As we age, we can begin to feel the effects of a life playing sports, working and general wear and tear on our joints. Our bones often become less dense and weak, increasing our risk of fractures and breaks. Diet, gut health, exposure to sunlight and exercise levels are all important in maintaining healthy bones and joints and preventing osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
Osteoporosis is a common condition where the bones lose strength and become brittle. 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 When growing, we deposit new bone to the skeleton faster than old bone is withdrawn, but after age 40, bone withdrawals can begin to go faster than deposits, leading to osteoporosis.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.
In Osteoarthritis, the cartilage on each end of a joint bone has been worn away leaving bone rubbing on bone. The bone can change shape and pieces of cartilage can break off and float around the joint. This leads to restriction of movement, pain and inflammation as the disease progresses.
To maintain healthy bones and joints:
What we eat plays a major role in looking after our bones and joints. Try to maintain a healthy weight and regulate blood glucose levels. 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 4 servings of calcium rich foods in your daily diet.
Where there is inflammation, pain, swelling and heat, add onions, garlic, ginger, olives, nuts, oily fish and turmeric to your meals. Oily fish have high levels of EPA and DHA which may reduce pain and inflammation and foods rich in vitamin C may help develop cartilage. Try a lovely hot water and lemon drink in the morning as a great start to the day.
The health of our gut is also critical to healthy bones and joints. Clinical Nutritionist, Phillipa Page tells us why,
“Hippocrates was on the right track over 2000 years ago when he said that all disease starts in the gut. Inflammation and immune imbalance start in an out-of-sorts gut and these are at the core of arthritis and rheumatism. The gut has an impact on bones too, as calcium and other essential nutrients need to be effectively absorbed to get to your bones.
Your body is like Goldilocks! It likes everything in balance – not too big, not too little, not too hard, not too soft. Just right. Gut bacteria keep your digestive system working, absorbing nutrients and balancing your immune system. Digestion needs to be just right, not too fast and not too slow. Looking after your bones, joints and muscles is not just about what you eat. It is also how your body uses those nutrients.”
Vitamin D is needed by the body to absorb calcium from the gut. Our skin makes it from sunlight, but our indoor lifestyles 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 through Winter or at lower risk times of the day in Summer.
Deficiency in vitamin D can be confirmed with a blood test but if you are feeling generally unwell, depressed or suffering from aching bones or muscle weakness, it would be best to see your doctor. Your risk is increased if you are over 50 years, overweight, have a darker skin tone or you suffer from gut upsets.
- Our daily activity plays a role in preventing and managing osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. For osteoporosis, 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. Gentler exercises (tai chi, walking, swimming and hydrotherapy) are better for osteoarthritis and a well-designed program can help strengthen muscles to protect the joints they support and improve pain and movement.
- Supplements may be required where dietary intake is low. You can ask your doctor for a blood test to check your calcium and hormone levels or for a bone density scan to check for osteoporosis. Natural anti-inflammatories, rubs and pain relief are available for relief from osteoarthritis.