Osteoporosis: the prevention begins from infancy

Strong Bones for a Strong Future Life style choices made by young people today can offset their chances of developing osteoporosis later in life. There is no secret about it - the more calcium accumulated while young the more there will be in the bones when older. An important factor is diet.

Osteoporosis is a skeletal disease, in which the bones lose mass and density; the result is bones become more fragile. Called the Silent Disease, it is often not diagnosed until a fracture occurs, usually after a fall.

The most common areas of breakage are the hip, wrist or spine. One out of eight Europeans over the age of 50 will fracture their spines. Osteoporosis costs national treasuries over 3.500 million ECU a year in hospital health care alone.

Sufferers occupy 500,000 hospital bed nights per year in the EU. This number will double over the next five decades. Building strong bones Stocking up on calcium when young is essential for building strong bones. A diet which has sufficient calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus is important, as are genetic factors and exercise. During childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, calcium is crucial for building the densest bones possible.

Although bone density and strength can continue to be built up to the age of 30, the rate of calcium deposition is highest during adolescence. At the age of 18 years, both male and female adolescents have reached 95-99% of their individual peak bone mass. By building a "bone bank" in their youth, individuals have a deposit of calcium they can draw on in later life.

The recommended calcium intake varies depending on where one is in one's life cycle. An average recommended daily intake of 800mg is stipulated in the European nutrition labelling directive. However certain groups of the population have higher requirements up to 1200 - 1500mg (young people aged 11-24, pregnant and lactating women, postmenopausal women who are not having hormone replacement therapy). The importance of diet and exercise The best way to get adequate calcium is to eat lots of calcium rich food Ð right through from childhood to adulthood. For most people, milk and dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese and dairy desserts are the major sources of dietary calcium. Other foods with calcium include certain dried fruit, green vegetables, wholemeal bread or calcium fortified foods. As well as a healthy diet, regular exercise builds bone mass and density during formative years. Exercise is just as important in later years, as a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of osteoporosis. Factors that increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis:

  • being female
  • being thin or having a small frame
  • advanced age
  • a family history of osteoporosis
  • being post menopausal
  • low testosterone levels (men)
  • an inactive lifestyle
  • cigarette smoking
  • excessive alcohol use

In older people, exercise also improves balance and co-ordination and helps prevent bone fracturing falls - walking, jogging, aerobics or dancing increased muscle strength and endurance. Because of the increase in life expectancy, a dramatic increase in osteoporosis sufferers in the future is expected. This extra cost on health systems will be a burden, not to mention the lowered quality of life sufferers will endure. This can be counter acted by encouraging people to adopt a healthy diet, which contains calciumm-rich food, and to exercise throughout their lifetime. Calcium content of some food 300 mg Ca are found in:

  • 25-30 g hard cheese (emmental, parmiggiano, cheddar, etc)
  • 50 g soft cheese (camembert, brie, etc)
  • 200 g skimmed milk or yoghurt
  • 150 g almonds nuts, dried figs
  • 200 g dried beans
  • 500 g green vegetables (cabbage, leeks, spinach, broccoli), wholemeal bread
  • 0.7 l of certain calcium rich mineral waters (check with the label)
References: European Food Information Council (EUFIC) Date last updated: 15 November 2006

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