The main causes of osteoporosis are reduced production of the hormones estrogen (in women) and testosterone (in men) as we grow older.
It is most common in women after the menopause. However it can also appear in older men and in younger people, usually as a result of hormone deficiencies, sometimes due to calcium deficiency or certain medications.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition defined as low bone mineral density – in other words, weak bones. Weak bones are likely to break more easily and the classic case is a senior lady who frequently falls and breaks wrists, hips and other bones.
The risk of these fractures occurring is increased of course if the person easily loses their balance. This is associated with certain diseases but also happens much more often in elderly people. Poor eyesight also results in more frequent falls.
Broken wrists can make independent living difficult, especially as it is quite common to break both in the same fall. Fractures of major bones like the pelvis are more serious and often require surgery.
Anything which prevents the bones from getting enough calcium can contribute to the causes of osteoporosis.
This can either be because there is not enough calcium in the diet, or because something is preventing the absorption of calcium: for example, heavy smoking.
People are also at increased risk if they are underweight, bedridden or have been exposed to high levels of the metals lead or cadmium.
Osteoporosis can be both prevented and (to a certain extent) treated by two simple measures that will increase bone strength.
Exercise Often To Prevent Osteoporosis
Increasing -bearing exercise can prevent this condition and reduce its effects after it has started.
Weight-bearing exercise does not mean lifting weights, but exercise where the bones have to take the weight of the body. So for example, skipping, jumping, aerobics, walking, running.
Excessive exercise, for example in professional athletes and some anorexics, can have the opposite effect of weakening the bones.
But people who have maintained a good level of physical exercise throughout their lives are much less likely to develop this disease, and people who have been diagnosed can increase their resistance to fractures by gradually exercising more.
Increase Calcium To Prevent Osteoporosis
Calcium is present in the diet and is also easy to supplement. A supplementation level often recommended is 1200 mg calcium plus 800 IU Vitamin D.
However, some sources suggest that supplemented calcium may not be easy for the body to absorb. The same has been said of calcium from dairy products.
Research has yet to provide absolute proof of any of these claims but to prevent osteoporosis it seems wise to ensure that the body receives around 1500 mg of calcium per day from a combination of dairy foods, non-dairy foods and supplementation.
If you are already suffering from osteoporosis, taking other medication or have any condition where calcium supplementation is contraindicated, you should consult your doctor.
List of high calcium foods (source: US Dept of Agriculture Nutrient Database)
Dairy Sources of Calcium
- Sweetened condensed milk – 869 mg calcium per cup
- Ricotta cheese – 509 mg per cup
- Plain skim milk yogurt – 452 mg per 8 oz
- Skim milk – 300 mg per cup
- Milk, 3.25% fat – 290 mg per cup
- Plain whole milk yogurt – 275 mg per 8 oz
- Cheddar cheese – 204 mg per oz
Non-dairy sources of Calcium
- Enriched self-rising cornmeal – 483 mg per cup
- Enriched self-rising white wheat flour – 423 mg per cup
- Frozen collards, cooked – 357 mg per cup
- Frozen rhubarb, cooked with sugar – 348 mg per cup
- Sardines canned with bone – 325 mg per 3 oz
- Frozen spinach, cooked – 277 mg per cup
- Green soybeans, cooked – 261 per cup
- Fresh spinach, cooked – 245 mg per cup
- Cornflakes – 237 mg per 1.33 cups
- Fresh collards, cooked – 226 mg per cup
Any woman who wishes to stay young, active and healthy after the menopause will benefit from understanding the causes of osteoporosis and taking preventive steps now.