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Article Publised by Annabel Vennin | bodyandsoul.com.au
Our bones change as we age, as do their maintenance needs.
Diet and lifestyle in childhood can affect bone health in later life, determining the risk of developing joint diseases such as arthritis and osteoporosis, while regular exercise is crucial in our later years.
Here, a spinal surgeon, a dietitian and a rheumatologist from the Bone Health Centre at The Princess Grace Hospital in London give you the guidance you need, whatever your age.
Under 10 years
Bones provide body structure, protect organs, anchor muscles and store calcium, which aids the function of the nerves, muscles, kidneys and heart. Childhood is a crucial time for skeletal health as bones are growing at their fastest.
"The body absorbs older bone and generates new bone to keep our skeleton strong, but this process is most active in children and adolescents," says Peter Hamlyn, consultant spinal surgeon.
"Calcium obtained from the diet – mainly dairy foods, but also wholegrains and dark green leafy vegetables – is needed to make bones hard."
Children aged between one and three need 360 milligrams of calcium per day. Between the ages of four and 10 they need 520 to 800 milligrams. A medium yoghurt provides 400 milligrams and an average slice of bread 30 milligrams.
Up to the age of five, children should eat full-fat dairy products because they contain higher levels of fat for energy and fat-soluble vitamins D and E.
Vitamin D, most plentifully produced in the skin after exposure to sunlight, aids calcium absorption.
"Without adequate levels of sunlight, bones will not absorb enough calcium no matter how much is eaten," dietitian Sarah Wilson says.
Rheumatologist Dr Gerard Hall says: "Fear of exposing children to sunshine has led to a surge in rickets, the bone-softening disease. Once children can run around, they need 20 minutes of daily exposure to UV light."
Bones stop growing at the age of about 20, so it is essential to provide adequate nutrition to support new tissue formation during adolescence.
"Extreme dieting, a common problem among teenage girls – and some boys – puts bones at greater risk of osteoporosis in later life," Wilson says.
Both boys and girls need 1000 milligrams of calcium daily – the equivalent of 600 millilitres skim milk, an egg and two sardines.
Protein is another major component of bone and is essential for growth. Teenagers need two or three moderate serves a day.
Final bone density is determined in this decade of life, but newfound independence (for example, leaving home) means this is an age of excess for many young people, which may take a toll on skeletal health.
Young adults need 840 milligrams of calcium a day. This requirement remains the same until women are in their 50s and men are in their 70s.
"Avoid salty convenience foods and too many fizzy drinks as they leach calcium from bones," Wilson says.
"Two portions of oily fish a week or an omega-3 fish oil supplement tops up vitamin D levels."
Too little sleep has also been shown to affect bone density, experts say. Those getting less than six hours each night are more likely to develop osteoporosis in later life.
This is because without sufficient sleep, the body is not given adequate time to reduce the stress hormone cortisol in the bloodstream, which promotes bone breakdown.
The breakdown of bone tissue overtakes growth in the 30s, leading to a steady loss of bone density from this decade onwards. High stress levels and inactivity can exacerbate the deterioration.
Dr Hall says: "Jogging is renowned for its stress-busting effects, aiding bone-density retention."
Diet plays a vital part too, Wilson says. "A lunch that includes a tinned-salmon sandwich and a yoghurt provides energy and contributes towards adequate levels of bone-densifying minerals."
Wilson also advises caffeine lovers to drink coffee in moderation. "Caffeine intake has been shown to compromise bone density. Have no more than five cups of coffee a day."
Pregnant women should ask their GP about supplements containing vitamins D and C and folic acid, which prevents spina bifida, a malformation of the foetal spine.
"Many pregnant women do not get enough calcium, which leads to the baby drawing what it needs from its mother, leaving her supplies depleted," Wilson says.
The amount of energy our bodies burn while resting drops by seven per cent, and by the same amount with every subsequent decade. Osteoarthritis – wear and tear of the joints – typically starts at this age, but can be prevented by making the right lifestyle choices.
"Maintaining a healthy weight will also prevent future problems," Hall says. "A five-kilogram weight gain can increase the risk of osteoarthritis of the knee by 40 per cent"
Wilson says: "If you are starting to suffer from joint pains, it is even more important you take an omega-3 supplement to dampen inflammation in the joints. Other nutritional supplements, including glucosamine sulphate and chondroitin, may give some pain relief."
At this age, women need to up their calcium intake to at least 1100 milligrams a day.
They experience the menopause at this age, leading to a drop in the female hormone oestrogen, which is essential for bone retention.
"Women should consider hormone replacement therapy, although a chemical that mimics oestrogen found in pulses and soy products may protect against joint and back pains," Wilson says.
Dr Hall warns: "Drinking more than three units of alcohol a day – two small glasses of wine – can cause low bone density as the toxins in alcohol upset oestrogen and cortisol levels."
The body’s ability to absorb minerals deteriorates by up to 25 per cent after the age of 60. By their 70s, men and women need at least 1100 milligrams of calcium a days.
"Eating enough protein is vital, especially for those recovering from joint replacement surgery, because it helps tissue grow and repair," Wilson says. "It’s important to maintain a healthy weight, and that includes not losing too much as this will lead to low bone density and osteoporosis."
Dr Hamlyn says: "Keep using your muscles and bones to maintain them. Walking or gardening helps you retain mobility. Anyone with a family history of osteoporosis, or who breaks a bone, should have a bone-density scan after 60."