15 November 2017
Women and Bone Health – By Interchange Australia Consultant, Anne-Marie Kennedy
Two of the biggest barriers for women maintaining a healthy lifestyle are cited as ‘’lack of time’’ and ‘’health is not a priority.” However, if women want to live a long and healthy life and want to ‘’age well’’ it is crucial they pay attention to their health, have regular check-ups and respond to their bodies if they are not feeling well. One very important area women need to focus on much more is bone health. Maintaining healthy bones is a major part of overall wellbeing, particularly as women are more prone to developing bone conditions such as osteoporosis and osteopenia.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become thin, weak and fragile, so that even a minor bump or fall can cause a broken bone (known as a minimal trauma fracture). Around one million Australians overall are affected by the condition. Osteopenia is a condition where bone mineral density is lower than normal, but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. Older people and postmenopausal women are at greater risk of having these conditions. Research shows 15% of Australian women aged over 50 years and 8% of men in this age group are affected by these conditions. Women are also at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis because of the rapid decline in estrogen levels that occurs during menopause. As we age, bones lose minerals, such as calcium, and bone cells begin to dissolve the bone matrix leading to a loss of bone thickness (bone mass and density). If you have osteoporosis, your bones break down more quickly than your body can rebuild them. As a result, bone loss of approximately 2% per year occurs for a number of years after menopause begins.
It’s never too early to start looking after your bone health, so what are some of the things you should be on the lookout for?
Recognise Family History
Bone health can be strongly inherited, which means your family history can play a part in whether you develop osteoporosis. If anyone in your family (particularly parents or siblings) has ever been diagnosed with osteoporosis, broken a bone from a minor fall or rapidly lost height, these signs can indicate low bone density.
Keep up Your Calcium and Vitamin D Levels
Low calcium and Vitamin D levels can both cause problems with bone health. Adults require 1,000 mg of calcium per day (preferably through diet) which increases to 1,300 mg per day for women over 50 and men over 70. A lack of sun exposure can mean you are not getting enough vitamin D, which your body needs to absorb calcium. You can visit your GP to discuss your bone health and get your levels tested.
Keep an Eye on Health Conditions and Medications
It’s important to be aware that certain conditions and medications can also have a negative impact on bone health including.
- Corticosteroids (commonly used for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions)
- Low sex hormone levels – in women: early menopause; in men: low testosterone
- Thyroid or parathyroid disease
- Coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel disease
- Certain chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, chronic liver or kidney disease
- Certain medicines for breast cancer, prostate cancer, epilepsy or depression
If any of the above applies to you, you may be at increased risk of osteoporosis. It is important to speak to your GP about staying on top of your bone health. So, keep an eye on your risk factors, keep your calcium and Vitamin D levels up and look after your bones. If you have concerns or symptoms – then talk to your doctor.
What are Some of the Things You Can Do to Maintain Strong Healthy Bones?
Eat Well – Get Lots of Calcium and Vitamin D
These nutrients work together to keep bones strong. Eat a healthy diet with 3-5 servings of calcium from dairy products, green vegetables, fish, nuts and calcium-fortified foods. Maintain vitamin D levels through safe exposure to sunlight. Your doctor may also recommend taking calcium and vitamin D supplements regularly.
Exercise Regularly to Build Stronger Bones
Jogging, brisk walking, stair climbing, dancing, tennis, skipping and weight training are great for building bones. Exercise also helps to improve coordination, balance and strength, which helps to prevent falls and is great for rehabilitation after a fracture.
Heavy drinking can reduce bone building. It can also increase your risk of falling and breaking a bone.
The chemicals in cigarettes can harm your bone cells. Smoking also makes it harder for your bones to absorb calcium.
Most of all, listen to your body and treat it with the respect it deserves so you can live a long, productive and healthy life!