Awareness about bone health is essential and is something every orthopedic doctor stresses on. Bones are an integral part of our body. They perform a number of important functions.
- They protect our internal organs.
- They support our body and make movement possible.
- They also store some important minerals which are used by the body when the need arises.
- The bone marrow that is found within the bones produces the red blood cells, the white blood cells and the platelets.
- Some bones also store fat which is used when the body is in need of energy.
All the bones together make up the skeletal system. Other components of the skeletal system include ligaments, cartilages and tendons.
- Ligaments are supple bands that connect the bones.
- Tendons form the connection between muscles and bones.
- The end of the bone that meets another bone at the joint is encapsulated in a smooth covering called cartilage. This cartilage ensures friction free movement.
Ensuring Bone Health
Making sure our bones remain healthy is crucial. Unfortunately, many of us take bone health for granted, realizing our oversight only when a condition arises.
The bone mass is at its maximum when a person reaches 30 years of age. After this, there is a gradual decline in bone mass. So, there is a need to make use of these first 30 years and encourage children to eat a bone healthy diet. Starting early and staying on track is the key for having healthy bones in our later years.
A few simple yet effective ways for developing strong bones are listed below:
Load up on Vegetables
- The benefits of a vegetable filled diet are plenty irrespective of a person’s age. Vegetables are rich sources of vitamins and vitamin C is known to spur the making of osteoblasts (which are the cells that form bones).
- Vegetables also contribute towards building bone density and as reduced bone density is what results in conditions like osteoporosis, this benefit is a very important one.
- Vegetables are rich sources of minerals and minerals as we all know play a crucial role in bone formation.
- Women benefit immensely from a veggie rich diet as studies have shown that their risk for osteoporosis is brought down significantly.
The Importance of Exercise
- Regularly performing weight bearing exercises helps in bone formation. As a result, the bone density increases and this lowers the risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia.
- When children stay active with exercises and sports, bone formation is more and they reap the benefits when they become adults.
- Any exercise which makes the body work against gravity is a weight bearing exercise – walking, jogging, badminton and all cardio work outs fall under this category.
- Working out with weights is another form of exercise that strengthens muscles and triggers bone formation. When the bones are challenged by these exercises, the bone forming cells react by producing more bone cells. This increases the bone density.
- While it is good to stay active from childhood, it is never too late to start exercising and the elderly too can benefit from the protective effects of exercises on bones.
Proteins for Bones
- Proteins contribute to nearly 1/3rd of the bone mass.
- Studies point to the reduction in the risk of hip fracture for women who have attained menopause when they consume a protein rich diet. Since this group of women are vulnerable to osteoporosis and hence fractures, this is considered a significant benefit.
- While very high protein diets are best avoided, a protein consumption of 15-30 grams per meal is considered ideal. Elderly are advised to check with their physician to find out what is best suited for them.
- Eggs, almonds, lean meat, paneer, milk, dhal, fish, peanuts, etc. are all good sources of protein. Among vegetables, green leafy veggies are considered protein rich.
- While we are taught the importance of calcium intake for healthy bones since primary school, many of us fail to actually implement this in our daily diet.
- Calcium consumption of 1000 mg/day is considered ideal though a little more may be required for growing children and elderly women.
- An interesting fact is that our body fails to absorb calcium when all of it is ingested in one go. For this reason, rationing calcium intake through the day across meals is advised.
- Our bone cells as we get older are not replenished at the same rate as was happening when we were young. When this replenishment falls drastically, it leads to conditions like osteoporosis.
- If our body does not get the required dose of calcium, it will end up taking calcium from the bones making the bones weak.
- Thus, to protect the bones, adequate calcium is necessary.
- Calcium is best supplied to the body as part of our regular nutrition than in the form of tablets.
- This is because calcium from food is absorbed better by the body and also causes no side effects (something we cannot say for sure about calcium supplements).
Vitamin D Intake
- Without vitamin D, calcium absorption is not optimum.
- When children have low vitamin D levels, it increases their risk for osteoporosis as adults.
- While sun exposure and foods like certain kinds of fish, cheese, eggs, etc. are good sources of vitamin D, whether this alone is enough to meet the body’s requirements needs to be discussed with the doctor.
- Sometimes, if blood tests show vitamin D levels to be low, the doctor might suggest supplements.
Paying Attention to Bone Health
Loss of bones does not produce visible symptoms initially. Symptoms manifest only in advanced stages and we should not wait till that happens to take measures. Post-menopausal woman and those with a history of fracture(s) should talk to the doctor about their risk of developing bone conditions. The doctor might suggest a DEXA scan, and based on the scan results will suggest modifications if needed.