Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: Bone Health

According to the US Surgeon Genereal, by the year 2020, 1 out of 2 Americans will be at risk of bone fractures from osteoporosis or low bone mass. Women are generally at a higher risk of osteoporosis, but it can, and does affect men as well, especially elderly men. While low bone mass and osteoporosis do not typically cause death, they do put the individual at a much greater risk of bone fracture, which can lead to a rapid deterioration of physical and emotional health, not to mention they are quite painful.

What can we do to decrease our risk of osteoporosis and/or bone fracture?

- Eating a healthy diet, high (between 1000 and 2500mg/day) in calcium-rich food and vitamin D (200-2000IU/day). This is something that should be done throughout one's life, but starting late is better than never. Both of these can be obtained from vitamins and pills, but are better absorbed by the body when obtained through the diet and by getting outside (more on that later). Calcium is an essential nutrient in the creation, growth, and repair of bones and vitamin D helps our bodies absorb the calcium. Foods rich in calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, tofu and more. There is a list of non-dairy foods high in calcium on the Baylor College of Medicine website. Good sources of vitamin D are fortified milk, fish and fish oils, but the best source is the sun. Just getting some sun exposure every day causes our bodies to create vitamin D on its own.

- Participating in high-impact and/or weight bearing activity on a regular basis helps to build/preserve bone mass. Regular activity also helps keep muscles tone and to improve balance, therefore reducing the risk of falls.

- Maintaining a healthy body weight is also important, but in this case, it is more important to avoid being underweight. Body weight helps to provide stronger bones, larger muscle mass, and more fat pads to cushion bones. This is not to say being overweight is good, just that for bone health it is important to avoid losing too much weight.

- Take steps to avoid falls. 90% of hip fractures are caused by falls. The easiest ways to prevent falls is to eliminate hazards by ensuring there are no lose rugs or wires, areas are well lit, floors are not slippery, etc. If medications, mental health, other health issues, or anything else increases the risk of falling or dizziness, items, such as shower bars, walkers, etc, should be in place to prevent falls.

- Smoking and/or heavy alcohol use are linked to decreased bone mass and increased fracture risk. This is most likely due to the way they inhibit absorption by the body of vitamin D and calcium.

There is no way to guarantee you will never have a bone fracture or to definitely prevent bone loss, but we can reduce our risks significantly. Like many health problems, the best way to reduce our risk is to eat a healthy diet and get a moderate amount of exercise.

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