New research links clean eating with osteoporosis

The National Osteoporosis Society has released research today which shows that four in 10 of those aged between 18 and 24 who are on or have tried so-called ‘clean eating’ diets may be at risk of osteoporosis.

This is because such diets often cut out dairy products which are a rich source of calcium and other nutrients vital for strong bones. Professor Susan Lanham-New, clinical advisor to the National Osteoporosis Society, commented: “By the time we get into our late twenties it is too late to reverse the damage caused by nutrient deficiency.” She advises all young people to incorporate all food groups into their diet.

But what is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis happens when the meshes that form our bones become thin. This causes bones to become fragile and more susceptible to fractures. Osteoporosis does not mean that a bone will break, but it raises the risk of fracture.

Having osteoporosis does not cause pain in itself, but bone breaks do. Osteoporotic bones which break heal in the same way as for people without the condition, between six and eight weeks. However, osteoporosis means that bones may break more frequently.

Although fractures can happen anywhere in the body, the most common fractures are to the spine, hips and wrists – often as the result of a slip or trip.

The skeleton is a living, constantly changing part of our bodies. In childhood, while we grow, our skeletons take just two years to completely renew themselves. In adults this takes between seven and 10 years.

Bones usually stop growing between the ages of 16 and 18, but bone density increases until our late 20s. After the age of 35 bones density starts to gradually decrease as part of the ageing process. Women are especially at risk because bone density decreases rapidly after menopause.

At Emersons Green NHS Treatment Centre we treat many patients who have osteoporosis. Patients who need surgery can speak to their GP and choose to come here – all treatments are NHS and therefore free of charge. Our waiting time from being referred by a doctor to having the first outpatient appointment is usually three to four weeks. The waiting time from referral to surgery is usually 10 to 11 weeks.

There are lifestyle choices which can be made to help keep bones strong and mitigate the worst symptoms of osteoporosis. Diet plays a key role: wholegrain starchy foods, at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and plenty of fish (especially oily fish which contain vitamin D, a vitamin good for bones) all help contribute to stronger bones. Calcium rich foods are also important, and you should aim for the average recommendation of 400mg a day. Dairy produce, and even food such as curly kale and whitebait, are good sources of calcium.

Try to cut down on foods with saturated fat, salt and sugar.

Exercise is also important to maintaining stronger bones, and while it appears counterintuitive, weight-bearing exercise is good for people with osteoporosis. This is because bone is a living tissue and only becomes stronger when it is ‘exercised’. That is why weight-bearing exercise such as jogging can help to develop and maintain bone strength in the hips and spine, and weight training can achieve the same in the wrists.

If you are new to exercise, or are doing it after some years of inactivity, check with your GP that your overall health is up to the challenge and choose something which you will enjoy and which fits with your lifestyle.

One of the most effective ways to build bone strength are brief bouts of high impact exercise. An example is the way in which your heel strikes the ground when jogging which gives a beneficial jolt to the skeleton, especially the hips and spine. Running up and down an average flight of stairs gives 10 jolts on the way up and another 10 on the way down. Doing this five times a day will is likely to be positive for bone density, but only do it if you feel up to it.

If you try to fit 30 minutes of some form of physical activity five times a week, not only will your bones become stronger, but you will feel better overall.

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