Bone Health

Patrika Tsai Health Guide
  • As we get older, we have a higher likelihood of developing osteoporosis, which refers to weakened or fragile bones. Fragile bones lead to an increased risk for fractures which can be particularly debilitating in the elderly, whose bones do not heal well. For example, hip fractures from a fall can lead to significant complications such as reduced mobility. Osteoporosis may also lead to loss of height and the stooped, hunched over posture seen in some older people.

    Osteoporosis affects as many as 1 in 2 women and 1 in 8 men over the course of their lifetime. The best test for osteoporosis is a DEXA scan. This test is like a fancy x-ray that measures bone density.
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    Hormones play an important role in bone health. As women go through menopause, estrogen levels fall. Estrogen protects bones by preventing bone loss. When estrogen levels decrease, bones loss increases. Stress can also have a negative impact on bone density by raising levels of the hormone cortisol. In excess, cortisol leads to bone loss.

    Another risk factor for osteoporosis is genetics. People with small frames are at increased risk for developing osteoporosis. People of Caucasian or Asian descent are also at higher risk compared to people of Hispanic or African American heritage.

    While we cannot do anything about our genes, there are several lifestyle factors that we can change. Avoiding smoking and alcohol lowers the risk for osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercise helps the body build up and maintain bone density.

    Proper nutrition is essential for healthy bones. People with eating disorders are at increased risk for developing osteoporosis because of changes in hormone levels that increase bone loss. Keeping one’s weight at a healthy level helps hormones remain in balance, which protects the bones.

    An adequate amount of calcium in the diet is also important. Studies show that less than half of all young women actually take an adequate amount of calcium each day. How much calcium you need each day depends on your age as follows: young children 200-500 mg, children 800 mg, teenagers 1,300 mg, adults 1,000 mg, and adults over 50 years old 1,200 mg.

    Calcium can come from either food or supplements. Dairy products are a good source of calcium. An 8-oz. glass of milk has about 300 mg of calcium. While some may have concerns about the fat content in cheese, many types are available in reduced fat versions. An ounce of cheddar cheese has 210 mg of calcium.

    Even vegetables and beans can be good sources of calcium. One cup of broccoli has 180 mg, and one cup of tofu has 100-200 mg. Fish is another source. A 3-oz. serving of salmon (canned, with bones) has 170 mg.
    Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamin D can also come from food or supplements and is produced by the body when exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D intake should be 400-800 International Units (IU) each day. An 8-oz glass of milk has about 100 IU, and a 3-oz. serving of salmon had about 300 IU.

  • In summary, how can we protect our bones? Try to reduce stress if possible. Minimize alcohol and exposure to tobacco products. Exercise, eat a proper diet, and get a little sunlight. These steps will maximize your chances for strong, healthy bones.
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Published On: October 12, 2006