It’s easy to think of our bones and bone structure as nothing but hard substance, out of sight (beneath our skin, of course) and able to take care of itself, only to be tended to when we suffer a fracture or break. The truth is, our bones, to include our teeth, are living tissue in need of our constant care through ingestion of proper nutrition. Any deficiency in such care or nutrition – think calcium and vitamin D, for starters – can mean development of osteoporosis.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a bone disease, its name derived from Latin for “porous bones,” per healthline.com. Our bones are not 100-percent solid; their insides include small spaces throughout, like honeycomb. The occurrence of osteoporosis stretches out the size of those spaces, eventually causing bone to lose strength and density, growing thinner throughout in the process.
More than 53 million Americans have osteoporosis, per healthline.com, or are at least likely to develop it. It can occur at any age, but usually afflicts adults 50 and over, and is more commonly found in women, especially those who are menopausal and beyond. Those who have osteoporosis are more susceptible to fractures, even while performing such basic functions as standing or walking. Ribs, hips and bones in the wrists and spine are the most vulnerable.
- Age. Even when we are kids and going forward, our bones are constantly being recycled – old bone gets broken down and replaced with new bone, albeit at snail’s pace. After we hit our 30’s, the breakdown of bone starts occurring faster than it gets replenished. Gradually, our bones thin out and become more fragile, more likely to break. Osteoporosis only makes it worse.
- Menopause. Menopause takes place in women’s bodies, typically between the ages of 45 and 55, and the change in hormone levels often causes a woman’s body to lose bone density even more quickly than men. Men also see a reduction in bone at the same time, but not to the extent that menopausal women do.
- Medical/medication factors: These can include a condition known as hyperthyroidism and the long-term use of corticosteroids like prednisone or cortisone.
Osteoporosis is a bit like high blood pressure in one respect – you can’t “feel” it. It’s a silent affliction; you can’t feel your bones getting any weaker, as the National Osteoporosis Foundation puts it.
A fractured bone might be the first clue that you have osteoporosis, although other signs could be that you are getting shorter or your upper back is curving forward. That’s the time to see your doctor for an examination, which might also include a bone-density test. Note: it has been predicted by experts that by the year 2025, osteoporosis will be the source of about three million breaks and more than $25 billion in medical costs.
Calcium and Vitamin D
When it comes to bone health, the mineral calcium takes center stage. Calcium is essential to bone composition and density, although our body doesn’t manufacture calcium on its own. We need to provide it for ourselves, through a healthy diet and smart use of nutritional supplements. It must constantly be resupplied – every day we lose some calcium through our skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine and feces.
Vitamin D also plays a huge support role in our bone health, as it helps in the absorption of calcium. This is true for all ages: children need vitamin D to build strong bones, and adults need it to keep their bones healthy and strong. There are two types of Vitamin D supplements – D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol), and both can help with bone health. If you’re considering taking calcium and/or D supplements, be sure to discuss it with your physician or a licensed nutritionist to get guidance. Just be sure to eat right.
Food Sources of Calcium and Vitamin D
- Dairy products. No surprise here. Milk, cheese, and yogurt are the big three, but look for low-fat and non-fat options. Also, some dairy products are fortified with vitamin D.
- Fish. Canned sardines and salmon both have plenty of calcium and vitamin D, while mackerel and tuna have ample vitamin D. (Keep in mind, the best source of vitamin D is sunlight, just not too much of it.)
- Green vegetables. Draxe.com’s top-10 list of calcium-rich foods include kale (cooked), broccoli, okra and bok choy (a Chinese cabbage). Kale is the best of those four, with one cup of cooked kale providing 245 mg of calcium, which is 24 percent of the recommended daily value (DV).
- Nuts and seeds. The best calcium-enriched choices for each are almonds and sesame seeds.
- White beans. This legume tops the list for calcium sources at greatest.com.
- For vitamin D, cod liver oil, caviar, eggs, and mushrooms are good sources, in addition to the fish choices listed above.