← Articles05 May 2020
Let food be your medicine – osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a bone condition that affects many people over 70. Little by little, bone density declines and bones become more fragile. However, a lot can be done to prevent osteoporosis or even reverse it to some degree.
Just like other parts of the body, bones continually replace themselves, removing old bone tissue and growing new. At about 30 years old, bone density stops increasing. During their 40s and 50s, most people tend to lose more old bone tissue than they replace. Bones can become weaker if the honeycomb gaps inside the bones get larger and the hard walls become thinner.
For more information about osteoporosis, visit the Osteoporosis New Zealand site.
Women are more at risk
Although osteoporosis can occur at any stage of life, the risk increases with age and it’s more common in women. Men tend to have greater bone density to begin with and women lose bone mass more quickly than men, particularly after menopause. From around 70 years of age[i], the rate of loss is about the same for men and women.
Exercise, calcium and vitamin D are vital
There’s a wide range of factors that can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis, but the main reasons are a lack of weight-bearing exercise and not getting enough calcium and vitamin D.
Many women over 65 who may be at risk are advised by their doctor to have a bone density scan. A diagnosis of low bone mass, also known as osteopenia, is a useful warning to focus on improving bone density to avoid osteoporosis later in life. GPs and dietitians can help with nutrition and diet advice to help prevent osteoporosis, as well as how to avoid falls.
Preventative steps for everyone
Even for those who haven’t been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis, it’s a good idea to take preventative steps. This includes regular weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, jogging, climbing stairs, dancing and playing sports like tennis. It’s also important to get enough calcium and vitamin D.
Below are some helpful tips about best foods for osteoporosis. It’s worth noting that consuming excessive amounts of these nutrients, or taking unnecessary supplements, is unlikely to add any additional benefit.
Sources of calcium
There is some disagreement among specialists on how much calcium older adults need each day. Recent evidence suggests 500mg a day is sufficient, but some are still recommending up to 1000mg. Osteoporosis New Zealand says two servings of dairy products, or 500mg calcium, a day is likely to be sufficient[ii]. A 200ml glass of high-calcium milk (yellow top) provides more than 400mg of calcium.
Foods for bone health include[iii]:
- Cheese, milk and other dairy foods, such as yoghurt
- Leafy green vegetables, such as cabbage, bok choy and broccoli, but
not spinach - it contains oxalic acid which hinders calcium absorption
- Tinned sardines and pilchards, provided you eat the softened bones
- Tofu, almonds, brazil nuts, soya beans and soya drinks with added calcium
- Wholegrain bread
Sources of vitamin D
Vitamin D helps to increase calcium absorption, which helps to build stronger bones. However, smoking and too much salt, protein or caffeine can cause a loss of calcium.
When the sun shines on your skin, you produce vitamin D and this is by far the easiest source for most people. If you are confined to the indoors, usually wear clothes that cover most of your skin or you have dark skin, you are more at risk of not getting enough vitamin D. If so, talk to your doctor or another medical professional about taking vitamin D supplements.
Osteoporosis New Zealand says that taking these supplements when you’re not vitamin D deficient will not improve your bone health. They also say most healthy New Zealand adults who live independently do not require vitamin D
While it can be challenging to get vitamin D from your diet, some foods can help. Good sources of vitamin D include[v]:
- Oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel and salmon
- Spreads, cereals and powdered milks that have been fortified
with extra vitamin D
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