Bone health: Why it may start with your diet
Aging comes with a host of changes from the onset of wrinkles and muscle pain to weakening bones. Unfortunately, aging also increases our susceptibility to falls and fractures. Up to half of all women and a quarter of all men will experience a fracture, often resulting from thinning bones, during their lifetimes.
The good news: Brittle bones aren’t inevitable. It's one thing to treat a fracture and it's another to prevent the fracture. The best approach is a proactive one.
Eating for bone health
As we get older, we have a more difficult time maintaining bone mass. In fact, after age 50, both men and women begin to lose about 1% of bone mass each year — and it speeds up dramatically for postmenopausal women.
Fortunately, there are many ways to preserve bone health over time — and diet plays a key role. Here are steps you can take to bolster your bones by nourishing them from the inside out.
- Start young: Unfortunately, we can't build bone during our golden years the way we did when we were younger. We reach peak bone mass during our mid-30s, so the best bet is to bolster your bones in your teens and 20s.
- Get enough calcium: A diet rich in calcium can help protect your bones. Good calcium sources include low-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese), sardines, leafy greens and fortified foods. If you're eating two to three servings of dairy daily and plenty of leafy veggies, you should meet your daily calcium needs (1,000 milligrams for men; 1,200 milligrams for women).
- Pay attention to vitamin D: Vitamin D also plays a key role in bone health, but it's hard to obtain from food alone. A glass of milk only contains about 100 international units (IUs), while vitamin D recommendations hover around 400 to 800 IUs daily. Depending on age and sun exposure, many people require 1,000-2,000 IUs daily. Concerned you’re not getting enough vitamin D? Ask your doctor to test your levels.
- Say goodbye to dark soda: Studies suggest that people who drink dark soda daily have lower bone mineral density than those who sip less than once each week. Researchers suspect the phosphoric acid in cola leaches calcium from the bones.
- Mind your medications: Certain medications can interfere with your body's ability to absorb bone-building nutrients like calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamin D. Others can compromise bone turnover and thin the bones directly.
Become bone smart
Most people who have a balanced diet don't need supplements to get sufficient bone-building nutrients. But others are at increased risk of thinning bones, including:
- People who have chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis
- People who eat a poor diet low in nutrients
- People who have an immediate family member who suffered a fracture in their 50s or 60s
- People who have suffered a broken or fractured bone
If you fall into one of those categories, don't wait to get checked out. Thinning bones are a big deal. Bone density can disappear quickly after age 50, increasing risk of complications ranging from osteoporosis to fractures and falls.
While there’s no cure for brittle bones, a combination of medications and supplementation can help protect your skeleton. If you’re concerned, meet with a nutritionist to assess your nutrient status and learn how to adopt a bone-healthy diet. And see your health care provider to determine ways you can bolster your bones.
To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
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Ryan Desgrange, MS, PA-C, is a physician assistant with Henry Ford Health System. He is the Advanced Practice Provider Director for Henry Ford's Orthopedic Service Line.