​Osteoporosis, which means porous bones, causes bones to be weak and brittle. Bones can become so brittle that even coughing, or lifting shopping bags, can cause a fracture. Women have a higher risk of osteoporosis than men.

To begin with, women have a lower bone mass than men. After menopause, a woman’s oestrogen levels drop sharply, accelerating bone loss. However, osteoporosis should not be thought of as a woman’s condition. Men can suffer from the condition, and those who have low levels of the male hormone testosterone have a higher risk of osteoporosis.

Other risk factors:

  • Previous fractures through normal falls (not involving violent force such as in car accidents)
  • Early menopause (before 45 years of age)
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Small and slender body frame
  • Smoking
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Inadequate calcium and vitamin D in diet
  • Certain illness such as rheumatoid arthritis or hyperactive thyroid
  • Medication such as steroids (oral or injected)

From birth, our bodies continuously build bone mass until we are in our 30s when it peaks. So, is it too late to do anything about our bones once we are over that age?

Not so, says Dr Manju Chandran, Director of the Osteoporosis and Bone Metabolism Unit (Department of Endocrinology) at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group. She says, "Even though we reach our peak bone mass in our mid-30s, we should still aim to reduce bone loss and encourage new bone growth. It is only when bone loss is greater than new bone growth that osteoporosis sets in."

How can you protect your bones and prevent osteoporosis? Here are ten ways:

1. Eat enough calcium and vitamin D

Calcium is important for preventing bone loss. For adults between the ages of 19 and 50, a daily intake of 1,000mg of calcium is recommended. Those who are 65 and older should eat at least 700mg of calcium a day. Good sources of calcium include milk, cheese, certain vegetable greens and calcium-fortified food such as juices, cereals and breads.

For our bodies to absorb the calcium, vitamin D is required. Those who are above 50 years of age should aim to have an intake of between 400 and 800 IU of vitamin D daily. Apart from getting vitamin D from our food, another good source is sunlight. Our skin makes vitamin D from the ultra violet light (UVB) in sunlight and stores it for later use.

2. Eat a balanced diet

Eating a balanced diet ensures you get enough phosphorus and other minerals, like magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 that are also essential for healthy bones.

Read on for more ways to reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

Ref: W09