Did you know that healthy bones have a tensile and compressional strength similar to that of reinforced concrete? And that around 10% of bone is reabsorbed and rebuilt every year, so that our skeletons regenerate over 10 years? Take that, science fiction writers! Without this ongoing breaking down and rebuilding, our bones would not be able to repair themselves and reinforce weak spots, and would often break.
Obviously bones also grow as we do, from birth into adulthood. But at around 30 years of age we will have attained our peak bone mass. Thereafter, the equilibrium between bone loss and bone deposition starts to waver, and by around 40 years of age most of us start to lose bone mass. How fast depends on how much bone mass we managed to build up before the age of 30, and how much we are able to keep in our bone bank since then.The higher our peak bone mass is at around 30, the longer we can delay serious bone loss as we get older.
Not only are bones miracles of engineering that keep us upright and mobile, but they are also reservoirs for important minerals and elements, particularly calcium. Around 97-99% of our body’s calcium stores are found in our bones where it is stored so it can be withdrawn for use in metabolic processes in the blood, muscle and intercellular fluids. When calcium intake is low, or ingested calcium is poorly absorbed, bone breakdown occurs as the body takes calcium from the bones to support its biological functions.
Common causes of bone mass loss:
- normal aging, because our levels of growth hormone drop and in women there is a direct correlation between dipping estrogen levels after menopause and the development of osteoporosis (a skeletal disease characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue with a consequent increase in bone fragility and susceptibility to fracture). Post menopause, bone resorption (breakdown) outpaces the building of new bone. While women have a greater risk factor, men and even children can also suffer from osteoporosis.
- being female, very thin, smoking cigarettes, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, having a family history of fractures, having an eating disorder or other gastric conditions which can affect our bodies’ ability to absorb calcium, using certain medications over a long period or suffering from certain medical conditions, and being physically inactive.
Ways we can boost bone strength, even if we are over 30:
- Become more active. Bones need physical stress to stay strong. In the event of a reduction of physical activity or bed rest, bone mass starts decreasing almost immediately after immobilization. So physically inactive people are more at risk of osteoporosis than those who are more active. Weight bearing activities where one’s feet leave and hit the ground and work against gravity, like walking, running, dancing, tennis or climbing stairs are great, as are resistance exercises and those that involve weights. It’s a use it or lose it scenario with bones!
- Improve food choices to boost the intake of calcium and its counterparts of magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin C, and vitamin K. A lot of foods contain natural calcium, such as dark green salads and vegetables like peas, cabbage, broccoli, parsley and asparagus. Dried legumes (peas, beans, chickpeas, lentils) can be added to stews and soups, or enjoyed as side vegetables. Oat porridge is calcium rich and has a low glycaemic index, making it a good breakfast choice. Up your intake of skim milk or low fat yogurt, eggs, cheese, almonds, cashews and seeds like sunflower, sesame, pumpkin and flax. Consider eating the bones in tinned sardines and salmon – they are calcium stores as well.
- Finally, take a well formulated calcium supplement such as RadiCal, which has a range of supporting minerals and vitamins to assist absorption. Our bodies need minerals such as copper, manganese and zinc in order to facilitate bone metabolism and therefore to ensure optimal calcium absorption. Split the dosage time by taking one tablet in the morning and one later during the day, both after a meal.
Limit these bone robbers:
- Smoking harms nearly every organ in our bodies and women past childbearing years who smoke have been shown to have lower bone density (weaker bones) and are at greater risk of bone fractures than women who have never smoked.
- Excessive sugar and alcohol intakes increase the excretion of magnesium from the body, which affects calcium reserves.
- To balance the phosphates in fizzy soft drinks and colas, our bodies have to draw calcium from our bones after which it is excreted.
- Caffeine from coffee leaches calcium from bones, weakening them if the person is not taking in enough calcium daily. It is estimated that we lose around 6 mg of calcium for every 100 mg of caffeine ingested. A big cup of coffee can easily deliver 320 mg caffeine in one heady caffeine boost. Green and black tea are not only alternatives to coffee but research has indicated that they can boost bone strength, particularly in tandem with mild exercise.
While we may take our bone health for granted, it does deserve attention. We can make sure that our bones and our children’s bone banks are kept topped up as we journey through life. Our rallying cry could be “Let those Zimmer frames wait!”