It is estimated that worldwide, an osteoporotic fracture occurs every 3 seconds. Osteoporosis is a disease which gradually weakens bones, leading to painful and debilitating fractures with the most common sites for a fracture to occur being the hip, wrist and spine. This disease occurs when bone mass continually decreases more quickly than the body can replace it and the risk increases as we age.
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF), both hip and spine fractures are associated with a higher risk of death, with 20 % of those suffering a hip fracture dying within 6 months. However, healthy lifestyle choices can play a role preventing both the extent and onset of bone loss.
Beginning in 1996, World Osteoporosis Day takes place on 20th October each year. The purpose of the day is to raise awareness about this debilitating, often silent condition. This year’s focus is on nutrition, with ‘Serve up bone strength’ being the theme for World Osteoporosis Day 2015.
Not just a female disease
Dr Miriam Casey, Consultant Physician at St. James’s Hospital with a special interest in Osteoporosis, explains that at present approximately 300,000 people in Ireland have Osteoporosis and that one in two women and one in five men over 50 years will develop a fracture in their lifetime. “Largely perceived as a disease which only affects older women, it may be surprising to learn that one-third of all hip fractures worldwide occur in men and that the condition is not simply confined to the elderly,” says Dr. Casey.
In the EU, projections suggest that the total number of fractures in men will increase by 34% by 2025, to almost 1.6 million cases per year. The IOF says that fewer than 20% of men who have already broken a bone are assessed and treated. The best way to identify men who are at high risk of fracture is to measure their bone mineral density via a quick, painless scan.
“It is essential to set the foundations for bone health throughout life,” says Dr. Casey. “Both diet and exercise play key roles in ensuring that children and adolescents reach maximum peak bone mass, that adults maintain bone mass and that older adults limit the extent of age related bone loss. This will help to sustain mobility and independence in later life.”
Dr. Casey is currently conducting a large clinical and research programme on the links between diet and Osteoporosis in the Irish population. The TUDA study (http://www.ucd.ie/jingo/database/tuda/) has gathered a wealth of information that will help to decipher the role of nutrition across a range of age-related conditions.
Serve up bone strength – the role of good nutrition
As nutrition is the focus for this year’s World Osteoporosis Day, Dr. Casey, points out that diet is a great place to start in taking some control to reduce fracture risk. “Including good sources of calcium, protein and vitamin D as part of a balanced diet in combination with weight-bearing exercise can make an important contribution to bone health,” says Dr. Casey.
Milk, yogurt and cheese are natural sources of calcium, protein and phosphorus. Calcium and protein are needed for the normal growth and development and maintenance of bone. The Department of Health’s guidelines recommend three servings from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group each day as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Between the ages of 9-18 years, five servings daily are recommended due to the importance of calcium during this life stage. Examples of one serving include 200ml of milk, 125ml of yogurt or 25g of cheddar-type cheese.
Vitamin D is another key nutrient for our bones. It is known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’ as it is made by the action of sunlight on the skin. Vitamin D is also found in food but in small amounts and sources are limited. Food sources include oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel); egg (yolk); and dairy products fortified with vitamin D and some experts recommend a vitamin D supplement of 5 micrograms (µg) per day.
Five Tips for Healthy Bones
- Exercise: Weight-bearing exercises are particularly important for bone health – these include activities where the weight of the body is supported by the feet and legs. Examples include skipping, running, tennis, dancing, aerobics and most team sports.
- Nutrition: A balanced diet which provides adequate nutrients is essential for our bone health throughout our lives.
- Refrain from Smoking: For overall health benefits
- Talk to your GP: If you are concerned about your bone health, speak to your GP who can give you specific advice tailored to your individual concerns and needs.
- Get Tested: Bone density scans, which are quick and painless, are the best way to determine bone mass and fracture risk
More information available from:-
‘Serve up Bone Strength throughout Life’ is a colourful brochure on nutrition for bone health, produced by the International Osteoporosis Foundation specifically for World Osteoporosis Day. It can be downloaded free at www.worldosteoporosisday.org
‘Nutrition & You; 50+ Years’, i
a free booklet available at www.ndc.ie produced by the National Dairy Council (NDC) and endorsed by the Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute (INDI). It provides useful information on a range of topics such as bone and muscle health, keeping active and practical food choices.