Are you at risk of Osteoporosis? Here’s 5 ways to prevent it affecting you …


Osteoporosis is a disease where the bones become less dense and weak which increases the risk of fractures and breaks. It is very common, with one in two women and around one in three men over 65 years suffering from an osteoporotic fracture. The good news is that in many cases, it can be prevented.

Background on bones

Often when we see bones, they are dry and brittle but in our bodies they are living, growing tissues. They are made of a collagen soft framework and minerals (calcium, phosphorus) to add strength and hardness. This makes them strong and flexible enough to hold up under stress. Bones can be thought as a bank where you deposit and withdraw bone tissue. When growing, we deposit new bone to the skeleton faster than old bone is withdrawn, but after age 40, bone withdrawals can begin to go faster than deposits, leading to Osteoporosis. To maintain bone density the body needs calcium and other minerals, oestrogen or testosterone and vitamin D for absorption.

Am I at risk?

The IOF 1 minute risk test can help you understand the status of your bone health:

  • Have either of your parents been diagnosed with osteoporosis or broken a bone after a minor fall?
    Yes     No
  • Did either of your parents have a “dowager’s hump”?
    Yes     No
  • Are you 40 years old or older?
    Yes     No
  • Have you ever broken a bone after a minor fall, as an adult? 
    Yes     No
  • Do you fall frequently (more than once in the last year) or do you have a fear of falling because you are frail? 
    Yes     No
  • After the age of 40, have you lost more than 3 cm in height? 
    Yes     No
  • Are you underweight (BMI<19 kg="" m="" sup="">2)? 
    Yes     No
  • Have you ever taken corticosteroid tablets for more than 3 consecutive months? 
    Yes     No
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis? 
    Yes     No
  • Have you been diagnosed with an over-reactive thyroid or over-reactive parathyroid glands? 
    Yes     No
  • For women over 45: Did your menopause occur before the age of 45? 
    Yes     No
  • For women: Have your periods ever stopped for 12 consecutive months or more (other than because of pregnancy, menopause or hysterectomy)? 
    Yes     No
  • For women: Were your ovaries removed before age 50, without you taking Hormone Replacement Therapy? 
    Yes     No
  • For men: Have you ever suffered from impotence, lack of libido or other symptoms related to low testosterone levels? 
    Yes     No
  • Do you regularly drink more than 2 units of alcohol a day? 
    Yes     No
  • Do you currently, or have you ever, smoked cigarettes? 
    Yes    No
  • Is your daily level of physical activity less than 30 minutes per day (housework, gardening, walking, running)? 
    Yes     No
  • Do you avoid, or are you allergic to milk or dairy products, without taking any calcium supplements? 
    Yes     No
  • Do you spend less than 10 minutes per day outdoors with part of your body exposed to sunlight, without taking vitamin D supplements? 
    Yes     No

If you answered yes to any questions it doesn’t mean that you have osteoporosis but you do have risk factors which may lead to it.

    How can I prevent Osteoporosis?

    1. Diet
      Top nutrients to support bone health are calcium, magnesium and vitamins D, E and K2. Foods containing these include nuts and seeds (almonds, pecans); yoghurt and other dairy products; sardines, salmon, tuna; eggs; spinach, broccoli, bok choy and fortified cereals. Include at least four servings of calcium rich foods in your daily diet.

    2. Vitamin D
      Spend 30 minutes outdoors each day to ensure an adequate supply of vitamin D. Vitamin D is made in the skin from sunlight and is needed to help calcium absorb into the body from the intestines. An indoor lifestyle or very careful sun protection can lead to deficiencies. Although we all need to “slip, slop, slap” to prevent skin cancers, the recommendations now are that we should have some sun exposure at lower risk times of the day.

      September to April: A daily walk or some other form of outdoor physical activity in the early morning or late afternoon is recommended.
      May to August: A daily walk or another form of outdoor physical activity in the hours around noon, with face, arms and hands in the sun, is recommended.

    3. Activity
      Spend 30 minutes daily doing weight bearing and/or resistance exercise. Your bones become stronger when they bear weight during exercise, when some impact is placed on them. Jogging, walking and tennis are all good examples of weight bearing exercises. You can also try a weights program at home, starting with the lightest weights you can comfortably lift and increasing as exercises become easy.

    4. Don’t smoke

    5. Limit alcohol to less than two standard drinks a day

    Supplements may be required where dietary intake is low. If you have ticked some of the risk factors above, you can ask your doctor for a blood test to check your calcium and hormone (DHEA) levels or for a bone density scan. Nutritionist, Alison Cowell, is available at Ahuriri Pharmacy for appointments to check that your diet is providing the nutrients you need. If you are diagnosed with Osteoporosis, try the above measures and medicines from your doctor to manage it well. Ask us or your doctor for more information or go to Osteoporosis NZ.


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