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Did you know that more than 50% of people aged 50 and above are affected by osteoporosis? That’s a substantial number!

While osteoporosis is often thought of as an older person’s disease, it can strike at any age. Are your bones as strong as they could be? Find out if there are steps you can take to prevent osteoporosis.

A silent disease

Osteoporosis is a metabolic disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. It’s often a silent disease in that, if not prevented or if left untreated, it progresses painlessly until a bone breaks. There are four types of osteoporosis:

  • Post-menopausal Osteoporosis (Type 1) occurs in women several years after menopause. After menopause, women’s ovaries produce less oestrogen. Oestrogen is responsible for regulating bone growth and absorption, and therefore bone density decreases. As much as 2-3% of overall bone mass can be lost each year, adding up to 50% of bone loss by the age of 70 or 80.
  • Senile Osteoporosis (Type II) can affect both men and women over the age of 70. Bone mineral density peaks around the age of 35, and decreases gradually after this. Thus, the risks associated with osteoporosis increase with age.
  • Secondary Osteoporosis describes osteoporosis caused by the use of a drug or as a complication related to another condition such as kidney failure, hyperthyroidism, anorexia, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and a number of other illnesses.
  • Idiopathic Juvenile Osteoporosis is a very rare form of the disease, which affects some children or adolescents for no known reason. The disease usually occurs just before puberty.

Are you getting enough calcium?

Calcium is food for your bones. Getting enough calcium in your diet is vital for preventing osteoporosis. Take a look at these figures to see how much calcium you need and where you can get it from.

Calcium content of foods

Food source         Calcium per serve

Milk, 250ml    300 mg

Yoghurt, 200g         220 mg

Soy drink, calcium enriched, 250ml glass         300 mg

Canned salmon, with edible bones, 90g         300 mg

Cheese, 30g    200 mg

Broccoli, 1 cup         100 mg

Almonds, 30g         70 mg

Orange, 1 medium         50 mg

Sesame seeds, 1 tbsp         10 mg

Recommended Calcium Intakes

Source: National Academy of Sciences

Age Amount (mg) per day
Birth-6 months 210
6 months-1 year 270
1-3 500
4-8 800
9-13 1300
14-18 1300
19-30 1000
31-50 1000
51-70 1200
70 and older 1200
Pregnant and lactating    
Up to 18 years 1300
19-50 1000

Are you getting enough vitamin D?

It’s also important to include plenty of vitamin D in your diet. Vitamin D plays a major role in calcium absorption and bone health by helping calcium to leave your intestine and enter the bloodstream. Vitamin D also works in your kidneys to help reabsorb calcium which otherwise would be excreted.

Good sources of dietary vitamin D include cod liver oil, cooked salmon, sardines, vitamin D-fortified milk and egg yolks. A safe amount of sun exposure (around ten minutes) can also provide vitamin D. You should aim for around 5-15 mcg of vitamin D per day, depending on your age.

Are you eating enough carbohydrates?

Restricting carbohydrates may prove to have serious consequences for bone health. On a low-carbohydrate diet, milk, nuts and most dairy products are avoided due to their carbohydrate levels, however this also means you’re experiencing a dramatic decrease in calcium intake. Unless your diet is supplemented with calcium tablets, you won’t be getting enough calcium. Carbohydrates should make up between 45 and 65% of your calories per day.

Research also shows a low-carbohydrate diet can also cause your blood to become more acidic. This can result in an increase in the amount of calcium leeched out of your bones.

Excess protein consumption has also been identified as a contributing factor to osteoporosis. Diets which limit carbohydrates tend to be high in meat, which may increase your risk of osteoporosis.

When you combine less dietary calcium, extra leeching from your bones, and a diet high in protein, low-carbohydrate diets aren’t really all they’re cracked up to be – unless it’s a cracking of your bones you’re after…

Are you doing enough weight-bearing exercise?

As well as getting enough calcium, vitamin D and carbohydrates, regular weight-bearing exercise is also important in preventing osteoporosis. Exercise where you’re supporting your own weight helps maintain and build bone strength, and can influence your maximum bone density.

Examples of weight-bearing exercise include:

  • Lifting weights
  • Jogging
  • Strength training
  • Bodyweight high intensity training

Find as many ways as you can to incorporate these types of exercise into your day, and encourage your family members to join you to keep the whole family’s bones strong and healthy.

It’s never too late

By being aware of the factors which contribute to osteoporosis, you can ensure you’re not unknowingly putting yourself at risk. The major risk factors that can lead to osteoporosis are:

  • Insufficient calcium in the diet
  • Insufficient weight-bearing exercise
  • Hormonal changes during menopause
  • Untreated digestive illnesses
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Excess consumption of alcohol, protein and phosphorus
  • Insufficient vitamin D and magnesium
  • Cigarette smoking

Once your bones have begun to degenerate, it’s very difficult to overcome the effects of osteoporosis. That’s why it’s important to ensure your diet is rich in calcium right from childhood, and especially during the teenage years when your bones reach their maximum density. The more you can build up your bone density, the stronger your bones and teeth will be for the future.

That’s not to say if you’re past your teens it’s too late to bother. Calcium and exercise are important for all ages, and in fact have been shown to substantially help reduce the risk of fractures and health problems in the elderly years. Exercise itself builds strength and flexibility, both of which help prevent falls in the first place.

References:

This article was compiled in consultation with health experts and in reference to the following sources:

Allan Borushek, ‘Osteoporosis Guide and Calcium Counter,’  The Doctor’s Pocket Calorie, Fat and Carbohydrate Counter, 2004, pp 270-275

The Health Report, ABC Radio National, ‘Low Carbohydrate Diets’ (radio program), 9 February 2004, Announcer N. Swan

Calorie King
CalorieKing's mission is to provide the best information, tools and education to Australians to help them conquer their weight.

CalorieKing is the brainchild of Allan Borushek, registered dietitian, co-found here at food.com.au and author of "Allan Borushek's Pocket Calorie & Fat Counter", Australia's best-selling calorie counter for over 30 years.
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