabolically active, and they require proper care, movement and correct NUTRITION! Furthermore, the older we get, the more attention we need to give them, for several reasons – and this goes for both men and women.

As women approach and then embark on their menopausal journey, they produce less oestrogen, which moderates the rate at which old bone is broken down, and progesterone, which is a major trigger for bone growth – and in the same way, as men grow older, their levels of the hormone testosterone drop and, like progesterone, testosterone deficiency is an important factor in bone loss.

Bone cells known as osteoblasts are constantly building new bone while osteoclasts are continuously breaking it down – never-ending destruction and renewal. When we are very young and still growing, there is plenty of building and far less breaking down. In adulthood, this activity shifts and becomes more balanced, but the march of time slows down this sequence to the point where destruction outstrips regeneration and bone mass starts to shrink. What were once good, strong, dense and well-mineralised bones begin to deteriorate, weaken and become increasingly fragile. The result? Osteoporosis, a condition where the density of the bones steadily decreases, thinning them, making them more porous, rather like honeycomb, and thereby raising the risk of fractures and compression of the spinal vertebrae.

There are two critical culprits in osteoporosis which are at the top of the list:-

1. Inadequate nutrition is a major guilty party in osteoporosis, as various nutrients, in particular minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium, are required to support consistent bone building and a deficiency in any of these, let alone all, can have serious consequences for bone health. In the same way, an excess of some nutrients can also be detrimental. A high protein consumption for instance – and animal protein in particular – can lead to high blood acidity, causing calcium to be leached from the bone in order to alkalise the blood. A lack of Vitamin C can also wreak havoc as bones are made of a matrix of collagen, and this vitamin is crucial to the production of collagen in the body. Another imperative vitamin is Vitamin D, which comes mainly from sunlight exposure on the skin and aids in the absorption of calcium into the bones, making them strong and tough. Not surprisingly, the number of cases of osteoporosis is considerably higher in northern countries than in sunny, warm climates and I always advise my clients to supplement Vitamin D during the winter months.

2. Inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle! Our bodies were made to move, not to sit in cars, on the train, at desks, on the sofa, at the cinema, at the kitchen table! Regular, vigorous exercise is absolutely essential for strong bones so get into motion and give your bones a proper work-out of one sort or another every single day, and include both weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening. I know it can be difficult to find the time to exercise when you are trying to keep on top of the pressures of a challenging career, but once you have created the habit, it becomes almost addictive and much easier because you have ensured that it fits in with other demands on your time. I have been doing a sixty minute workout every weekday morning for years and find it vital to my well-being and performance – and I am always aware at the weekend that my two days off result in slight stiffness and a bit less energy.

Are there other culprits? Yes. Excessive alcohol consumption and smoking, both of which make bone loss more rapid, particularly in men, so beware.

So, how can we care for our bones so that they carry us through MidLife and beyond strongly and successfully? We can eat a fresh, natural diet, rich in minerals – nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, sea vegetables (yes! a fabulous source) – and we can make a point of incorporating plenty of movement into our day.

Here are some statistics from the International Osteoporosis Foundation to make you sit up and take notice. Worldwide, osteoporosis causes more than 8.9 million fractures annually, resulting in an osteoporotic fracture every 3 seconds! And, yet again worldwide, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of fifty will experience osteoporotic fractures. How frightening is that?!

And if you need any further encouragement, just take a look at the picture above of a healthy bone and a porous bone – that should definitely be enough to motivate you into action!

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