How Young People Can Improve Bone Health

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I’ve reached that certain age when I need to start worrying about osteoporosis. But a recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that people who are much younger than I am may be losing bone density, which can lead to an increased risk of fractures. In fact, the story reported that secondary osteoporosis is being found in 60 percent of men and 50 percent of premenopausal women.

    This type of osteoporosis can be caused by a number of chronic diseases (such as cancer, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease), medications (such as reflux drugs, blood thinners, corticosteroids and depression drugs), as well as a combination of a chronic condition and a medication. Secondary osteoporosis also is being diagnosed in people who have had bariatric surgery for weight loss, as well as patients who take hormonal treatments to prevent breast or prostate cancer.

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    In secondary osteoporosis, the disease(s) and/or drug(s) hamper how the body rebuilds bones and absorbs nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D. To prevent brittle bones that can lead to fragility, injury and disability, experts are encouraging doctors to identify younger patients who are at risk. The identification process includes a bone mineral density test, which can tell whether a person has normal bone density, osteopenia (low bone density) or osteoporosis; this test is the only one that can diagnose osteoporosis.


    However, many doctors may not think about encouraging younger patients to be assessed since the bone mineral density test is primarily recommended for older adults -- women age 65 and older, men age 70 and older, adults over 50 who have broken a bone, menopausal women with risk factors, postmenopausal women under the age of 65 with risk factors, and men age 50-69 with risk factors.

    Therefore, it’s really important for younger people to make lifestyle choices to support bone health. Two of the major areas to focus on are diet and physically activity (which is actually a really important one since being inactive hastens bone loss).

    So let’s talk about diet first.


    In a recent sharepost, I looked at the foods that you should include in your diet. It turns out that dairy isn’t always the best choice. Instead, you can find bone-strengthening nutrients in a balanced diet that includes some surprising types of foods, including collard greens, sesame seeds, tofu, asparagus, crimini mushrooms, lentils, split peas, beans, cauliflower, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, green beans, navel oranges, barley and raisins.


    The National Orthopedic Foundation added some additional foods to this list, suggesting you also should eat okra, tomato products, artichokes, plantains, broccoli, fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines), papaya, bananas, prunes, red peppers, green peppers, grapefruits, strawberries, papaya, pineapples, olive oil, blueberries, flaxseed oils, tea and Brussels sprouts. Fortified foods (such as juices, soy milk and breakfast foods also are good choices. And the foundation warns of a couple of foods to stay away from diet-wise – excessive amounts of alcohol, colas and salt found in processed foods and canned foods). However, the foundation points out that some studies have found that moderate consumption of wine and beer may be good for your bones.

  • And surprisingly, the timing of what you eat may cause issues. For instance, some studies have found that consuming 100 percent wheat bran may reduce the absorption of calcium from other foods that you eat at the same time.

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    Exercise also is a key area to focus on to protect bone health. Specifically, you should focus on weight-bearing exercises (such as dancing, hiking, jumping rope, jogging, low-impact aerobics, and tennis) and muscle-strengthening exercises (lifting weights, using exercise bands and lifting your own body weight in exercises, such as the plank). Non-impact exercises (such as Tai Chi) also can be beneficial by helping you improve balance, thus reducing the risk of falls.

    Bone health isn’t something to take for granted. If you’re a young adult who already is experiencing bone loss, you need to work with your doctor to come up with a plan to protect your bones. Diet and exercise are just the first important steps you’ll need to take to make sure your bones remain sturdy throughout your lifetime.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Landro, L. (2014). Osteoporosis gets younger: Risk to bones from treating other diseases. The Wall Street Journal.

    National Osteoporosis Foundation. (ND). Exercise for strong bones.

    National Osteoporosis Foundation. (ND). Food and your bone health.

    National Osteoporosis Foundation. (ND). Having a bone density test.

Published On: March 06, 2014