Bones support our bodies, posture and protect organs while supporting our entire body weight. As we grow older, our bones gradually lose their density and strength so it is important to maintain bone health at every stage of life:
Children: Bones are at their highest density when you are young, up to 90% of peak bone mass is acquired by ages 18-20 with the peak reached in the late twenties. It is important to promote bone health and create healthy habits from a young age.
Adults: When we are adults, bone cell formation begins to slow down and bones start to lose strength, which puts us at a greater risk of fractures.
Seniors: Calcium is absorbed less effectively, and you may develop a hunched posture if there are crush fractures in the spine. You are more vulnerable to disorders such as scoliosis, sciatica and slow healing fractures. It is important to try to increase and maintain muscle mass at this stage of life.
Maintaining healthy bones
Our bones are extremely important. The skull protects the brain and gives the face structure, the spinal cord is protected by the vertebrae, the ribs protect the heart and the lungs and the pelvis protects the bladder and intestines. Calcium plays an essential part in maintaining bone health. Almost 99% of the body’s calcium is found in our bones. If your body doesn’t receive enough calcium, it will draw what it needs from your bones which can weaken your bone density and bone strength, eventually leading to diseases such as osteoporosis.
The easiest way to obtain calcium is through your diet. Eat foods high in calcium such as salmon, yogurt, milk, soy-based products, tofu, broccoli, bok choy, silver beet, cucumber, celery, chickpeas, almonds, dried apricots and figs. Not all calcium we consume is absorbed, so a supplement is recommended if you aren’t getting enough in your diet. Chat to your doctor or pharmacist for advice about the most suitable vitamins for you to take.
Vitamin D assists in absorbing calcium and reduces calcium excretion, supports bone growth and helps to maintain healthy bones. Vitamin D deficiency is common in Australia and affects over 30% of adults who experience a mild to severe deficiency. Vitamin D is produced when our skin is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) light from the sun. You may be at risk if affected by other medical conditions that impact your ability to absorb and process Vitamin D or you’re in an older age group. Babies of Vitamin D deficient mothers, may also be affected. Your doctor can examine your Vitamin D levels with a blood test.
To maintain and improve bone density, regular physical activity and weight-bearing exercise plays an important role. There are several benefits to moving more such as reducing the risk of heart disease, improving mental health, reducing the risk of some cancers, improving your sleep and controlling your weight. 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day is recommended. Try brisk walking, jogging, skipping, dancing, aerobics, or sports such as basketball, netball or tennis. Check with your doctor to see what exercise may be suitable for you.
Bone related Diseases
It’s important to be aware of some of the bone related diseases that can develop if we don’t maintain bone health throughout our life.
Osteoarthritis is a common chronic joint disease that develops when cartilage at the ends of the bones become damaged or worn. The entire joint is affected including the bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles. Osteoarthritis can cause the joint to become stiff and painful. Sufferers may experience loss of flexibility, change in appearance, swelling and weakness. Any joint in the body can be affected however it is more common in the knees, spine, hips and hands. Several factors may increase the risk of osteoarthritis such as being overweight, previous joint injuries, family history, age, overuse of joints such as kneeling, squatting and heavy lifting. Osteoarthritis is diagnosed by a doctor examining your joints, and will often include an X-ray. Your doctor will also take your symptoms into consideration. Your doctor may recommend treatment to control symptoms, however there is no cure apart from joint replacement as a last resort, and in specific cases.
Hip Dysplasia occurs when a person’s hip joint does not develop properly. It is usually detected in babies as they are examined in their first few days of life and then regularly when they are young. Adults may experience symptoms later in life and be affected by the disease. If it is diagnosed early, it can be corrected. Left untreated, it can damage the joints over the years, cause pain and arthritis which may lead to a hip replacement. Symptoms include sharp pain, especially in the groin area. It is common to feel pain after sport, rotating your hips, standing up from a seated position, climbing in an out of a car or walking downstairs. Treatments for babies can include wearing a brace, a cast or in some circumstances, surgery. For adults, treatment can be anti-inflammatory medicines, injections, physiotherapy and sometimes surgery if required. It is recommended to stretch, exercise with gentle low-impact movements to stay healthy. Always check with your doctor or physiotherapist beforehand to ensure you aren’t putting too much pressure on your hips.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes your bones to become relatively fragile. Bone is broken down faster than new bone cells are produced. The condition leaves sufferers more prone to fractures, potentially causing chronic pain and disability. It is normal to have no symptoms of having the disease until a fracture occurs. Although it can be diagnosed at any stage in your life, it is more common as you get older. The earlier you are diagnosed, the better your chance of recovering.
Women are at a greater risk as they age due to the rapid decline in oestrogen levels, as bones lose calcium at a faster rate. Pre-existing conditions such as low hormone levels, thyroid conditions, some chronic diseases and long-term use of corticosteroids may also put you at risk. Life style factors such as low physical activity, previous fractures, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and being overweight may also increase your vulnerability. Chat with your doctor to see if a bone density scan is necessary, to determine if any action is needed to improve your bone health.
If you are concerned, visit your doctor for an examination and treatment plan if required
Chat to your Ramsay Pharmacist for advice
Look after yourself – get regular exercise, eat well, get plenty of rest and look after your joints