If you have listened to the Positively Ageing Podcast recently you may have heard some of my family history. Osteoporosis affected my great Grandma, my Grandma and is now causing it’s havoc in my mum’s life. Does osteoporosis run in families? Sadly, yes. But family history is not the only risk factor.
Osteoporosis is sometimes known as brittle bone disease. In the UK, the point of diagnosis is generally after a break (usually a hip) in older age. If you want your bone health checked before you break a bone, you really have to push.
My great grandma had a fall at the age of 80 and never walked again. She was an active woman, robbed of her active life by osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes pain, loss of height and breaks. It also causes a lot of heart ache is patients lose the ability to do the things they love and live in the way they did alongside the people they love. It also means they often need more help with daily tasks which means they need carers (paid or unpaid) – this is hard on family and on the patient themselves.
So what can you eat to look after your bone health ?
- Eat 3 portions of dairy or fortified dairy alternative a day. 4 portions if you have a family history of osteoporosis. A portion is a small glass of milk, a small pot of yoghurt or a small matchbox size piece of cheese. If you have a family history of osteoporosis, you may want to consider a calcium supplement too – but check with your GP, pharmacist or nutrition professional before you do.
- Take a vitamin D supplement from October to April – or all year round if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, under 5, over 65, have dark skin, are housebound, or cover your skin for cultural or other reasons. 10 micrograms a day is recommended or 40 international units (IU)
- Keep within salt recommendations – maximum 6g of salt a day (due to the role of salt in controlling the amount of calcium lost in the urine and from the bones – too much can weaken the bones)
- keep within guidelines for alcohol intake – maximum 14 units a week
- Have a well balanced diet with fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and dairy. Avoid too much ultra processed food and too many foods which are high in fat and sugar.
What else can you do to look after your bones?
- Exercise daily. Weight where you are carrying your own weight or other weight is best. Walking is your basic level. Consider weights too – shopping is a good example. You can also consider using resistance bands to build muscle (this will support your bones).
- Give up smoking – not an easy thing to do but help is available and it will make a difference to your bones.
- If you have pain in your bones, including your back, get checked out by your GP.
- If you start shrinking, get checked out by your GP.
- If you have osteoporosis, or osteopenia, take the medication you are prescribed – or talk to your GP for an alternative. Diet is rarely enough at this stage.
- If you have any doubts, give the Royal Osteoporosis Society helpline a call. They have loads of information on their website too.
What am I doing?
As someone with a family history, I have been working on my bone health for longer than I can talk. My mum was great at getting us to drink our milk. As I get older, I try to do all of the above. For me, exercise is the biggest challenge. I am active but I could do so much better. Will you join me and work to look after your bones, as I work to look after mine?
Disclaimer: this does not provide individualised dietary advice. Please speak to a medical practitioner or Registered Nutritionist or dietitian for individual support.