There are many aspects to aging that are normal and inevitable. Changes to bone mass and bone density gradually decrease as we age; however, there are many factors which help protect against these changes. It’s important to understand how bone health changes as we age, and see what we can do to help slow these natural processes.
Age Related Changes to Bones
People lose bone mass and bone density as they age, especially women after menopause. The reason women are more affected than men, is all due to estrogen. Estrogen is protective of bone (it stops its breakdown), and as a woman reaches menopause, estrogen levels fall and they lose that protective effect. As a result, they often experience rapid bone loss. The idea that bone loss is inevitable with age is true – but the extent of bone loss is under our control .
Loss of height . It is true we get shorter as we age, and part of that is because of changes to our vertebrae (the bones that make up our spine). As the bones lose some mineral content, making them thinner, the spine becomes more curved, making you shorter.
Arms and legs look longer : The arms and legs aren’t actually getting longer, it is just that the rest of the body is getting shorter. In fact, the arms and legs are losing bone mineralization too. The rest of the body gets shorter due to the force of gravity narrowing the joint spaces.
These changes contribute to the bones becoming more brittle and breaking easier .
Things You Should do to Protect Your Bones
Both genes and environment contribute to bone health. Things like diet and exercise are very important in protecting our bones. As I mentioned above, we can influence just how much bone loss we experience as we age .
Exercise: any weight bearing exercise will help preserve bone mass. Weight bearing exercise is important as you want there to be ‘stresses" on the skeletal system. When you exercise, you want your muscles to be pulling (slightly) on the skeleton. This slight pulling actually strengthens the bone. Exercise also reduces the risk of falling , which in the elderly is the number one cause of fractures.
Maintain Healthy Body Weight: being underweight also increases risk of bone loss .
Stop Smoking: smoking can reduce bone mass and increase fracture risk. Both nicotine and cadmium from cigarettes have toxic effects on bone cells. Smoking also lowers the amount of calcium absorbed in the intestine and interferes with Vitamin D .
Optimizing Hormones: hormones play so many roles in bone health . Some hormones regulate bone mineralization directly, while other hormones have indirect roles to play in bone health. Discuss with your naturopath how your hormones may be tested or managed.
Diet and Supplementation: Depending on your specific needs, diet and supplementation must be customized to your unique case. This is something you can discuss with your naturopath as well.
To learn more about supplements for bone health, please click here. To learn why taking calcium supplements by themselves may be dangerous, click here.
Aging tends to bring about predictable changes to bone health. Luckily, various lifestyle interventions can assist in minimizing bone loss. Talk to the team at Absolute Health and Wellness to learn more.
Interested in learning more?
Read on in our series of articles on Bone Health!
About the Author - Dr. Johann de Chickera
Dr. Johann is a licensed naturopathic doctor and co-owner of Absolute Health and Wellness. He completed his 4-year degree at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM). His clinical focus lies in chronic disease, such as those related to the Gastrointestinal, Endocrine, and Immune Systems.
His approach to medicine relies on working with the patient to come up with a feasible, multi-factorial approach that addresses all complaints at once. He employs a strong background in diagnostic medicine and human physiology and pathology to diagnose and treat. His treatment involve a combination of nutritional counselling, botanical medicine, eastern medicine (acupuncture), nutraceutical supplementation and hands on physical medicine.
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