Resulting in many thousands of bone fractures every year, osteoporosis, which is characterised by a loss of bone density, can be prevented. The earlier in life you begin to address the problem, the better your chances of avoiding broken bones and pain later on.

What is it?

Osteoporosis, derived from the Latin for ‘porous bones’, is a progressive condition that diminishes the mass (mineral content) of bones and weakens their structure, making them highly susceptible to fractures. Two out of three fractures in women over the age of 60 are the result of osteoporosis, and it also affects 25% of men over the age of 60. No single measure is sufficient to prevent it, but a combination of supplements and lifestyle changes can be effective in limiting damage.

What causes it?

The decline in oestrogen after menopause is related to the dramatic rise of osteoporosis in older women. This hormone helps the body to absorb calcium and keeps the bones strong. (Older men experience osteoporosis as well; but because they have denser bones, bone loss is generally less severe). Lack of regular weight-bearing exercise is another risk factor, as is a diet low in calcium and other nutrients necessary for optimal bone production. Your risk of osteoporosis is also higher if you’re small-boned or underweight; if you have a family history of osteoporosis; or if you’ve taken steroids or anti-convulsant medication for long periods.

What are the symptoms?

  • The first sign can be dramatic: a severe backache or fracture (often of the spine, hip or wrist).
  • Other classic symptoms include a gradual loss of height accompanied by the initially subtle developement of stooped posture (known as dowager’s hump).
  • Dental X-rays may detect early osteoporosis by revealing bone loss in the jaw.

Are there any natural therapies?

Calcium is vital for maintaining bone strength, vitamin D ensures that calcium is well absorbed, and the minerals magnesium and boron help to keep calcium in the bone. Recent research has linked the antioxidant vitamin C to greater bone mass and improved formation of collagen, a protein that strengthens the bones and connective tissue. Also important for mineral absorption and bone health are zinc, copper and manganese. Adding other key vitamins and minerals, such as silicon, vitamin B6 and folic acid, provides further protection.

Click here to see Emed’s Best Calcium Supplements

What else can I do?

  • Take regular weight-bearing exercise (such as walking or lifting weights), in which the legs or other parts of the body meet resistance.
  • Give up smoking. It will help not only your bones but your general health as well.
  • Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks a day.
  • If you are menopausal, consider natural therapies to balance your hormones.
  • Eat foods rich in calcium, such as low-fat dairy products (including yoghurt), canned salmon (including the soft bones), broccoli and almonds.

Did you know?

The human body absorbs only about 10% of the calcium in the foods we eat. This phenomenon has an evolutionary basis: the diet of early people was much higher in calcium than ours is now, so the body compensated by absorbing less.

Further reading