Dr John Briffa: Beyond the pail

According to official statistics, one in three women and one in 12 men are set to feel the ageing process in their bones as a result of osteoporosis. The bone-weakening effect of osteoporosis is estimated to be responsible for 200,000 fractures in the UK each year and is a cause of considerable disability and a significant number of deaths. Until recently, the mainstay treatment was hormone replacement therapy (HRT). However, the Department of Health has recently advised doctors against prescribing HRT due to increasing concerns about its safety. Unfortunately, the main alternative to HRT - a class of drugs known as the bisphosphonates - has only been shown to reduce the risk of fracture in elderly individuals who are already showing signs of osteoporosis.

The seeming lack of effective bone-strengthening medications means our later lives could well turn out to be crunch time. Luckily, diet can provide the raw materials for the making of bone that is built to last. The standard dietetic line has centred on a good intake of calcium - the prime element in bone - especially in the form of dairy products such as milk and cheese. However, while a good intake of calcium seems important for bone formation early in life, the evidence shows that there is little or no bone benefit to be had after the age of 50.

Another common conceit is that high-protein diets predispose to osteoporosis by increasing the rate at which calcium is lost from the body. Yet several studies have found that high animal protein (eg meat and fish) consumption is associated with better bone density. Other foods that have been consistently linked with improved bone health are fruit and vegetables. These tend to alkalinise the body, an effect which reduces the risk of calcium being leached from the bone. Some fruit and veg is also rich in nutrients that are important building blocks in the manufacture of bone, including magnesium (also found in high concentration in nuts) and boron. Other important nutrients include vitamin D (found in fish oils) and vitamin K (found in green leafy veg). Overall, the evidence suggests that the best diet for the prevention of osteoporosis is based on evolutionary foods such as meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and nuts. Those looking to feed their bones might also like to take a supplement, such as Osteocare, which is made by the company Vitabiotics and is available in health food stores and pharmacies.

Regular activity has been linked with a reduced risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking and light jogging seem to strengthen bone and prevent fracture. In one study, women walking at least four hours a week were found to have a 41 per cent reduced risk of fracture in the hip compared to women walking less than one hour a week. The evidence shows that a primal diet and regular activity have the capacity to combat osteoporosis, and help to ensure that we can look forward to hard times ahead.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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