Osteoporosis is a concern among many people, especially as they age. Osteoporosis is a disease in which bone density and quality decrease. Bones become fragile and porous, increasing the risks of fractures. Bone mass is lost gradually with age, and often there are no symptoms until there is a fracture.
Bones are made of living tissue that changes and grows as we age. Peak bone mass is achieved during childhood and adolescence. After that, bone strength is maintained by a process called remodeling, in which old bone is removed by resorption, and new bone is formed. As adults age, resorption begins to happen at a higher rate than formation, which can lead to bone thinning, or osteoporosis.
While adults do not necessarily build bone mass, following certain lifestyle guidelines can help limit remodeling and resorption so that bone strength is maintained as much as possible. If you are concerned about bone loss, we’ve outlined five ways to prevent osteoporosis:
1. Choose the Right Sources of Calcium
The International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) has a guide for you to find the right amount of calcium-based on age and sex. The best way to get calcium is through food. Dairy products are the most common foods associated with calcium, and they are a good readily-available source. Dairy is also a good source of protein and other nutrients, making it a good choice. Make sure you check to see if you should be using low-fat options, as those are often recommended in many diets.
If you can’t or don’t eat dairy, then there are other sources. People who eat fish may consider canned fish that include edible bones like sardines. The bones are where the calcium comes from. Vegetarians, vegans, and people who don’t like fish can also find calcium in plant-based foods and fortified alternatives:
- Green vegetables like broccoli, bok choy, and curly kale
- Nuts (almonds and Brazil nuts in particular)
- Some fruits including apricots, dried figs, and oranges
- Calcium-set tofu
- Fortified grains, breads, and cereal
- Fortified beverages including fruit juices, mineral water, and soy drinks
Note that some produce has high calcium content, but are not good sources for it because they also contain “oxalates” which prevents the calcium in those foods from being absorbed. Spinach is the most common example of this. Some dried beans and seeds have “phytates,” which have the same effect.
Aim to meet your calcium requirements through dietary choices and only supplement if you can’t meet the recommended amount with what you eat. However, if you need extra calcium and it’s not possible to eat enough calcium-rich foods to get enough, supplements are an option.
Talk to your doctor about the best supplements to use and make sure there are no possible negative interactions with any medications you are currently taking.
2. Get Enough Vitamin D
Getting the right amount of calcium isn’t enough when trying to prevent bone loss. You need to make sure to meet vitamin D requirements in order for the calcium to be absorbed. Exposure to sunlight prompts the skin to make vitamin D3. For most children and adults being exposed to sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes each day is sufficient. Certain foods are also sources of vitamin D3, while other plant sources provide vitamin D2, which is closely related. Check this guide from IOF to see how much vitamin D you might need, and where you can get it.
Food sources of vitamin D are pretty limited, especially if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. The best sources are oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel), liver, and eggs. In some places, you can also find dairy products and grains fortified with it as well. When it comes to vitamin D supplements, also read labels and consult your doctor about which varieties they recommend (if they don’t prescribe them to you).
3. Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices
Making good choices for your overall health will usually also benefit your bone health. Along with making sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D, you need to pay attention to general nutrition and have a balanced diet. Get enough protein and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables for vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Other vitamins and minerals you need to get enough of include zinc, vitamin A, vitamin K, magnesium, homocysteine, and B vitamins.
There are also certain things you should avoid to prevent osteoporosis. Caffeine can interfere with calcium absorption and have a “leaching” effect. Some people have linked carbonated beverages to calcium leaching as well, but there is no proof of this. However, limiting soda is a good idea anyway, as other beverages are healthier (like milk for bone health). Alcohol should also be limited or avoided.
Smoking has also been found to be detrimental to bone health, as well as the health of many other organs and systems. To reduce the risk of bone loss, stop smoking and avoid being exposed to secondhand smoke.
4. Get Regular Exercise
You already know that exercise is good for keeping muscles strong, but did you know it is also important to bone health? Getting certain types of exercise can stimulate the cells that build bones, which will prevent bone loss and maintain strength. But you need to make sure you get the right kind of exercise.
Weight-bearing and resistance exercises can help children build bone density and adults maintain it. Weight-bearing exercises focus on carrying your own body weight against gravity. Examples of weight-bearing exercises include walking, running, dancing, hiking, tennis, and aerobics.
Resistance, or muscle-building, exercises use objects to create an opposing force for your body to work against. Weights and resistance bands are probably the most commonly used tools in resistance training. Water is also a good resisting force, so doing exercises in the pool an option, with the added benefit of being low-impact.
5. Watch Out for Under-Nutrition
While maintaining a healthy weight is important, some people take dieting and food restriction too far in an effort to be thin and suffer from under-nutrition. Young girls and women are at a higher risk for this. Many weight-loss diets result in deficiencies of certain nutrients, including those important to bone health (vitamin D, calcium, and protein).
If you are struggling with disordered eating or undernutrition, seek help from medical professionals and counselors. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has resources to get you started.
Make an Appointment
Paris Orthopedic and Sports Medicine provides patients in Northeast Texas and Southeast Oklahoma with comprehensive orthopedic services, including managing bone health. If you have concerns about bone loss and ways to prevent osteoporosis, call us at (903) 737-0000 to make an appointment. You can also request an appointment online.