Osteoporosis is a gradual and painless condition in which bones become more brittle because of mineral loss and structural deterioration. It affects one in every three women over fifty years of age worldwide. Most are not aware of it until they suffer a fracture – most commonly of the hip, wrist or back bones. These fractures can significantly affect the quality of life and many cause premature death from complications such as pneumonia.
Because calcium is the main mineral lost in osteoporosis, it has been thought that high calcium intake would reduce bone loss. However, research has not borne this out. Instead it shows that high protein intake from meat and dairy sources robs calcium from the bones, even when calcium supplements are being taken. Interestingly, higher consumption of vegetable protein does not appear to be related to osteoporosis or bone fractures.
There are some lifestyle factors that help to significantly protect against osteoporosis:
1. Nutrition. The optimum plan for this condition is a vegetarian diet low in protein with a moderate calcium intake from plant sources. It has been found that humans can assimilate calcium as well or better from plants than from dairy products. The body also uses calcium to process excess salt and phosphorus. Watch out for foods that introduce high amounts of phosphates into the diet without providing the necessary calcium to process them. Such foods include soda pop, meat, and dairy products.
2. Exercise. Studies show that lack of exercise is a risk factor in osteoporosis. The bones need to be pushed, pulled and stressed against gravity to retain their minerals. Bone density can be increased by a daily exercise program.
3. Sunlight. Inadequate levels of vitamin D have been associated with osteoporosis. Sunlight stimulates the body to convert cholesterol into vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamin D supplements are not as effective.
4. Abstention. Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine consumption increase the risk of osteoporosis.