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Osteoporosis: More Than Just Calcium

Osteoporosis is an ageing issue that is always undertreated. It is a condition when the body loses too many, or makes too few bones, resulting in the bones becoming very weak and easily breaking. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, an estimated 1.4 million Malaysians above the age of 50 are affected by osteoporosis. The condition can significantly impact the quality of life, leading to disability, chronic pain or even death.

Factors that affect bone health

There are many factors causing bones to become weak. The first one is age. Most of us reached our peak bone mass (the strongest bone) at the age of 25 to 30. After this, our bone mass will start to decline. 

Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis compared to men. This is because women typically have smaller and thinner bones than men, making them more vulnerable to bone loss. Besides, reaching the stage of menopause makes women more susceptible to bone loss. Menopause causes estrogen levels to decline, which is a hormone that helps to keep bones strong. 

Certain lifestyle factors can also contribute to the development of osteoporosis. Habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are detrimental to bone health. Nutrition-wise, a diet low in important nutrients like calcium and vitamin D can increase the risk of this condition. Besides, long-term use of some medications like corticosteroids can also lead to bone loss. 

While we can preserve our age, there are definitely some parts we can do to strengthen our bones. How to? Let’s dive in!

Calcium 

Calcium is the first nutrient that people think of when it comes to bone health. Almost 99% of the calcium in the body is stored in bone. Being the major component of the bone, calcium gives bones strength and structure. Calcium also takes part in regulating the growth and turnover of bone tissue, ensuring the health of the bone. 

In general, an adult needs 1000 mg of calcium per day. (a 250ml cup of milk contains around 300 mg of calcium). However, some populations like older adults and pregnant and lactating ladies will need more calcium to achieve the requirement. 

If you are lactose intolerant, there are still a lot of other calcium sources like leafy green vegetables, sardines, soybean, seed and nuts to opt for! 

Vitamin D

Consuming calcium alone won’t suffice as the ideal partner of calcium is vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the absorption of calcium. 

Sunlight is the primary source of vitamin D, and Malaysians are fortunate enough to receive ample sunlight exposure throughout the year. It is essential to expose yourself to sunlight at least 3 times per week for 10 minutes. 

It is especially crucial to ensure that the elderly get sufficient sunlight exposure by taking them outside. If you reside in a location with insufficient sunlight, you may want to consider taking supplements. 

Protein

Besides calcium and vitamin D, protein is also essential for bone health. Bones are made up of a protein matrix called collagen, which provides the framework for bones and gives them their strength and flexibility. 

Besides, consuming an adequate amount of protein also helps in retaining muscle mass, which helps to support the bone in the musculoskeletal system. In addition, protein also helps to increase bone density by stimulating the production of osteoblast, which is the cell that is responsible for building new bone tissue. 

Strength Training

Strength training, also known as resistance training or weight training, can be an effective way to prevent osteoporosis. The exercise involves using resistance to strengthen muscle, which provides a certain amount of stress to the bone that can help to strengthen bones. Besides, practising strength training can help to improve muscle balance, which can indirectly reduce the risk of falls and fractures. 

Thus, it is recommended to do resistance training at least 2 times a week, each time 30 minutes. However, it is important to note that these exercises should be done under the guidance of a qualified professional, especially for the elderly. Proper form, weight and technique are important to prevent injury and give the best result. 

Body weight

Low body weight or underweight individuals can increase the risk of osteoporosis, as it can lead to a decrease in bone density. It is not recommended for people to restrict calorie intake in the long term, as poor nutrition and diet-related hormonal imbalances can result in a decrease in bone mass and density. For example, women who are dieting may experience irregular menstrual cycles or amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), which can lead to decreased estrogen levels and increased bone loss. 

On the other hand, bearing too much weight can also bring a negative impact on the bone. Too much visceral fat(fat stored around the organs) can trigger inflammatory factors, which might be not good for bone mass. Thus, it is important to consider not just body weight, but also the percentage of fat mass and muscle mass in maintaining bone health. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, osteoporosis prevention is a crucial aspect of maintaining healthy bones and preventing the risk of fractures and other complications. By following a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, engaging in regular weight-bearing exercises, avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption, and getting regular check-ups, individuals can significantly reduce their risk of developing osteoporosis. Additionally, early detection and treatment are essential for managing the condition and preventing further bone loss. With proper care and attention, individuals can enjoy strong and healthy bones well into their golden years.

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