Good bone health is key in preventing osteoporosis

Caring for our bones is a lifelong affair, as bones are living tissues that break down and rebuild themselves throughout our lives. Men have wider, denser bones than women. Studies show that osteoporosis – a condition where bones become fragile and more likely to break – occurs more frequently in women than men.

Young women should take steps to prevent osteoporosis early. In postmenopausal women, the ovaries stop producing oestrogen, which increases bone loss and leads to a rapid loss of bone density.

It is crucial to build strong bones from birth. In childhood and adolescence, our bodies make new bone faster than it is broken down. Growth continues, but eventually, as we age, bone loss outstrips bone replacement. Everyone loses bone mass as they age, but those who develop maximum bone strength and density when young are better protected against osteoporosis.

Peak bone mass (achieved when the skeleton reaches maturity) may be determined by genes, but diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors are significant factors too. Plenty of physical activity during the teen and pre-teen years increases bone mass and reduces the risk of osteoporosis in adulthood.

It is never too late to take steps to slow down natural bone loss and prevent brittle, weak bones, but one should start healthy habits early on, with regular exercise and a diet containing adequate calcium and vitamin D.

From childhood to old age, there are different things to take note of.

From birth to nine: Good diet is key

Babies and young children need calcium for strong bones and teeth. Healthy babies do not need supplements, except for vitamin D, which is vital for calcium absorption, said Dr Han Wee Meng, Head and Senior Principal Dietitian, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth​ group. Vitamin D deficiency may lead to rickets, which can cause soft and weak bones.

Vitamin D is found in breast milk and infant formula, but not in sufficient amounts. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all breastfed babies be supplemented with 400 iU (10 mcg) of vitamin D daily. Requirements increase as a child grows. The daIly recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcIum Is 400mg for Infants, 500mg for ages one to three, 600mg for ages four to six, and 700mg for ages seven to nine.

Calcium-rich foods include milk, calcium-fortified soya milk, cheese, dried figs, bean curd, and yogurt. Margarine, fortified milk and oily fish, such as sardines or mackerel, are rich in Vitamin D. Another potential source of vitamin D is its synthesis in the skin from exposure to sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes a day.

During puberty years: Build up bone mass

Bone mass acquired while young determines skeletal health for life. Puberty is a crucial time for the developing skeleton. The critical bone-building years are between the ages of 10 to 18. For girls, having regular periods is important for bone health, as it indicates sufficient production of oestrogen, which improves calcium absorption in the kidneys and intestines.

Eat sufficient calcium-rich foods such as dairy products and calcium-fortified foods like cereals and soya milk, and do weight-bearing exercises regularly. These allow gravity to exert on the body, which is vital for reaching maximum bone strength.

Read on to learn more about bone health as one approaches adulthood.

Ref: S13