Wellness: A guide to a healthy everyday diet that strengthens your bones
Bones are an integral part of our body, and have many important functions ranging from providing structure, protecting organs, storing calcium, etc. We tend to miss out on taking care of these vital parts and then we start facing various issues. We shall take a look at few of such issues that a person generally faces around bone health. Let’s first talk about osteoporosis — which is a condition that describes a decrease in bone density, which in turn decreases its strength and results in fragile bones. This condition leads to abnormally porous bones that are compressible exactly like a sponge. This disorder of the skeleton weakens the bone and results in frequent fractures (breaks) of the bones.
Osteopenia is another condition in which the bones are slightly less dense when compared to normal but not to the degree of osteoporosis. It is a progressive bone disease that is characterised by decrease in bone mass and density which leads to an increased risk of fractures later.
Then there is osteomalacia that also refers to the softening and weakening of the bones, due to impaired bone metabolism that leads to inadequate bone mineralisation. Osteomalacia isn’t the same as osteoporosis. When there is a problem with bone formation or with the bone building process, that’s when it leads to osteomalacia; whereas osteoporosis is a weakening of that bone that has already been formed and is remodeled.
Osteoporosis and other bone conditions basically occur due to calcium and Vitamin D3 deficiencies. Bones need calcium and phosphorus to remain healthy and strong, but the body also needs Vitamin D to be able to absorb these two minerals well. Without this very important vitamin, our bones can become soft and flexible.
With osteoporosis, bone loss can occur over years and can be severe as well, often so severe that the normal stress on bones from sitting, standing or coughing, can result in pain and immobility. After the first fracture, you are at risk of more fractures. These future fractures may cause you to live with daily chronic pain, and in some cases, some degree of disability.
At menopause, there’s a dramatic decline in the female hormone, estrogen. This decline in estrogen slows the bone remodeling process and causes an accelerated rate of bone loss. This more rapid loss of the bones continues for about 10 years after menopause. The rate of bone loss eventually returns to premenopausal levels. But bone formation does not. This causes post-menopausal women to have a much greater chance of having a fracture. In addition, having an early menopause (before the age of 40) also increases the chance of osteoporosis and fractures. Having prolonged periods when the menstrual cycle is irregular can also cause loss of bone mass and osteoporosis.
It is important to improve the intake of calcium and Vitamin D. Vitamin D is required for calcium absorption. Calcium is the most common mineral in the body, about 99 per cent of which is in bones and teeth, the remainder being in the blood and soft tissue, where the concentration range is narrow to facilitate bodily functions. This is so important that the body will pull calcium from the bones to maintain other levels if calcium intake is insufficient. It is best for the people to begin adequate calcium intake at an early age as the bone mass begins to decrease after the age of 30. The best sources of calcium include sesame seeds, ragi, organic A2 milk, and its products, leafy greens, seafood/bony fish, and legumes. Not only calcium, other minerals like magnesium, phosphorous and boron also contribute to the bone health. Hence, including magnesium and phosphorus rich sources like – whole grains, lean cuts of chicken, beans and lentils, nuts and leafy vegetables,organic A2 milk and milk products is important. The best and most reliable source of Vitamin D is morning sunlight! We should ensure that the body is adequately exposed to the sun during the day to synthesise a good amount of Vitamin D. Foods like mushrooms, fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon), cod liver oil, and egg yolks, etc. do contain Vitamin D in some amounts. In most cases, additional supplementation of calcium and Vitamin D are required (it’s best to get the levels checked before supplementation). One should consume calcium/Vitamin D3 supplements on an empty stomach as these nutrients are best absorbed in an acidic medium, and always keep your healthcare professional in the loop before making any changes.
Let’s make sure we take utmost care of our bones to keep them healthy in the future!
(The writer is the Chief Nutrition Officer, Luke Coutinho Holistic Healing Systems. She is a clinical nutritionist with a focus on healthy lifestyle choices.)