Canada’s population is aging and for women that means bone health is a growing concern. Our bones are made of living tissue that is constantly building up and breaking down. If this tissue breaks down and is not replaced with strong new tissue the result is osteoporosis, which literally means porous bones.
This condition is diagnosed when bone mass falls 25 per cent below normal. Osteoporosis has been on the increase in North America in the last few decades. In fact, one in four postmenopausal women will suffer from this condition and those women face a high risk of broken bones, hospitalization and immobility.
Osteoporosis is more common in affluent western countries. Women who eat a predominantly vegetarian diet, have multiple pregnancies, who do physical labour and who are overweight by our standards are not likely to develop osteoporosis. It’s a condition of modern industrial civilization because in our "civilized” world our diets are often unhealthy and our lifestyles too sedentary.
Happily, osteoporosis is largely preventable. Prevention should start when young girls are in their teens. The best thing we can do to for them is to encourage them to participate in sports. We should also teach them to eat a diet that does not leach the calcium from their bones.
Diet plays a primary role in the prevention of osteoporosis. A harmful diet is one that is too high in protein, caffeine and phosphorous and too low in calcium and trace minerals. One of calcium’s functions in the body is buffering the blood system. When you add acidic products like protein and caffeine the calcium binds with the acidic products and the complexes are urinated out. That means the calcium is not available to your bones.
The risk of osteoporosis has gone up dramatically since phosphorous containing carbonated drinks became such a common part of our diets. Phosphorous binds very readily with calcium and again, the calcium is urinated out of the body.
We need to lower our consumption of caffeine and we need to consume moderate amounts of protein and limit the amount of carbonated drinks we consume – no more than one glass a day. You should also add foods rich in calcium to your diet such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and broccoli.
A recent study showed that women who exercised vigorously for an hour a day for one year increased their bone calcium levels by 30 per cent. We don’t need to do that much but I do recommend doing weight-bearing aerobic exercises like jogging or walking every other day. The latest studies show that regular strength training regimes help build and maintain strong bones.
Calcium, magnesium and Vitamin D3 are the most important nutrients for bone health. A daily dose of 1,000 mgs of elemental calcium should be enough to prevent bone loss. Calcium comes in many forms. I recommend calcium citrate because studies have shown that it increases both long bone and spinal strength. Magnesium and D3 help your bones absorb the calcium.
In short, the best way to keep your bones healthy and strong is to exercise regularly, reduce your consumption of caffeine, sugar and carbonated beverages, eat moderate amounts of protein and take a daily supplement of calcium, magnesium and Vitamin D3.
Dr. Paulette Roscoe is a naturopathic physician who practices in Nanaimo. She welcomes your calls at 754-1733.