Osteoporosis Fact Sheet
What is Osteoporosis? Osteoporosis is the most common metabolic bone disorder. It is characterized by a reduction in bone mass below what is required for adequate mechanical support and function.
Who is at Risk? Post-menopausal, Caucasian women experience the highest rates of osteoporosis, but they are not alone. Osteoporosis is a multifactorial condition that effects all kinds of people from varying backgrounds. Fortunately, many of these factors are within our control. In general, there are three categories that will increase your risk – a sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, and underlying systemic disease. Below is a short list. If you are over 55 and fall into one or more of these categories, you may consider consulting your physician and taking a few simple steps to decrease you risk of developing osteoporosis.
Common Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
- Lead a sedentary life style
- Suffer from diseases of the kidney, thyroid, parathyroid, or gastrointestinal tract
- Have taken certain medications for extended periods of time
Corticosteroids (Cortisone, Prednisone)
SSRI’s (Lexapro®, Prozac®, Zoloft®)
Proton Pump Inhibitors (Nexium®, Prevacid®, Prilosec®)
- Consume a diet high in sodium, caffeine, or alcohol
- Consume a diet extremely low or high in protein
- Have low vitamin D and/ or calcium levels
What can I do? The good news is that many of the risk factors are under your control. Our bones are living tissue and react to the food we put in our body and the stresses we put on them. In short, if we eat well, exercise regularly, and get outdoors our risk is drastically reduced.
What does diet have to do with it? Everything! Calcium is one of the primary components of healthy bones, but it is not the whole story. We consume and excrete calcium every day. Calcium is used for many functions in the body other than maintaining the integrity of our bones. When it is used in these various functions it is sequestered from the bones into the blood and finally excreted in our urine. Furthermore, healthy individuals only absorb about 35% of the calcium in their diet. So, it is not just a matter of consuming high quantities of calcium.
Vitamin D is another key component in maintaining bone integrity. Like calcium vitamin D has many functions in the body. It regulates over 500 hormones in our body, some of which are directly responsible for how much calcium we absorb from our food and how much we lose from our bones. Vitamin D is a unique vitamin in that we create it in our body when we are exposed to sun. Unfortunately, it is difficult for many of us to get enough sun on a daily basis to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. That is why it is one of the few supplements I recommend regularly especially during the winter months. However, not all vitamin D is created equally, and there are risks associated with taking too much. So talk to your doctor if you are considering taking supplemental vitamin D.
A key component to calcium levels, and many other health conditions, is the acid-base balance of our bodies. This is not a common health topic, but it has significant impacts on our health. A highly acidic diet results in increased rates of calcium excretion which can lead to osteoporosis over time. Conversely, a more basic or alkaline diet will help conserve calcium and other nutrients. Generally speaking, a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, and is low in meats, sugar and salt will be alkaline. Additionally, a diet like this can also be high in calcium. Many green leafy vegetables as well as those from cruciferous family are good sources of calcium.
What about Milk? Milk is high in calcium and is usually fortified with vitamin D. There are some downsides to milk however. Many people have allergies to milk. Consumption of milk has also been linked to certain cancers, acne, chronic ear infections and generalized inflammation in many people. So while it is a good source of both calcium and vitamin D, it should not be the sole source of these nutrients. It is possible and in many cases preferable to get calcium from non-dairy sources and vitamin D from the sun. Below is a list of food with substantial calcium levels. Notice that one column is per cup and the other is by calorie and how this may change the way we look at calcium containing foods.
Calcium per one cup serving
Milk 870 mg
Tofu 500 mg
Greens 424 mg
Kale 90 mg
Broccoli 74 mg
Calcium per 100 calorie serving
Greens 600 mg
Tofu 280 mg
Kale 250 mg
Milk 194 mg
Broccoli 110 mg
Exercise? This is simple. When we place physical loads on our body, it reacts accordingly by increasing bone density and muscle mass. Regular weight bearing exercises have clearly shown a benefit in decreasing the risk of bone loss. This does not mean you have to spend hours in the gym. Thirty minutes of walking followed by light weight training or calisthenics several times per week will go a long way.
The Bottom Line: We all have some risk of developing osteoporosis and a myriad of other health conditions as we age. Three things we can do that will decrease our risk for developing osteoporosis and virtually every other disease is as follows: Eat more fruits and green vegetables; Exercise regularly; Spend time outdoors. And we probably don’t even need a clinical trial to show that we will be happier if we do these things… But there is one just in case we want to make sure.