Women are prone to the bone disease osteoporosis when they get older and the time to protect their bones is when they are young. Taking care of your bones when you are young is the best insurance you can give yourself. Strengthening your bones now so you are less prone to problems in later life is the best advice we can give you. We tell you how to protect your bones.
Young women often don’t take practical measures to ensure their bones stay strong. They think osteoporosis is a disease for older women, not knowing the onset of the condition starts from an early age if bones are not given the attention they deserve. Osteoporosis is the thinning of bones, which weakens them making them more likely to break. One in two women over the age of 50 will break a bone, mainly because of osteoporosis.
You are at an increased risk if you have a family history of the condition or have ever exercised or participated in a sporting activity, such as running, so hard that your periods stopped. You are also more likely to suffer from osteoporosis if you have suffered from an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, or if you smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol or go through an early menopause. If you are concerned about your bone health ask your doctor for a bone scan, which helps determine if your bones are thinning. Osteoporosis can result in death if not treated so don’t ignore it. Make bone density checks one of your “well-woman” checks when you get to the early forties.
To shield yourself from this condition you will need to boost calcium and vitamin D intake in your diet from the time you start menstruating. Calcium is crucial for maintaining peak bone mass. You should have 700mg of calcium a day – the equivalent of a glass (200ml) of milk, a pot (150g) of yoghurt, 100g of watercress, a matchbox size piece (30g) of cheese or 100g of sardines in tomato sauce. Broccoli, cabbage, fortified cereals and soya products are also good sources of calcium.
You can talk to your doctor about taking a supplement to up your calcium and vitamin D. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and the best source is sunlight. Aim to get 15-20 minutes of sun exposure to your skin every day so that your body can store enough vitamin D. Also eat oily fish such as tuna and salmon, eggs, milk and margarine to ensure you are getting enough of this vital vitamin.
The other important activity that strengthens your bones is exercise. Get regular weight bearing exercise to help build your bone density. Weight training, jogging and dancing are all good exercises for your bones. If you are not able to go to a gym, invest in some weights, which you can use at home for weight training. You should do at least 30 minutes of exercise six days a week, ensuring this is a mix of weights and aerobics.
Nicotine in cigarette smoke as well as excessive alcohol intake are bad for your bones. Smoking inhibits bone construction cells from doing their work while alcohol depletes calcium reserves and also reduces absorption of calcium and key nutrients. Stop smoking and limit your alcohol intake to one drink a day.
You should also limit caffeine, salt and fizzy drink intake. Caffeine can block calcium absorption while phosphoric acid in the fizzy drinks can cause the body to use more calcium. A lot of sodium in your diet can also increase the amount of calcium the body excretes through urine so consume sensible amounts of salt.
If your periods stop because of over-exercising or under-eating, it means your fat levels are too low and this makes your levels of the bone-protecting oestrogen plummet. You must therefore ensure you consume enough calories each day to cover your body’s needs. The more active you are, the more calories you need. If you are on a diet, ensure you are still getting enough of the nutrients required for your bone health. Ask your doctor to tell you your ideal weight for your age and height and see a dietician and nutritionist for advice on how to maintain that weight and also ensure you are not missing out on vital nutrients.
The other contributor to osteoporosis is stress. Studies have shown that every time the stress hormone cortisol is released, calcium is called out of the bones to help prepare the body for danger and this contributes to bone loss. Try to reduce your stress levels by practicing some form of stress relieving activities each day. Try yoga and meditation; take a warm relaxing bath – add relaxing aromatherapy oils such as lavender; take a sauna and steam bath and have a full body massage. Avoid stressful situations and ensure you get your ‘me’ time as often as you can to be alone doing things you love to do. Your bones will thank you for doing these little things and your old age will be without the pain of broken bones, lack of mobility and reduced enjoyment of life.
Published on May 2013