Did you know over 60% of Australians suffer from low bone mineral density? Osteoporosis, which affects over 1 million Australians, is a condition in which bones become thinner and more fragile, making them more likely to break easily, even as a result of a minor fall, a bump or sneeze.

What is osteoporosis?

This disease makes bones become brittle leading to a higher risk of breaks than in normal bone. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, more quickly than the body can replace them, causing a loss of bone thickness (bone density or mass).

Fractures caused by osteoporosis can be life threatening and can cause significant ongoing pain and long-term disability. In fact, in Australia alone, there is one osteoporosis-related fracture every 3.5 minutes, which equates to 395 fractures per day.

What are the risk factors?

There are a number of risk factors including:

  • Gender (Women have a greater risk because of the steep decline in oestrogen levels during menopause)
  • Early menopause
  • Low physical activity and exercise levels
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Low calcium intake
  • Low vitamin D levels
  • Weight (thin body build or excessive weight)
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Lower hormone levels (early menopause in women and low testosterone in men)
  • Long-term use of some medications such as corticosteroids and antidepressants
  • Some chronic diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, chronic liver or kidney diseases)
  • Malabsorption conditions such as coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease

Anyone with risk factors for osteoporosis should be investigated by their doctor. Anyone over 50 who experiences a broken bone from a minor bump or fall should be investigated for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is just an “old lady disease”. In fact almost a quarter of all people with osteoporosis are men, and men and women in their 50’s have recently been diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Can it be prevented?

Osteoporosis is a silent disease and often remains undiagnosed, even when a fracture has occurred. The good news however is that it can be prevented, diagnosed and managed if action is taken early.

Regular exercise

  • Regular physical activity and exercise plays an important role in maintaining or improving bone density
  • Bones become stronger when we stress them and a certain amount of impact or extra strain is placed on them.
  • Specific types of exercises are better for building bone. For instance, brisk walking, running, resistance training, tennis and skipping are better for building muscle compared to swimming, leisurely walking, cycling and Tai Chi
  • Exercise can increase the size and strength and capacity of our muscles which strengthens our bones and reduces our falls risk.
  • Exercise needs to be regular and ongoing to have a proper benefit.

Consume enough calcium

  • Adults require 1000 mg per day preferably through diet. This increased to 1300mg per day for women aged over 50 and men aged over 70
  • 250mL of milk or soy milk  = 350mg
  • 1 x cup firm tofu = 832mg
  • 200g yoghurt = 380g
  • 2 x slices (40g) cheese = 300mg
  • 1 x can sardines (90g) = 350mg
  • 100g tinned pink salmon (90g) = 200mg
  • 1 tablespoon (20g) tahini = 60mg
  • 200g canned soy beans = 100mg
  • 100g muscles = 173mg
  • 100g almonds = 300mg
  • 6 x dried figs = 180mg

Get enough vitamin D

  • Ensure your vitamin D levels are adequate: Vitamin D is produced by the liver when skin is expposed to sun light. A lack of sun exposure may mean you’re not getting enough vitamin D which is necessary for your body to absorb calcium. Get your levels checked annually by your GP and consider taking a supplement to boost your levels.
  • 100g of mushrooms in the sun for one hour will generate your daily vitamin D needs
  • Vitamin D levels should ideally be above 75mmol and can be tested by your GP

Go easy on the grog

  • Excessive alcohol consumption can affect how calcium is absorbed
  • Alcohol also affects the liver which is important for activating vitamin D which is important for calcium absorption
  • Limit alcohol to 1-2 standard drinks per drinking day with a minimum two alcohol free days

Additional nutrients and supplements

  • When it is not possible to meet your calcium needs through diet alone, a supplement may be required. A dose of  500-600 mg calcium per day appears to be safe, preferable divided into two 300mg doses as opposed to take all at once
  • Vitamin D may need to be supplemented, especially during winter months where there is minimal exposure to the sun.
  • Magnesium also appears to be important for healthy bones. Food sources include green vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and fish. Some studies have shown supplementation of 300-500mg of magnesium may increase bone mineral density especially in postmenopausal and elderly women.
  • Low levels of vitamin D can lead to low bone density and increased risk of fractures, particularly in the elderly. Food sources are faily limited and include leafy green vegetables, liver and some fermented cheese and soy products. It can easily be obtained in a supplement combined with vitamin D.

See your GP if you’re at risk or over 70

  • Getting a non-invasive and pain-free bone density scan
  • Taking osteoporosis medication if prescribed, are key steps for prevention and treatment.

Riverside bodyscan conducts bone density scans— the gold-standard for measuring bone density and diagnosing osteopenia and osteoporosis. This simple scan measures the density of your bones— usually at the hip and spine— takes approximately 10-15 minutes.

For more information, call 02 4323 9200 or consult your General Practitioner.