When you hear the word “osteoporosis”, you’re probably thinking frail old ladies shuffling along with walking sticks. If that’s you, you’ll be surprised to know that one in three South African women and one in five men will get this disease and it’s not exclusive to the senior population. You could be one of them, and not even know it!
Bone health is something we tend to take for granted, until we break something and then that’s all we can think about! With osteoporosis affecting around 6 million South Africans, we should be paying a lot more attention to our bones before it’s too late to do something about it.
Bones are constantly remodelling
Healthy bone is strong – four times stronger than concrete strong. But unlike concrete, bone is a living tissue, continually in flux. Throughout your lifespan, your bones are constantly being broken down and built up in a process known as remodelling. Most of your skeleton is completely replaced every decade.
Until about the age of 30, when you typically reach peak bone mass, your body creates new bone faster than it breaks it down. Osteoporosis kicks in when the creation of new bone doesn’t keep up with the removal of old bone, resulting in the loss of structural strength of bone that’s left behind.
Signs of weak bones
Just like so many of our lifestyle related conditions, there are no warning signs. The first and only symptom is usually a nasty wake up call, in this case – a fracture. You may have tripped up the stairs hundreds of times before and your bones have been strong enough to withstand the impact. Once they are weakened though, fractures can happen from falls or bumps that wouldn’t ordinarily be considered bone breaking. Once the first fracture occurs, the chance of another fracture increases tenfold.
We know that osteoporosis can also affect young women in particular – and research suggests that white women are more likely to develop osteoporosis and almost twice as likely to experience a hip fracture compared to other ethnicities.
Risk factors for osteoporosis
Obviously there are risk factors for osteoporosis that we can’t change, like our body size and shape, our family history, gender or age (sadly!), but there are also a lot of lifestyle habits and behaviours that contribute to how strong our bones are today and could be in the future.
Nicotine and chemicals in cigarettes upset the balance of hormones (like oestrogen) that bones need to stay strong. Chemicals in tobacco also kill off bone-making cells while stimulating bone breaking cells. This accelerates the onset of osteoporosis.
Our sedentary lifestyle is also a major problem. Only a third of South African men and a quarter of South African women exercise regularly but bones need exercise too! The mechanical muscle-pull on bone is the only physiological way to stimulate bone formation. Without exercise, bone loss happens a lot faster than normal.
Alcohol is not your bone’s BFF, and not because of the wobbliness after having one too many, but because alcohol directly interferes with your body’s ability to absorb calcium.
Inadequate calcium intake
Calcium is a key building block for healthy bones.
A note from Vital’s experts:
Vital Calcium Ultra Bone Support supports the development and maintenance of strong bones and may reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis when combined with a healthy diet and regular exercise.