Without the bones, the human body will just hang like a damp cloth. This is because bones give the body structure; and they also protect internal organs by ensconcing them in cage-like structures that shield them from damage.
Again, the body stores calcium through the bone, providing the body with the muscles it needs to move. Calcium also helps the nerves to carry messages between the brain and every body part.
Experts advise that we take steps to build strong and healthy bones during childhood and adolescence, and as we age, there are also steps one must take to protect them and keep them in top health.
In men, physicians say, bone mass peaks around age 20, after which subtle bone mass loss sets in, worsening as the decades fly by. Scientists say eating calcium-rich foods and getting enough vitamin D are some ways to prevent bone mass loss and ensure bone health for life.
The Resident Doctor at St. Augustus Family Hospital, Ijanikin, Lagos, Dr. Tunde Awofisayo, says men’s bone loss is almost always due to testosterone deficiency.
As for women, the doctor says, being female puts you at risk of developing osteoporosis and broken bones. This, he says, is because women tend to have smaller, thinner bones than men.
Again, he says, oestrogen — a hormone in women that protects bones — decreases sharply when women reach menopause, which can cause bone loss. “Within five or seven years after menopause, a woman can lose up to 20 per cent of her bone density. This is why the chance of developing osteoporosis increases as women age,” he says.
He, however, assures that contrary to what many people think, osteoporosis is not necessarily an inevitable process of ageing, and that there are steps individuals can take to prevent, detect, and treat the disease.
“You are never too young or too old to take care of your bones,” Awofisayo counsels.
He explains further that bones grow continually over an individual’s lifetime, sequel to a natural process called ‘remodeling.’ Here, old bone cells slough off and new bone cells grow to replace them. “But to make new bone, your body needs plenty of calcium and vitamin D,” Awofisayo warns.
He notes that bone density loss is not just associated with calcium deficiency, but also due to an insufficient intake of other nutrients such as magnesium and vitamin D3.
He counsels, “In order for calcium to help maintain healthy bones, adequate amounts of vitamin D3, zinc, magnesium, manganese, and other nutrients should be available so that calcium and phosphorus can be incorporated into the bone matrix.”
Habits that affect bone health
Now, what are the ‘habits’ that we unwittingly maintain and which impact negatively our bone health? The first is sedentary lifestyle, Awofisayo says. “Many people cannot take a flight of stairs, but would rather use the elevator. When you climb the stairs, you not only exercise your heart, you also exercise your bones.”
Stressing the place of physical exercise in maintaining bone health, Awofisayo says people who are physically inactive have a higher risk of osteoporosis than do their more-active counterparts.
Another habit that can rid the bone of its health is smoking, experts say. Research studies identified smoking as a risk factor for osteoporosis and bone fracture. Indeed, scientists say, the longer you smoke and the more cigarettes you consume, the greater your risk of fracture in old age. Worse still, they warn, smokers who have a fracture may take longer to heal than non-smokers, while they may experience more complications during the healing process.
Authorities at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases warn that significant bone loss has been found in older women and men who smoke; and that exposure to secondhand smoke during youth and early adulthood may increase the risk of developing low bone mass.
The scientists also warn that compared with non-smokers, women who smoke often produce less oestrogen and tend to experience menopause earlier, which may lead to increased bone loss.
Closely related to smoking is alcohol intake. Experts warn that regular alcohol intake increases the risk of osteoporosis, possibly because alcohol can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
In terms of dietary style, doctors warn against too much salt intake. Awofisayo says, “Salt deprives the body of calcium. The more salt you eat, the more calcium you will eject from the body when you urinate. Sticking to a low-salt diet can help you keep more calcium to strengthen your bones.”