Osteoporosis, a disease that affects the bones, causing them to become weak and more likely to break, can lead to severe disability, reduced quality of life and decreased life expectancy.
Bone loss is part of the natural ageing process, particularly in women, when decline in oestrogen levels post menopause accelerates the loss of calcium from bone, but bone loss also occurs in men.
Key nutrients for bone health
Even in the face of age-related deterioration, nutrients can play a major role in slowing down this natural process. The key nutrients for bone health are protein and calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc magnesium and phosphorus.
|Oily fish (e.g. salmon, herrings, mackerel, sardines, trout, pilchards), liver, eggs, fortified breakfast cereal and fortified fat spreads
People should be encouraged get some summer sun (but not too burn), and those aged 65 years and over should also take a daily vitamin D supplement
|Oranges and orange juice, spring greens, peppers, broccoli, strawberries
Vitamin C is heat-sensitive and water soluble so leaving vegetables to stand in water and overcooking can substantially reduce amounts
|Tinned sardines and pilchards, milk, cheese and yogurt, fortified soya drinks, dried fruit, white bread
|Liver, red meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, nuts, wholegrain breakfast cereal
|Nuts, beans, lentils and peas, wholegrain bread and cereals
|Wholegrains, oats, nuts dairy, meat, fish
Table: Food sources of key micronutrients for healthy bones
A word on protein as it received some bad press this week. Protein is necessary for both good bone and muscle health, important for maintaining mobility and a greater degree of independence. Low dietary intake of protein in the elderly occurs for various reasons including reduced appetite, consuming nutrient poor diets typified by a ‘tea and biscuit’ diet and a high perceived cost of protein foods.
Lifestyle for healthy bones
Weight-bearing exercises are also important. Reviews have shown that functional weight bearing exercise, such as rising from a chair or stair climbing, can be suitable for people in residential care including those with cognitive impairments as these can be simple and there is no need for specific exercise facilities.
Smoking and high alcohol intake can damage the cells that make new bone, so smoking cessation and alcohol in moderation are important for bone health. Limiting salt intake (less than 6g of salt day) is also recommended, as it is suggested that high salt intake can increase the loss of calcium from bones.
It’s never too late
Although nutrition for bone health starts as early as in the womb, it’s never too late to look after your bones. A healthy diet will help minimise bone loss.