Protecting your bone health is easier than you think. Understand how diet, physical activity, and other lifestyle factors can affect your bone mass. This article is based on information from The Mayo Clinic and The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
While it’s important to build strong and healthy bones during childhood and adolescence, you can take steps during adulthood to protect bone health, too.
Why is bone health important?
Your bones are continuously changing — new bone is made and old bone is broken down. When you’re young, your body makes new bone faster than it breaks down old bone, and your bone mass increases. Most people reach their peak bone mass around age 30. After that, bone remodeling continues, but you lose slightly more bone mass than you gain. The higher your peak bone mass, the more bone you have “in the bank” and the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis as you age.
What affects bone health?
A number of factors can affect bone health. For example: The amount of calcium in your diet. A diet low in calcium contributes to diminished bone density, early bone loss and an increased risk of fractures.
Physical activity. People who are physically inactive have a higher risk of osteoporosis than do their more-active counterparts.
Tobacco and alcohol use. Research suggests that tobacco use contributes to weak bones. Similarly, regularly having more than two alcoholic drinks a day increases the risk of osteoporosis, possibly because alcohol can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
Gender. You’re at greater risk of osteoporosis if you’re a woman because women have less bone tissue than do men.
Size. You’re also at risk if you’re extremely thin (with a body mass index of 19 or less) or have a small body frame because you might have less bone mass to draw from as you age.
Age. Your bones become thinner and weaker as you age.
Race and family history. You’re at greatest risk of osteoporosis if you’re white or of Asian descent. In addition, having a parent or sibling who has osteoporosis puts you at greater risk — especially if you also have a family history of fractures.
Eating disorders and other conditions. People who have anorexia or bulimia are at risk of bone loss. In addition, stomach surgery (gastrectomy), weight-loss surgery and conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and Cushing’s disease can affect your body’s ability to absorb calcium.
Promoting Bone Building in You and Your Children
Bones are a matrix of collagen (the same material used for building joints and other body tissues), water, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and other minerals. Special cells are responsible for making new bone. Here are the most important steps your child can take to help keep these bone-building cells busy:
Exercise gives bones a reason to live. When bones are put to work, especially in weight-bearing activities such as running, soccer, basketball, and weightlifting, they respond by becoming stronger and denser. Engaging in physical activity may be the most influential thing your child can do to promote adolescent bone health. Encouraging your children to get away from the computer or up off the couch to enjoy more active pursuits is a great way to help them build healthy bones.
Fruits and Vegetables
Increasingly, research is pointing to diets rich in fruits and vegetables for promoting bone health.
Vitamin C from citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, and other fruits and vegetables is essential for making collagen, the connective tissue that minerals cling to when bone is formed.
Vitamin K is thought to stimulate bone formation. It is found most abundantly in dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, but is also readily available in beans, soy products, and some fruits and vegetables.
Potassium decreases the loss of calcium from the body and increases the rate of bone building. Oranges, bananas, potatoes, and many other fruits, vegetables, and beans are all rich sources of potassium.
Magnesium, like calcium, is an important bone mineral. Studies have shown higher magnesium intakes to be associated with stronger bones. “Beans and greens”—legumes and green leafy vegetables—are excellent sources of magnesium.
Vitamin D is a hormone produced by sunlight on the skin. It controls your body’s use of calcium and is an important player in bone building. A lack of adequate vitamin D results in rickets, a serious childhood bone problem. Avoiding rickets is as easy as getting a short daylight walk on most days or having a bowl of cereal with fortified soy or rice milk for breakfast. About 15 minutes of sunlight each day normally produces all the vitamin D your child needs.
Calcium from Plant Sources
Children and adults lose calcium from the body every day, so we need to replenish it. Healthful calcium sources are “beans and greens.” Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, and others are loaded with highly absorbable calcium and a host of other important nutrients.
Here are important steps you and your child can take to avoid excess bone loss:
Researchers have known for a long time that higher salt (sodium) intake leaches calcium from the bones. The kidneys have the job of filtering excess salt into the urine. When they let the sodium pass out of the body, calcium flows out with it. To do this, you may want to eliminate salty snack foods and canned goods with added sodium and reduce or eliminate salt use on the stove and at the table.
Protein from Animal Sources
In 1992, a researcher from Yale University studying animal protein intake and hip fracture rates in 16 countries around the world found that those with the highest meat, fish, egg, and dairy product consumption had the most fractures. Building your child’s diet from fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes is a good way to reduce this excess calcium loss and protect bones.
It may surprise you to learn that the caffeine in sodas, coffee, and other beverages and foods slightly increases the loss of calcium from the body.Try to get in the habit of serving water with meals. You may also want to keep little bottles in the refrigerator for kids on the go. It makes good parenting sense to offer water first and nutritious juices, soy, or rice milks second.
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Some Interesting Facts about Bones
1.) There are 206 bones in an adult body; together they are called a skeleton.
2.) Bones are made of mineral salts, calcium, proteins, water, and tissues.
3.) The biggest bone in our body is our femur. The femur joins the pelvis (hip) to the knee; it is sometimes called the thigh bone. The Femur is also the heaviest bone in the human body.
4.) The smallest bone in the human body is situated in the ear; the stapes bone (also known as stirrup) measures just 2.8 mm long.
5.) The skull is actually made up of 22 sections of bone. The only section of the skull that can move is called the mandible.
6.) A human has the same number of bones in its neck as a giraffe; they both have seven bones in their neck – the giraffe’s neck bones are just a bit longer!
7.) A broken bone is called a fracture. If the bone breaks through the skin the break is called a compound fracture. Fractures can sometimes heal themselves, but severe breaks need pins, screws or plates to fix them.
8.) Severely broken bones can take can take many months to heal.
9.) Bone is stronger than steel. In fact, a steel bar measuring the same dimensions as a bone would weigh around four times heavier!
10.) Our body contains more calcium than any other mineral; if we do not eat enough calcium our bones become weak. Make sure you drink plenty of milk and eat calcium to remain fit and healthy!