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Nutrition and weak bones

Published:Saturday | January 2, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Drinking milk is good for your bones because it is high in calcium and fortified with vitamin D.

Heather Little-White, Ph.D., Contributor

The condition of weakened bones is known as osteoporosis. defines osteoporosis as "porous bones", a condition which "causes bones to become weak and brittle - so brittle that even mild stresses like bending over, lifting a vacuum cleaner or coughing can cause a fracture.

In many cases, bones weaken when you have low levels of calcium, phosphorus and other minerals in your bones."

The Mayo site adds that a common result of osteoporosis is fractures with most of them in the spine, hip or wrist.

Osteoporosis is often considered a woman's disease. In fact, women make up more than 80 per cent of the people with osteoporosis.

According to The 2004 Surgeon General's Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis, one out of every two women over 50 years old will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in her lifetime, with the risk of fracture increasing with age.

Menopause causes bone loss in women in its first five years, because the body produces less oestrogen, the female sex hormone that helps to keep bones strong.


Osteoporosis thins and weakens bones, putting you at risk of broken bones. Normally, old bones break down and are replaced with new bones.

Osteoporosis creates an imbalance in this rebuilding cycle when bone breaks down but no new bone forms. This process speeds up after menopause. Osteoporosis also affects many men. Low bone density is becoming another common condition besides osteoporosis.


Who is at risk?

Knowing your risks can help you protect against fractures.

  • If you are over 50 years old or past menopause. Women who have passed menopause are at the highest risk for developing osteoporosis.
  • A family history of osteoporosis.
  • A thin or small frame.
  • Have had broken bones after 50 years old.
  • Use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids, used for asthma or arthritis.
  • Drink three or more alcoholic beverages every day.
  • Smoking cigarettes.


    There is a close relationship between nutrition and osteoporosis. You may think you are doing everything right to take care of your bone's health including eating a healthy diet and exercising.

    If you are past menopause, you should be doing more in terms of nutrition. You can take steps to keep bones strong and healthy throughout life including getting the right nutrients either through diet or supplements.

    Eat a variety of foods rich in calcium, vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals essential for long-term bone health. Bones are more than calcium and need adequate amounts of protein, vitamins D, K, and the right amount of phosphorous.

    Calcium and vitamin D

    The two most important nutrients to fight weak bones are calcium and vitamin D. Both work together as calcium is a key building block for bones while vitamin D allows for the absorption of calcium. Not only does vitamin D improve bone health by helping calcium absorption, but it may also improve muscle strength.

    Getting enough vitamin D is just as important as getting adequate amounts of calcium. Calcium and vitamin-D supplements are most effective taken together in divided doses with food.

    Getting your recommended daily dose of calcium, vitamin D, and other minerals can help protect your bone health. Useful foods are low-fat or skimmed dairy foods, beans, canned sardines with bones, canned salmon with bones and fortified cereal, juice or soy milk.

    If you are lactose intolerant and cannot digest milk, you have to consume other food sources or take supplements. Yogurt is an excellent option for those who are lactose intolerant as the enzymes in the yogurt break up the lactose.

    Vitamin D

    The National Academy of Sciences has made recommendations for the daily amounts of vitamin D.

  • 400 to 800 international units (IUs) vitamin D/day
  • Pre/post menopause women - 1,000 mg/day
  • Scientists are continuing to study vitamin D which may also protect against certain types of cancers. It is safe to take up to 2,000 IU a day.
  • Although many people get adequate amounts of vitamin D from sunlight, this may not be a good source if you live in high latitudes, if you are a homebody or if you regularly use sunscreen or you avoid the sun entirely because of the risk of skin cancer.
  • Apart from the sun, the other sources of vitamin D include eggs, saltwater fish like cod, tuna and mackerel, and fortified milk.
  • If you do not drink milk, you can still get calcium in the diet.


    The National Academy of Sciences recommends the amounts of calcium needed for each age.

  • Teenagers - 1,300 mg calcium/day
  • Adults up to age 50 - 1,000 mg calcium/day
  • Persons over 50 - 1,200 mg calcium/day
  • Men/ women over 60 - 1,500 mg calcium/day

    Eating a calcium-rich diet, for example, can help your bone health. You have plenty of other choices of calcium-rich foods.

    Foods Portion Calcium(mg)

    Plain low-fat yogurt 8 oz. 415

    Cheese, cheddar 1.5 oz. 306

    Spinach (no salt) 1 cup 245

    Canned salmon 3 oz. 181

    Almonds 24 nuts 70

    Strengthening your bones

  • Add soy to your diet. The plant oestrogens in soy help maintain bone density and may reduce the risk of fractures
  • Exercise can help you build strong bones and slow bone loss. Starting early in life will benefit you later. Combine strength-training with weight-bearing exercises. Strength training helps strengthen muscles and bones in your arms and upper spine, and weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, running, stair climbing, skipping rope, skiing and impact-producing sports mainly affect the bones in your legs, hips and lower spine.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking increases bone loss, perhaps by decreasing the amount of oestrogen a woman's body makes and by reducing the absorption of calcium in the intestine.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol. Consume no more than two alcoholic drinks a day as this may decrease bone formation and reduce the body's ability to absorb calcium.
  • Limit caffeine. Be moderate in caffeine consumption - about two to three cups of coffee a day.


    How do you know that your bones are weakening and you may well be suffering from osteoporosis?

    In the early stages of bone loss, there are no symptoms, not even pain. However, with the onset of osteoporosis and weakened bones, you may have any of the following symptoms:

  • Back pain, which can be severe if you have a fractured or collapsed vertebra
  • Loss of height over time, with an accompanying stooped posture
  • Fracture of the vertebrae, wrists, hips or other bones

    The strength of bones depends on their size and density. Bone density depends, in part, on the amount of calcium, phosphorus and other minerals in bones. When your bones contain fewer minerals than normal, they are less strong and eventually lose their internal supporting structure and fracture.

    Your doctor can recommend a bone mineral density test to determine if you have low bone mass.

  • Colourful Vegetable Bake
  • 1 cup sliced carrots, fresh or frozen

    11/2 cups sliced green beans, fresh or frozen, thawed and drained

    1 14-ounce block firm tofu, drained

    1 1-pound can whole tomatoes, drained

    1 cup corn, fresh or frozen, thawed and drained

    2 cloves garlic, minced

    1/2 teaspoon salt

    Dash pepper

    1/2 cup slivered almonds


    If fresh carrots and green beans are used, they will be crunchy unless partially pre-cooked. Steam them for 5 minutes, if desired.

    Cut tofu into 1/2-inch cubes and quarter the canned tomatoes.

    Combine all ingredients except almonds in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.

    Transfer into a greased 2-quart casserole.

    Top with almonds.

    Bake uncovered at 375 degrees until vegetables are cooked and tender,

    30-40 minutes.

    Servings: 12, 1/2 cup each

    Calories per serving: 64

    Calcium per serving: 69 mg