If you have osteoporosis there is a risk that your daughter may also be prone to this condition. Here’s some advice to pass on that may help them to prevent bone problems in later years.
Osteoporosis occurs when the struts which make up the mesh-like structure within bones become thin, causing bones to become fragile and break easily, often following a minor bump or fall. The wrists, hips and spine are most commonly affected.
What are the risk factors?
Our genes determine our risk of osteoporosis to a large extent. Some families have a smaller, finer build and osteoporosis and fractures are more common.
So if you have had a broken hip your daughter may also be more likely to have a fracture.
Women have smaller bones than men and they also experience the menopause, which accelerates the process of bone turnover. The female hormone, oestrogen, has a protective effect on bones. At the menopause (normally around the age of 50), the ovaries almost stop producing this hormone so reducing the protection it gives to bones. The rate of osteoporosis in people over 50 is 1 in 2 women, 1 in 12 men.
Because bone health in women is linked to oestrogen levels, if they have an untreated early menopause (before age 40 and no Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)), they will have relatively longer without oestrogen, and so weaker bones.
Smoking cigarettes and drinking more than two units of alcohol a day reduce bone density.
If you have always hated milk and don’t have enough calcium in your diet, you will have poorly mineralised weaker bones.
Calcium and vitamin D deficiency
Calcium is essential for healthy bones. Vitamin D is made from sunshine on our skin. It’s blocked by sunblock or clothes. Anyone who is housebound or, for religious or medical reasons, doesn’t get much exposure to the sun, will have low vitamin D levels.
What can you do if any of these risk factors apply?
Make lifestyle changes
Whatever your age or sex, it is vital to make sure that what you eat today will help to keep your bones strong for the future. Eating for your bones needn’t be boring – there are lots of delicious meals and snacks packed full of the vitamins and minerals you need and they don’t have to be fattening. Low fat or fat free dairy products usually have as much or more calcium as the full fat versions.
Aim to eat meals that incorporate a wide variety of foods from the four main groups.
These are fruit and vegetables; carbohydrates like bread, potatoes, pasta and cereals; milk and dairy products; and protein such as meat, fish, eggs, pulses, nuts and seeds.
You need vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium. The best source is sunlight, which your body uses during the summer months to manufacture the vital vitamin in your skin. You should try to get ten minutes of sun exposure to your bare skin, once or twice a day, without sunscreen and taking care not to burn. Get outside between May and September so that your body can produce enough Vitamin D. In the Winter you need to take 25 mcg [100 iu] vitamin D3 a day to keep the levels up. You can also find vitamin D in margarine, egg yolks, cod liver oil and oily fish such as herrings and sardines.
Exercising to increase muscle strength and improve balance and coordination can help prevent falls.
Try to incorporate 30 minutes of some form of physical activity five times a week into your life.
Not only will it be good for your bones but also for your general well being.
Smoking is well known to have an adverse effect on general health. It has been shown to slow down the work of the bone building cells, osteoblasts. Smoking may also result in an earlier menopause in women and can also increase your risk of a broken hip later in life. One study showed that fracture risks are higher for those who are current smokers than those who have given up.
Reduce alcohol intake
Excessive alcohol consumption appears to be a significant risk factor for osteoporosis and fractures. You should try not to exceed the Government’s recommended limit, which says women should drink no more than two to three units a day.
Visit your doctor
If a few of the risk factors apply your daughter may be at increased risk of breaking bones.
They can talk to their doctor about a fracture risk assessment.
This assessment uses combinations of risk factors, as well as bone density scan results, to assess an individual’s risk of breaking a bone. Depending on the results of this assessment, drug treatments might then be prescribed to help strengthen bones and make fractures less likely. These drugs have been proved to reduce the risk of fractures occurring.
Pregnant women should have Vitamin D supplements to help the forming baby’s bones be strong. This is a new recommendation [NICE Nov 2014] so many young women and GPs are still unaware of it. If your daughter is pregnant, check she is getting the correct prescribed supplements.
To help assess your risk you can complete a Healthy Bones Questionnaire, which can be found on the National Osteoporosis Society website www.nos.org.uk Contact the National Osteoporosis Society to receive more information or to speak to one of their nurses. 0845 450 0230 (Helpline) 0845 130 3076 (General Enquiries)
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No patient/doctor relationship is to be inferred and you should seek medical advice from a qualified practitioner.
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