Support your support system

June 1, 2020

How often do you consider the health of your bones

June is National Osteoporosis Month, a timely reminder that as a disease, Osteoporosis is something we can do a lot about preventing if we consider it soon enough. Often referred to as the ‘silent disease’ because whilst over 3 million people in the UK are estimated to have it, most people are not aware of it until after breaking a bone.

Bone is living tissue and will replace itself throughout our lives. As with many body systems and functions, time plays a role and we reach maximum bone density between the ages of around 30 and 40. As we get older, it is much easier for the body to break down the old bone tissue than to create new tissue and our bones can become weaker. For a large percentage of the population this can lead to osteoporosis where the bones become very weak and fragile. It can also be very painful.

As many as one in two women and one in five men will suffer from osteoporosis as they age, thankfully there is a lot we can do to help ourselves build a good bone density to give us extra protection as we age. The Royal Osteoporosis Society produces a lot of supportive information and a quiz to test how at risk you might be.

Over 3 million people in the UK are believed to suffer from osteoporosis.

For most conditions, we are always told that being overweight can increase a risk, it is no different for bone health, but being underweight can also be an issue. Bones build better when they have to work harder, so if a body is very light the bones don’t have to work so hard and as we get older this may not be a good thing.

Weight bearing exercise is a great way to help maintain good bone health. It doesn’t need to mean lifting weights! It could be regular brisk walking, light weights, resistance exercises even dancing can help. Exercises where the body is supported such as swimming, although ideal for cardiovascular health is not so beneficial for bone strength.

Maximum bone density is usually reached by the mid 30s.

Good health is always underpinned by a healthy diet and bone density is no exception. Calcium and vitamin D are two nutrients that are needed for bone health, so foods rich in both of these nutrients are important. You can find calcium in dairy foods, cheese, seeds and nuts. Vitamin D is present in oily fish, dairy products and a key source is exposing the skin to sunlight allowing the body to make its own vitamin D. For this natural conversion to occur you need to be in the sun without any sun cream, body lotions or coverings, which is not always advisable if you are like to burn. With the current lockdown situation, even with some restrictions removed, there are concerns that people will not be outside enough to manufacture vitamin D from sunlight, so Public Health England advise everyone to take a vitamin D supplement.

The Royal Osteoporosis Society have identified those that are most at risk from a vitamin D deficiency. They include:

  • Older people > 65 years
  • People who have low or no exposure to the sun, for example those who cover their skin for cultural reasons, who are housebound or who are confined indoors for long periods
  • People who have darker skin, for example people of African, African-Caribbean or South Asian origin, because their bodies are not able to make as much vitamin D
  • It is recommended that people aged > 65 years and those who are not exposed to much sun should also take a daily supplement containing 10 ?g (400 IU) of vitamin D

There are many forms of vitamin D available, when finding a supplement look for Vitamin D3, cholecalciferol, a vegetarian form that is very easily absorbed by the body. It is available in capsules and drops so easy to give to all the family.

We can manufacture vitamin D from sunlight, but due to current lockdown situations, it is being recommended for more people to take a supplement.

Calcium also comes in a variety of forms, if you are considering bone health, it is worth looking for the ones that offer the best absorption and utilisation. Calcium may be relatively easy to get from the diet, but in at-risk groups it might be necessary to increase intake.

Although a multivitamin will contain a wide range of nutrients, it may not be sufficient for specific bone health maintenance. Ook for a formulation designed for bones with a good spectrum of specific nutrients in their best forms. MCHC is an excellent way to get your calcium, a freeze dried extrace of bovine bone rather than a regular bone meal supplement is a source of calcium that is considered one of the best for bone building and maintenance.

It is not just Calcium and Vitamin D that play a role, other nutrients are also important.

Another important mineral is Magnesium, in fact around two thirds of the magnesium in the body can be found in the bones. So it is easy to see why it is important to have a regular intake. As with many nutrients, there are synergistic effects and Magnesium works well with nutrients including Vitamin D and Calcium, again illustrating that not one thing has the answers, balance in your diet and supplements is so important.

Calcium and Magnesium are macro minerals that we need a decent amount in our diets, but they are supported by the trace minerals. As the name suggests, a trace or very small amount is all we need, but they still have a vital role to play.

Zinc, Copper, Manganese and Boron are all trace minerals and research suggests that they are all co-factors for the enzymes that are involved in bone metabolism. So it is a good idea to ensure you have an intake of these too, they also support the function of each other, in particular the relationship between Zinc and Copper. Copper plays a role in producing an enzyme that strengthens collagen, but it is itself dependent on adequate Zinc for absorption.

Boron is also being highlighted in research for its role in bone health. It appears to reduce the urinary excretion of Calcium and Magnesium, so another key nutrient to consider.

It is important to consider the trace minerals as well as the better known ones such as Calcium and Magnesium.

Vitamin K2 has a similar role to Vitamin D when it comes to bone health, it aids the absorption and utilisation of calcium from the diet and supplements helping take it from the digestive tract to the bones. There are a number of forms of K2, the most effective forms as MK-4 and MK-7, so look carefully at your labels.

Overall, the more we do in early and middle years will help ensure that we have healthy and strong bones as we head into later life. For women, strong bones prior to the menopause, when a big decrease in bone density can be triggered due to hormonal changes, can make a massive difference as to how likely they are to experience bone health issues.

As always, a good balanced diet, the right supplements and taking part in appropriate and regular exercise can make the world of difference in the long term.

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