Our bones might seem solid and static, but they actually are undergoing constant change. In a process called remodeling, bones replace old material with new bone. Bones get their structure and hardness from calcium, but that mineral also is critical to the function of muscles, nerves, and blood circulation. So, if the body gets low on calcium, it breaks down bone mass to release the vital mineral.
As young people grow and develop, bone creation outpaces the breaking down of old bone material. As we age past age 30 or so, that ratio starts to shift and bone mass tends to decline. It becomes increasingly important to protect bone health and slow bone loss as much as possible.
Factors That Affect Bone Health
Several risk factors are associated with lower bone density and weak bones:
- Hormone balance. Estrogen, testosterone, and other hormones help regulate bone strength. As estrogen levels drop in women and testosterone drops in men, bone loss can accelerate.
- Sex. Women are more at risk than men, because they have less bone mass to start with.
- Age. Aging affects bone quality and density, and the risk of osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones, increases with age.
- Race. People who are white or of Asian descent are more at risk for bone loss
- Medications. Some medications, including corticosteroids and thyroid medicines for an underactive thyroid, may affect bone density and increase fracture risks.
- Lifestyle. Smoking and excessive alcohol drinking can negatively affect bone health. A lack of exercise also leads to bone breakdown. Proper diet is important, too. Calcium and vitamin D are so important to bone health that doctors may recommend taking supplements for them.
- Eating issues. Restricting food intake and being underweight can weaken bone structure. Weight-loss surgery and illnesses like celiac disease may also affect calcium intake
Tips to Keep Bones Healthy
There are several steps a person can take to promote bone health. They also tend to be good for overall health.
Proteins and essential vitamins and minerals help maintain bone density and fight bone diseases.
- Calcium. This is the most abundant mineral in the body. The National Institutes of Health recommends a daily intake of 1,000 mg for men age 51 to 70 and women age 19-50; and 1,200 mg for men over 70 and women over 50. Good calcium sources include dairy products, soy products, kale, broccoli, and canned salmon with bones. Your body absorbs calcium better if you spread the intake throughout the day. For people who have trouble getting enough calcium through their diet, like people who are lactose intolerant, a doctor may recommend a calcium supplement.
- Vitamin D. The body needs this to absorb calcium, and vitamin D helps the immune system, muscles, and nerves to function. The National Institutes of Health recommends a daily intake of 600 international units (IU) for from age 19 to 70; and 800 IU for those over 71. Good sources are oily fish (tuna, whitefish, salmon, trout), fish liver oils, eggs, and vitamin D-fortified milk and other foods. Consult with your doctor on whether you need vitamin D supplements.
- Other important foods. Protein is one of the main components of bone. Studies have shown a link between a low-protein diet and bone loss, as well as between higher-protein diets and bone density. Vegetables and the vitamin C they contain are important for bone health. Certain levels of vitamin K, magnesium and zinc are needed too.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being underweight increases the risk of bone loss and fractures. Being overweight can increase the risk of falls and may reduce a person’s tendency to get regular exercise, which is important for good bone health. Also, repeatedly losing and regaining weight can be detrimental to bone health.
Regular weight-bearing exercise, like walking, jogging, dancing, and climbing stairs, stimulates bone formation and builds bone strength. Strength training, such as weight lifting, benefits bone health as it builds muscles. Those exercises, as well as non-weight-bearing exercises like yoga and tai chi, promote good balance and help reduce the risk of falling and subsequent fractures.
Smoking has been linked to bone mass loss, and nicotine appears to inhibit bone-forming cells. Health experts recommend limiting alcohol use, because heavy drinking may reduce bone mass while increasing a person’s chances of falling.
Most broken bones result from falls at home, so arranging your home to minimize the chance of falling is good for bone health. Examples of safety measures include:
- Check for and address any slippery surfaces, area rugs, electrical cords or other tripping hazards.
- Keep rooms brightly lit.
- Wear low-heeled shoes with nonslip soles.
- Install grab bars by shower doors and toilets.
- Use a bed that’s easy to get into and out of
Maintain Good Bone Health
Our Department of Rheumatology specializes in diseases that affect bones, ligaments, joints, and muscles. If you have concerns about bone health, contact us today for an appointment.
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