How to Increase Your Bone Density After 40
Life after 40 comes with all sorts of changes, most of which are not really something most people want to look forward to.
It could be graying of the hairs, wrinkle formation, and hair loss. What's more, it doesn't even end there because as we grow older, there are even more significant changes going on within the body far from physical appearance. And, today, we will talk about one of the most crucial ones—bone density loss.
Most people don't pay attention to things such as maintaining a healthy bone density or proper bone health until it's too late. This, however, can contribute to significant health issues, especially later on in life. In fact, it could even possibly lead to a serious bone condition known as osteoporosis.
What is Osteoporosis?
Well, this word is a combination of two words. The first part, "osteo-," is derived from the Ancient Greek word for "bone," and "-porosis" means...well...porous. To put it simply, this condition means "porous bones".
Medically speaking, osteoporosis is a term used to refer to a condition where the bones become brittle and prone to breaking. This is caused by the body destroying old bone faster than building up a new one, leading to a gradual but steady bone density loss over time. It is typically diagnosed through a special test which checks your bone mineral density called (BMD) test. It uses dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA) or bone densitometry.
Why Does Osteoporosis Become More Common as We Get Older?
Here's another question, why do we mostly talk about bone density loss in the elderly? Well, the answer to this is quite simple. It is much more noticeable when we reach a certain age.
Studies also say that bone density steadily increases from childhood until an individual hits his/her mid-20's. At this point, one should have reached what is known as peak bone mass, which means that the bones are at their maximum strength and density.
Furthermore, you probably get to experience your peak bone mass for about a decade until a gradual decline in bone mass occurs. This decline usually starts at the age of 40 and continues until the end of your life.
What factors can affect bone loss?
Several factors determine how quickly this process of bone loss occurs. Some of them include:
Women lose bone mass much more quickly than men after menopause because of a sudden decline in estrogen, a hormone that helps protect the bones. Also, women generally have lighter, thinner bones than men to begin with.
Level of physical activity
Physical exercise has a positive effect on bone mass. It stresses the bones in a good way. In turn, the bone responds by laying down even more bone. Furthermore, research says that individuals who live sedentary lives generally have thinner and less dense bones than more physically active individuals.
Bone wasting conditions
Certain disease conditions can lead to exaggerated bone degeneration, a condition known as secondary osteoporosis. Some conditions that can lead to this include endocrine disorders, liver disease, some forms of cancer, especially leukemia.
Other important factors such as:
- heavy alcohol use
- a diet low in calcium or vitamin D
- excessive dieting
- certain medications, and so on.
Importance of Maintaining a Healthy Bone Mass After Your 40's
By the age of 40, it is almost impossible to increase your bone density any further. Instead, your primary focus should be maintaining the bone density you currently have and preventing further loss. The reason why your 40's are so significant is that the habits you pick up at this age can have a considerable impact on your chances of developing osteoporosis later on in life.
How Do You Maintain Your Bone Density?
Now you've learned about some basics on bone density, some of the factors that affect bone density, and why maintaining bone density after your 40's is so important.
Next, let's take a look at some easy ways to keep your bone density before you hit the age after 40.
Have a Bone-Friendly Diet
Most of us grew up hearing parents' demands to drink milk before bedtime. Well, it is a piece of good advice. Why and what is it about milk that made it the poster drink for a healthy life?
The answer is simple; it has calcium.
Calcium is unarguably one of the essential nutrients when it comes to healthy bone growth. Over 99% of the calcium found within the human body is located within the bones. The daily requirements for calcium vary per individual.
Calcium intake should also be higher for individuals undergoing rapid bone growth, such as young children and adolescents.
Some excellent dietary sources of calcium include:
- milk, yogurt, cheese, and other dairy product
- green leafy vegetables
- bread made with fortified flour
- calcium-fortified beverages such as soy and almond milk
- fish with chewable bones
- calcium-fortified cereals and so on.
However, calcium isn't the only nutrient important for maintaining bone mass. Here are some other vital vitamins and minerals which help in nurturing healthy bones include:
Vitamin D is essential for optimal calcium absorption and utilization by the body. Some excellent vitamin D sources are egg yolks, oily fish like sardines and mackerel, liver, fortified food, cheese, and vitamin D supplements. Remember that vitamin D is activated by exposing the skin to sunlight at least three times a week for 10-30 minutes. Most people living in temperate regions require vitamin D supplements during the winter months.
Vitamin C has numerous functions within the body. It supports the immune system, is an antioxidant, and helps promote wound healing.
Vitamin C also plays a vital role in the maintenance of normal mature collagen. Collagen forms the framework upon which calcium and other important minerals deposit to form bone. Some important sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits and juices, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and brussels sprouts, berries, tomatoes, kiwis, chilli peppers, and herbs such as thyme and parsley.
Several other important vitamins and minerals involved in maintaining proper bone health include vitamin K, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and vitamin A. They serve various functions involved in bone growth.
Be sure to eat plenty of Vegetables. We already mentioned vitamin C and that green leafy vegetables contain lots of it. But we believe that we should pay more attention to vegetables. Not only is it beneficial as having vitamin C but several studies show that a high intake of green and yellow vegetables has been connected to the maintenance of bone mass especially in young women. But this doesn’t mean that it only applies to young women. In another study, consumption of vegetable bulbs such as onion has been found to have a beneficial effect on women 50 years and older. To be specific, the research said that eating onion positively affects women’s bone density in postmenopausal and perimenopausal individuals.
Another great way to increase bone health is to take collagen supplements. Remember that we mentioned collagen as a form of supporting framework upon which new bone tissue is built.
Try Bone-Friendly Exercises
Physical exercise has a positive effect on bone growth. The reason for this is quite simple. Bones are connected to muscles by tissues called tendons. Forces generated by your muscles during physical activity are transmitted to the bone through these structures during exercise. The bone, in turn, responds to these stresses by becoming stronger and denser.
However, you don't have to perform Olympian-level exercises or use fancy equipment to build bone mass. You can achieve it in the comfort of your home. All it takes is time, dedication, and exercises such as weight-bearing and resistance exercises.
Weight-bearing exercises are those exercises that force you to work against gravity using your own bodyweight. These include activities such as running, brisk walking, hiking, and even climbing the stairs. These exercises strengthen the areas of the body, which we usually use to carry weight. Body parts supported by weight-bearing exercises include the hips, lower back, knees, and ankles.
Another great group of bone-building exercises are resistance exercises, also known as strength training. This involves the use of various weights to improve strength and endurance. They are best performed two to three times a week with at least a day of rest in between.
However, when we say try some exercises, we do not mean that you go ahead and do it without your primary physician or physical therapist's green light. Physical training is good but should be done with caution. Once your care provider gives you the go-ahead to exercise, be sure to do it safely.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
When most people hear about maintaining a healthy weight, they associate it with losing weight. But, being underweight can be just as dangerous. Underweight individuals tend to have thinner bones and are therefore more prone to bone fractures and breaks. On the other hand, study shows that overweight individuals experience more daily bone stress than the average person, which leads to an increased risk of bone fractures.
And here's an important issue to keep in mind: Weight change should be gradual. Why? Rapid weight loss or weight gain can dangerously backfire.
Extreme crash diets come with so many dangers. Research indicates that there is a direct connection between rapid weight loss and a reduction in bone density. There is also the danger of developing a nutrient deficiency due to various inappropriate diets, which, in turn, negatively affects bone mass. Rapid weight gain, on the contrary, negatively affects bone health because it does not give the bone enough time to adapt to the new amount of weight it is carrying.
So, remember this, weight change should be a gradual process. Furthermore, it should be accompanied by a healthy diet and bone-building exercises as necessary.
Not only does keeping a healthy weight improve bone health and reduce the risk of developing fractures in the future, but it also improves overall health. It can also help reduce the risk of developing certain conditions such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and so on.
Bone Building Medication
Sometimes lifestyle modifications alone may not be enough to build proper bone density. In that case, doctors may recommend certain medications which can help you build bone density. This includes medications such as:
- Estrogen or hormone replacement therapy (for post-menopausal women)
- Raloxifene (for women only)
- Parathyroid hormones
Drop Certain Bone Wasting Habits
Now that we've discussed how to build up and maintain bone mass let's look at several common practices that negatively affect bone mass. These include:
Heavy alcohol drinking
Several studies demonstrates that heavy and repeated alcohol consumption increases the risk of osteoporosis and compromised bone health. It weakens and alters mechanical properties of bones and decreases bone density.
Study says that excessive alcohol disrupts with the balance of essential nutrients in healthy bones including calcium. In addition, chronic heavy drinking can result in hormone deficiencies in both sexes. Men with habits of heavy alcoholism may cause a reduction in their testosterone levels, which is an important hormone related to osteoblasts cells in the body that stimulate bone growth and formation. In women, chronic alcohol use can cause irregular menstrual cycles. It also is a factor that induces reduction in estrogen levels, predisposing women in higher risk for osteoporosis. Alcoholism can also cause higher cortisol levels. This hormone is known to increase bone breakdown and decrease bone formation. Because of the effects of alcohol on bone health, people with alcoholism tend to become prone to fractures, including the most serious kind in the elderly—hip fracture.
Too much caffeine consumption
Consuming too much caffeine can limit and hinder the body’s absorption of calcium. If you can't live without caffeine, aim for no more than 400mg of caffeine intake per day (about two to three cups of coffee per day). However, be sure that you are allowed to take caffeine at all so we suggest consulting with your family physician first.
Like caffeine, smoking interferes with the body’s calcium absorption. Studies have shown that cigarette smoking has been linked with decreased bone density, increased risk of having a fracture, and poor healing process after having a fracture.
We already talked about eating healthy food and its benefits to bone health. Without the vitamins and minerals from foods like vegetables, expect some changes in your bone density.
This might be complex since some studies contradict each other. In general, we know for now, through scientific studies that low-calorie diets have various effects in bones. One is positive, as it states that low-calorie diets decrease the amount of bone marrow fats. On the other hand, other studies claim that reduced calorie diets make bones porous and smaller, consequently making them prone to breaks and fractures.
Knowing these possible effects, it is important to keep in mind that the amount of calories you need each day depends on several factors like age and height (body mass index), lifestyle, medications, and overall general health. Ask your doctor how much calories you need after discussing these factors.
Living a sedentary lifestyle and spending too much time indoors
To be specific, spending too much time on bed or in the couch without exercise may predispose you to reduce bone density. Moving your joints regularly, as you can tolerate, or being under the sun means your body can produce more vitamin D from the sun, slow the loss of bone density and osteoporosis. So, improve your health for free, go under the sunlight, and enjoy the outdoors!
Consuming too much salt
Past and present research shows a link between excess sodium (salt) intake and decreased bone mineral density or increased bone breakdown. We don’t know to what extent sodium affects the bones but some health professionals say that these findings from studies are enough to say that excessive sodium in the body can be bad for the bones. As to how more studies are still needed. All we know is that according to a 2016 findings, high sodium levels in the body promotes calcium excretion and low bone mineral density. In fact, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends a reduced-salt diet for bone health.
Consuming too much processed-sugar
Overconsumption of processed-sugar has the potential to reduce the absorption of calcium in the intestines and increase the excretion of calcium through the urine. Furthermore, it can impair bone formation by reducing the proliferation of osteoblast and increasing the activation of osteoclast.
While we need more professionals to dig deeper into the specific details of reduction of calcium absorption in the bones including if it is due to high salt or sugar intake, the best possible action is to just prevent overconsumption of both.
The Bottom Line
Osteoporosis is a chronic condition that can lead to significant disability later on in life, but with the right habits and proper medication, you can overcome it. Remember the key tenets of maintaining proper bone health; eat healthily, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, avoid bone wasting practices and take bone-building medication.
Osteoarthritis and bone density FAQs
When should you get a bone density scan?
Generally, doctors don't recommend bone density scans to individuals below the age of 65. However, if you have a significant risk factor for osteoporosis, your physician may advise you to get a scan even in your 50s.
Does osteoporosis shorten your lifespan?
Ages ago, several people believe that individuals with osteoporosis have shorter lifespans than individuals without the disease. But, recent studies say that individuals with osteoporosis were found to live as long as their counterparts without the disease as long as the condition was adequately managed.
Which bones are most commonly affected by osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis leads to thinning and wracking of all bones in the body, but some bones are affected more severely than others. Generally, these are the bones of the hips, ribs, wrist, and spine.
How does smoking affect bone density?
Smoking negatively affects bone density and may worsen osteoporosis. It does this by releasing thousands of harmful chemicals and free radicals into the body, which can cause the death of bone-producing cells. It also stimulates the secretion of cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol weakens the bones and may increase the chances of developing osteoporosis, if not worsen already existing osteoporosis.
If you are thinking about changing your diet as soon as you finish this article, planning on starting a new exercise regimen, or taking any supplements, check with your primary physician first.
Our team at Applied Science Nutrition knows that our bodies react differently to diet, exercise, and supplements. Some can find clear improvement on one’s health and in some cases, the body may react differently. We encourage you to consult with your doctor or primary healthcare provider who knows your past medical or surgical history, health needs, and overall current condition. Before you follow any of the tips or regimens in this article or any of our blog posts, squeeze some personal time for a doctor’s visit.
If you think that you may be experiencing a medical emergency, contact your primary physician, call 911 immediately, or rush to the nearest emergency center as soon as possible.
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