Monthly Archives: September 2008

Osteoporosis, diet and who is at risk

A machine to measure bone density to check for...Machine to measure Bone

Density – Image via Wikipedia


Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bones’, and if you are put on certain drugs e.g. Aromasin, you will be monitored in case you develop this.

The bones in our skeleton are made of a thick outer shell and a strong inner mesh which looks like honeycomb made up of bony struts. Osteoporosis means some of these struts become thin or break, making the bone more fragile and prone to fracture.

Bone loss occurs naturally in everyone as they get older, but broken bones because of osteoporosis are not an inevitable part of ageing, and there is much that can be done to prevent and treat them.

The National Osteoporosis Society is the only UK wide charity dedicated to improving the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.

  • In the UK, one in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 will break a bone mainly because of osteoporosis.
    • It is estimated that there are currently three million people with, or at risk of osteoporosis in the UK.
    • Osteoporosis costs the NHS and government £1.7 billion a year – that’s £5 million a day.
    • There are about 230,000 osteoporotic fractures every year.
    • 1,150 people are dying every month in the UK as a result of hip fractures.
    • The lifetime risk of fracture in women at age 50 is greater than the risk of breast cancer or cardiovascular disease.
    • Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bones.’ Our bones are made of a thick outer shell and a strong inner mesh, which looks like a honeycomb of bony struts. When some of these struts become thin or break, causing the bone to become more fragile and prone to fracture, this is referred to as osteoporosis.
    • Osteoporosis is often referred to as the ’silent disease’, because it often remains undetected until the time of this first broken bone, which can occur in the wrist, hip or spine. Bone loss occurs in everyone as they get older, but these broken bones are not an inevitable part of ageing and there is much that can be done to prevent and treat them.

Helpline 0845 450 0230 (9am – 5pm Monday to Friday)

is a bogey we are told we MIGHT get. You can’t avoid it, if it is going to happen, but eating healthily gives you a better chance.
The National Osteoporosis Society recommends a healthy balanced calcium rich diet combined with lots of weight bearing exercise, like walking.
Adults should aim to eat 700mg of calcium every day.

You can find calcium in a wide range of foods such as:

• milk and dairy products, especially the low fat varieties

• green leafy vegetables (watercress, okra, spinach)

• dried fruit (dried figs, apricots and currants; Five figs provide 250mg of calcium)

• tinned fish like salmon, sardines, pilchards (provided you eat the bones)

• fried whitebait, sesame seeds and tahini are all high in calcium

Watch this space – Bon Appetit – and try snacking on fruit and veg to add the Mediterranean essentials to your diet.

Who is at risk of developing osteoporosis?

Men and women have increased risk if they:

• Have low body weight (women who are under weight or have developed an eating disorder)
• drink excessive amounts of alcohol or smoke heavily
• take high dose of corticosteroid tablets (taken for conditions such as asthma and arthritis)
• Living with medical conditions which leave them immobile for a long time
• Family history of osteoporosis, particularly if your mother has broken her hip
• A medical condition which affect the absorption of foods, such as Crohn’s disease and coeliac disease

Men with low levels of the male hormone testosterone (hypognadism) are at a higher risk of osteoporosis

Women are at risk due to a lack of oestrogen caused by:
• early menopause (before the age of 45)
• early hysterectomy (before the age of 45). Especially if both ovaries are removed
• missing periods for 6 months or more (excluding pregnancy) as a result of over-exercising or over-dieting

How do I find out if I have osteoporosis?

If you think you are at risk then you need to discuss it further with your GP. The GP will assess your medical history, including whether you have broken any bones or lost height, and may decide to send you for a special bone scan to measure your bone density.

If you have already broken a bone after a minor bump or fall you may already have osteoporosis. Other warning signs include height loss and kyphosis (curvature of the spine).

Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) scans measure the density of bones. This test is currently the most accurate and reliable way to find out the strength of bones and your risk of breaking a bone. It is a simple, painless procedure that uses very low doses of radiation. You will be asked to lie down for 10-15 minutes while an x-ray arm passes over you to take an image of your hip or spine. These scanners are usually in hospitals and not all hospitals have one, which can mean long waiting times.

Is there anything that I can do to make my bones stronger?
There is a lot you can do to try to build and maintain a strong skeleton that will help to prevent osteoporosis.

Calcium – Adults should aim to eat 700mg of calcium every day.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in bones and helps to give them strength and rigidity. Excellent sources of calcium are milk and dairy products, including the low fat varieties.

You can also find calcium in a wide range of other foods such as:
• green leafy vegetables (watercress, okra, spinach)
• dried fruit (dried figs, apricots and currants; Five figs provide 250mg of calcium)
• tinned fish like tinned salmon, sardines, pilchards (provided you eat the bones)
• tofu (a type of vegetable protein made from soya beans)
• fried whitebait, sesame seeds and tahini are all high in calcium

See the additional information sheet from the National Osteoporosis Society for more examples of calcium rich foods.

Vitamin D
You also need vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium. The best source is sunlight. About 15 – 20 minutes of sun exposure to the face and arms every day during the summer should provide you with enough vitamin D throughout the year, but be careful not to allow your skin to burn.

Weight-Bearing exercise
Bone is a living tissue and needs to be exercised just like muscles. Your skeleton grows stronger if you do weight-bearing exercise. This is any kind of physical activity where you are supporting the weight of your own body such as
• jogging
• skipping
• aerobics
• tennis
• squash
• badminton
• netball
• volleyball
• football,
• dancing
• brisk walking and
• even running up and down the stairs.

Try to exercise at least three times a week for a minimum of twenty minutes.

If you have experienced a fracture due to osteoporosis you should always consult your GP before starting any new exercise.

You can also help your bones by giving up smoking and watching how much alcohol you drink. You should aim not to exceed the government’s recommended limit. It is always good to have alcohol free days

The National Osteoporosis Society is the only national charity dedicated to improving the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of this fragile bone disease.

For more information about osteoporosis visit: or if you are worried that you might be at risk of osteoporosis call the
Helpline 0845 450 0230 (9am – 5pm Monday to Friday)

How do osteoporosis drug treatments work and what will they do?
There are two types of cells at work in our bone. Demolition cells break down old bone and construction cells build new bone. Some drugs work by slowing down the activity of the demolition cells while others stimulate the construction cells to build more bone. Some drugs work on both sets of cells.

For more information about treatments, visit or call the helpline on 0845 450 0230.

Recent Studies

Dr Alexej Jerschow, from New York University, is behind the new diagnosis method, and presented his findings at the recent annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia (i). Dr Jerschow uses an MRI scanner – already commonly used in hospitals – to measure levels of a substance called glycosaminoglycan (GAG). GAG is a polymer that holds a large amount of water and helps make cartilage tough and elastic. Indeed, a low concentration of GAG is linked to the onset of osteoarthritis and other cartilage disorders.

“Our methods have the potential of providing early warning signs for cartilage disorders like osteoarthritis, thus potentially avoiding surgery and physical therapy later on,” says Dr Jerschow.

If worried about osteoarthritis, you might like to ask your oncologist about Nutritional help from a supplement.  At a recent medical conference, mention was made that a growing number of studies suggest that a nutritional substance called glucosamine – which is commonly used by osteoarthritis sufferers –  is effective at both building new cartilage (ii) and helping to relieve joint pain (iii).

Glucosamine makes up 50 percent of the lubricant found within the synovial fluid – the fluid that surrounds your joints – so it’s involved in protecting against joint wear and tear. It helps your body make collagen and maintain healthy connective tissues, all of  which is needed for rebuilding and repairing cartilage.

Glucosamine is an active ingredient in supplement called OmegaFlex  ( OmegaFlex uses a vegetarian form of glucosamine called glucosamine hydrochloride, which is the most bio-available form (ie. the most easily absorbed). Until recently, most glucosamine supplements were derived from shellfish.

OmegaFlex also contains omega-3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, all of which are considered to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.

• Omega-3 fatty acids come in the form of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) from marine fish oil, which some studies have shown reduces inflammation and the pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

• Virgin evening primrose oil provides GLA (gamma-linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid), which experts believe may improve joint pain and tenderness, plus morning stiffness.

• CLA – or conjugated linoleic acid – another omega-6 fatty acid may help relieve pressure on joints by reducing body fat.

• Meanwhile virgin olive oil (or oleic acid), an omega-9 fatty acid, is also thought to have anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory properties.

OmegaFlex is priced at £16.95 for 60 high-strength capsules, currently available direct from Igennus on 0845 1300 424 or

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