Everyone wants strong bones that don’t break easily.
So what can you do to help prevent the progressive metabolic bone disease known as osteoporosis?
Here are several pertinent questions and answers:
"Osteoporosis is a disease marked by a decrease in bone mineral density, with deterioration of bone structure,” explains German Society for Orthopaedics and Trauma Surgery (DGOU) osteology head and Düsseldorf University Hospital endoprosthetics and osteology chief physician Dr Uwe Mausfor.
The body constantly replaces old bone that’s naturally broken down.
In osteoporosis, however, bones lose minerals such as calcium more quickly than the body can replace them.
Bones become porous (osteoporosis literally means "porous bone”), brittle and prone to fracture, particularly, the forearm, wrist and hip.
Advanced age and being female are major factors.
"Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men, mainly due to hormonal changes in the menopause,” Dr Maus says.
According to the German Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA), about one in four women over 65 suffers from the bone condition.
Certain medications can also interfere with the bone-rebuilding process, notes Dr Maus, "for example, cortisone, which is used to treat lung illnesses, among other things”.
Genetics play a role as well, points out orthopaedic surgeon Dr Willibald Walter from the Marianowicz Diagnosis & Therapy Centre in Munich.
You’re at heightened risk if a close family member has osteoporosis.
Smoking can have an adverse effect on bone density too.
While you can’t do anything about the risk factors of age, sex and genetics, there are measures you can take to help prevent the disease.
Exercise is especially important – strength training in particular.
"[Strength training] deforms the bones, causing them to restructure and become more stable,” remarks Dr Maus, adding that exercises that improve coordination and balance – yoga or pilates, for instance – are also a good idea in advanced age.
They reduce the risk of falls and the bone fractures that could result.
If you already suffer from pain and are disinclined to go to a gym, you could try aquajogging or water aerobics.
”It’s important that your diet be rich in calcium,” advises Dr Walter, explaining that it’s the most important mineral for bone health.
Many people think mainly of milk and other dairy products, such as cheese and quark, as good sources of calcium, but some green vegetables such as spinach can help you meet your requirements too.
Oat milk with your morning muesli can also strengthen your bones, so long as it’s fortified with calcium.
Mineral water can be a further source of calcium.
You’ve to check the nutrition label though, as the calcium content of mineral waters can vary greatly.
Tap water generally contains little calcium, Dr Maus says.
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Plenty of protein in your diet also benefits bones.
"Particularly if you’re fairly old already, you should eat a sufficient amount to protect against muscle loss,” he says, because strong muscles both cushion your bones and lower the risk of falling.
As a rule of thumb, you should eat one gramme of protein daily for every kilogramme you weigh.
So if you weigh, 70kg, then you should eat 70g of protein every day.
Two hundred grammes of low-fat quark, to take one high-protein food as an example, has about 26g of protein.
Another key nutrient is vitamin D, which helps the body to absorb calcium.
In contrast to other vitamins, it can be synthesised in the body through exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) rays in sunlight.
"What’s insidious about it is there aren’t any symptoms,” says Dr Walter.
In many cases, you don’t know your bones have been weakened by osteoporosis until one of them breaks.
He points to a couple of red flags though: losing a few centimetres of height and/or developing a stooped posture.
Then, at the very least, you should be examined by an orthopaedic surgeon, who can measure your bone density and prescribe any necessary treatment. – By Ricarda Dieckmann/dpa