Osteoporosis, which means "porous bone," causes bones to thin so much that even a minor fall or bump can cause a fracture. A break can happen on any part of the body, but fractures of the wrist, hip, and spine are among the most common.
It's important to keep your bones strong at any age, but it's especially important to protect them as you age. After age 50, weakened bones can lead to painful fractures for one in two women and one in four men. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do at home and with your doctor's help to reduce your risk of fractures.
At Burlington Medical Center, Sam Morayati, MD, provides comprehensive internal medicine and endocrinology care to patients in the Burlington, North Carolina, area. If you have osteoporosis or are at risk of weak bones, Dr. Morayati can help improve your bone health. Keep reading to find out what you should know about keeping your bones strong as you age.
Bone health and you
Osteoporosis is sneaky because we can’t feel what’s happening inside our bones. Throughout our life, a team of specialized cells is constantly updating the microscopic framework of collagen and minerals, including calcium, that keeps bones strong. Bone health is a never-ending highway reconstruction project. Old bone is constantly broken down and replaced daily with new bone.
Bone density reaches its peak in your early twenties, and from then until about age 50, the body maintains a healthy balance between bone formation and breakdown. After 50, breakdown begins to outpace formation, leading to a gradual loss in bone density.
The risk for osteoporosis is higher in women because they typically have smaller, less dense bones than men. This concern increases at menopause, when levels of bone-bolstering estrogen fall. However, men are also at risk for developing osteoporosis if they have a family history of osteoporosis-related fractures.
Certain medical conditions and medications increase the risk of weak bones. This includes conditions like overactive thyroid, overactive parathyroid, chronic lung disease, cancer, endometriosis, and a vitamin D deficiency. Additionally, medications like prednisone can reduce bone density.
Other risk factors include:
- Low calcium intake
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Eating disorders
- Low estrogen
- Regularly drinking excess alcohol
- Long-term use of corticosteroids
If you have risk factors, Dr. Morayati can work with you to protect your bone health.
Keeping your bones strong
Calcium is essential for strong bones — a nutrient that many people don't get enough of. Luckily, food sources of calcium are packed with other nutrients that support bone health, such as protein and magnesium.
If you find it difficult to meet your calcium needs through food, supplements are a great alternative. Older adults should aim for 1,000 mg of calcium daily. Low fat dairy, leafy greens, beans, and calcium-fortified foods are excellent sources of calcium.
Get enough vitamin D
Vitamin D has a synergistic relationship with calcium in keeping bones strong. Enough vitamin D helps with calcium absorption and incorporation into bones. It’s recommended that you get 600 IU of vitamin D per day through age 70 and 800 IU per day after age 70. Getting out in the sun is the primary source of vitamin D.
Spending as little as 15 minutes outdoors allows the skin to produce adequate vitamin D. Despite this, vitamin D deficiency is common, especially in people with darker skin tones, in those who spend little time outdoors, and in people living in geographic areas that get less sunlight.
Don’t forget about potassium and protein
Potassium plays a role in keeping bones strong too — it helps improve calcium metabolism. Most adults don't get enough potassium. Rich sources include fruits and vegetables, especially bananas, potatoes, tomato juice, acorn squash, lima beans, and spinach. It’s recommended that you get 4,700 mg of potassium daily.
Additionally, protein is important for bone health — it helps with bone healing and contributes to bone strength. Bone is composed of interlocked strands of protein with minerals and calcium attached.