24 March 2006

Preventing osteoporosis now

How many teenagers or young women give osteoporosis a second thought? They really should though, the experts say.

How many teenagers or young women give osteoporosis a second thought? They really should though, the experts say.

Having osteoporosis later in life is no joke. It can make people vulnerable to fractures, as their bone mass decreases and their bones become porous and brittle. Multiple fractures can cause a great deal of suffering, be the reason for expensive surgery and can even result in death.

But the good news is that osteoporosis, unlike many other diseases, is one of those conditions which can be prevented. This can be done by consuming enough calcium, and getting enough exercise. Later in life, calcium supplements could be a good idea.

Taking in enough calcium
Almost 90 percent of girls and 70 percent of boys are not consuming enough calcium to ensure strong bones in later years and to prevent osteoporosis, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Many girls think dairy products are fattening and are only consuming about 740 milligrams of it per day. They should be getting between 1200 and 1300 milligrams per day.

Four glasses of milk should do the trick. Cheese and yoghurt are also high in calcium. But dairy products are not the only source of calcium – sardines, tofu and green vegetables are all rich in this mineral as well.

A major problem in western societies is that teenage girls are consuming more and more soft drinks, and less and less milk. According to the USDA, the consumption of soft drinks among girls aged between 12 and 19 increased from 207 milligrams to 396 milligrams a day, while milk consumption fell from 303 to 189 milligrams per day.

Building of healthy bones and strong teeth during childhood and adolescence will help prevent osteoporosis in later life.

Getting enough exercise
If you spend your life on the couch watching TV, and never get any exercise apart from pushing a shopping trolley, your bones will bear the consequences.

Weight-bearing exercises, such as running and resistance training, where you have to push against your body weight, or against weights, apparatus or elastic bands, are essential for building strong bone structure.

Walking is an excellent and easy means of exercise and provides the necessary skeletal benefit and protection. Brisk walking for 30 – 45 minutes three times a week is adequate. While all resistance training enhances muscle and skeletal strength, it must be performed cautiously in patients at high risk for osteoporosis.

What influences the loss of peak bone mass?

  • Genetic factors, such as being born with a lighter skeleton than other people
  • Sedentary living – load-bearing exercise helps prevent osteoporosis
  • The low intake of calcium and protein
  • Gender – women have lower peak bone mass than men do. But one in three people who get osteoporosis is a man
  • Race – Caucasians and Asians have lower peak bone mass than black people do
  • Cigarette smoking decreases peak bone mass
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Anorexia

Tips on getting enough calcium

  • Adult women need about 1000 mg of calcium a day. This can be done by eating dairy products or taking calcium supplements
  • One glass of milk supplies about 300 mg or more of calcium per day
  • Low-fat varieties of dairy products have as much calcium as full-cream products, so dairy products should not be avoided for reasons of weight loss
  • Some people, who are allergic to other dairy products, are able to eat yoghurt without too many ill effects. If this does not work for you, try a calcium supplement.
  • Postmenopausal women over 40 should take in about 1500 mg of calcium a day
  • Regular magnesium intake improves your body’s ability to absorb calcium. But it is important that this be taken in the right proportion to calcium. Speak to your GP or pharmacist about this.

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Healthy Bones

Tereza is the CEO of the National Osteoporosis Foundation and worked as a Nursing Sister in the field of Osteoporosis for 18 years prior to her appointment with the Foundation. She used to be the Educational Officer for the Foundation and co-wrote the patient brochure on Osteoporosis. Read more

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