The development of strong bones is dependent on the rate of bone formation and breakdown. These events rely heavily on the amount of available calcium in your body.
A good way to understand bone health is by using the analogy of a bank with the body as the bank teller, calcium as the currency, and bones as the bank vault. In the body, calcium is required for many cellular processes (transactions). If there is no calcium coming into the bank, through your diet, some needs to be taken out of the vault to ensure there is enough to cover all bodily transactions. The process where small amounts of bone are broken down and used instead of dietary calcium is known as bone resorption.
Since the bones require calcium for structural integrity, they become weaker and weaker with more and more withdrawals. If this occurs for long periods of time, osteoporosis may develop leading to fragile and brittle bones which are prone to fractures.
A deposit can be made into the bone bank by increasing consumption of calcium from food sources such as milk and other dairy products, oranges, broccoli, and fish. When there is an adequate supply of calcium, the body will not need to take it from the bones. However it is important to note that calcium cannot be deposited without Vitamin D, which acts like a bank vault key to allow calcium to be absorbed from the digestive system. Fortunately, foods and beverages such as milk and some orange juices are often fortified with both calcium and Vitamin D. Some food sources of Vitamin D include fish, mushrooms and eggs. Additionally, calcium and Vitamin supplements may be taken to increase bone deposit.
To help facilitate the development of strong bones, weight bearing exercises such as walking or weight lifting are recommended since bones respond to external stresses by increasing calcium deposit which helps them become stronger.
Unfortunately, there are no warning signs of osteoporosis until a fracture occurs. Therefore, prevention is key. Risk factors for osteoporosis include:
- Female sex
- Increasing age
- Low levels of physical activity
- Poor diet
- Low body weight
A doctor can perform a bone mineral density test to determine the strength of your bones so that you can take measures to protect yourself for the future. Some medications are also available for individuals with low bone mineral density.
A tool used worldwide to predict the probability of having a fracture in the next ten years is called FRAX. Remember, online tools are no substitute for an appointment with your physician or a certified medical specialist!