This month we speak to Andrew Petrou, a practising Osteopath and registered Dietary Counsellor based in London who has over 10 years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. With May being National Osteoporosis Month, Andrew is sharing some expert advice and understanding of osteoporosis, a common effect of the menopause.
Osteoporosis is a condition that affects the bones. Its name comes from Latin for “porous bones.”
The inside of a healthy bone has small spaces, like a honeycomb. Osteoporosis increases the size of these spaces, causing the bone to lose strength and density. In addition, the outside of the bone grows weaker and thinner. People with osteoporosis are at a high risk of fractures, or bone breaks, while doing routine activities such as standing or walking. The most commonly affected bones are the ribs, hips, and the bones in the wrists and spine.
The early stages of osteoporosis do not cause any symptoms or warning signs. In most cases, people with osteoporosis don’t know they have the condition until they have a fracture. Some of the earlier symptoms, if they appear, may include receding gums, weakened grip strength, weak and brittle nails. If you don’t have any symptoms but have a family history of osteoporosis, talking to your GP or health professional can help you assess your risk.
What are the risk factors?
The biggest risk factor of osteoporosis is age. Throughout your life, your body breaks down old bone and grows new bone. However, when you are in your 30s, your body starts breaking down bone faster than it’s able to replace it. This leads to bone that is less dense and more fragile, and more prone to breakage.
Menopause is another primary risk factor, which occurs in women around the ages of 45 to 55 years. Changes in hormone levels associated with menopause can cause a woman’s body to lose bone even more quickly. Men continue to lose bone at this age, but at a slower rate than women do (by the time men reach 65 to 70yrs, they tend to lose bone at the same rate as women).
Other, general risk factors for osteoporosis include being female, having a family history of osteoporosis, poor nutrition, physical inactivity, smoking, low body weight or a small-boned frame.
You can control some of these risk factors for osteoporosis, such as poor nutrition and inactivity.
A high intake of green and yellow vegetables has been linked to increased bone mineralisation during childhood and the maintenance of bone mass in young adults. Eating lots of vegetables has also been found to benefit older women.
Protein is also crucial for maintaining bone health. In fact, research suggests that older women in particular appear to have better bone density when they consume higher amounts of protein, but this should be balanced alongside plant foods and adequate calcium intake.
To learn more about an eating plan that is right for you, talk to your doctor. They can advise you on your diet or refer you to a registered dietitian who can create a diet or meal plan for you.
To keep your bones healthy, you need to include certain nutrients in your daily diet. The most important ones are calcium and vitamin D. Your body needs calcium to maintain strong bones, and it needs vitamin D to absorb calcium.
Other nutrients that promote bone health include protein, magnesium, vitamin K, and zinc.
Calcium is the most important mineral for bone health, and it is the main mineral found in your bones. Because old bone cells are constantly broken down and replaced by new ones, it is important to consume calcium daily to protect bone structure and strength. The recommended level for calcium is 1,000 mg per day for most people, although teens and older women may require around 1,200 mg.
Vitamin D and vitamin K are extremely important for building strong bones. Vitamin D plays several roles in bone health, including helping your body absorb calcium. Studies have shown that children and adults with low vitamin D levels tend to have lower bone density and are more at risk for bone loss than people who get enough. Try and aim for 1000iu per day.
Vitamin K2 supports bone health by modifying osteocalcin, a protein involved in bone formation. This modification enables osteocalcin to bind to minerals in bones and helps prevent the loss of calcium from bones. Vitamin K2 can also help the body better utilise any excess calcium in the body. Please consult a registered healthcare professional when taking K2 supplements.
Magnesium plays a key role in converting vitamin D into the active form that promotes calcium absorption.
Weight-bearing exercises are performed with either your feet or your arms fixed to the ground or another surface. Examples include climbing stairs, resistance training, such as leg presses, squats, push-ups, and weight training, such as working with resistance bands, dumbbells and/or resistance exercise machines (when you can have access to them).
These exercises help because they cause your muscles to push and pull against your bones. This action tells your body to form new bone tissue, which helps with strengthening. Studies in older men and women who performed weight-bearing exercise showed increases in bone mineral density, bone strength and bone size, as well as reductions in markers of bone turnover and inflammation.
This is not your only benefit from exercise. In addition to its many positive effects on weight and heart health, exercise can also improve your balance and coordination, which can help you avoid falls. Always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
Osteopenia vs osteoporosis
If your doctor tells you that you have osteopenia, you may think you misheard the word “osteoporosis.” However, osteopenia is a separate condition from osteoporosis.
Unlike osteoporosis, osteopenia is not a disease. Rather, it’s the state of having low bone density. With osteopenia, your bones are not as dense as normal, but they’re not as weakened as they are if you have osteoporosis.
In many cases, osteopenia can lead to osteoporosis, so if you have osteopenia, you should take steps to strengthen your bones.