Issues and Challenges

Women’s Bone Health: Strong Bones Are in Your Control

“Research clearly shows that the earlier women think about maintaining their bone mass and take the steps to do so, the better their health will be in the long run.” 

— Lois Capps

According to a systemic review and meta-analysis published by the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research in 2021, the overall prevalence of osteoporosis in the world was reported to be 23.1% amongst women and 11.7% in men. 
Bones are an integral part of our body and function as the pillars upon which the whole body is supported. Apart from providing shape, support and structure, they have a number of different essential roles in the human body. For instance, bones provide protection to delicate and vital body organs which are crucial for the survival of human beings such as brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, etc. Without bones, these essential organs are prone to damage. Bones also serve as an anchor for muscles in the body by forming the musculoskeletal system, which allows movement for daily life activities as well as for strenuous activities that require lots of strength. In addition to this, bones function to store and regulate calcium as well as phosphorus in the body, store and release other important minerals, produce blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, etc.), endocrine regulation, and support body weight and prevent the human body from collapsing.
Importance of Maintaining Bone Health
Our bones are going through change with every passing minute. When we are young, our body makes a new bone faster than it breaks down an old bone leading to increased bone mass. By the age of 30, a person reaches their peak bone mass. After this, people lose bone mass slightly faster than they gain it. 
Osteoporosis, one of the most common bone diseases in women, causes bones to become weak and brittle. This condition is greatly dependant on the level of bone mass attained by the age of 30 years and how quickly it is lost after this point. The higher peak bone mass you attain by this age, the less likely you are prone to develop osteoporosis because of increased bone density. Therefore, it is important to maintain bone health right from the start in order to have a greater peak bone mass to have healthy bones for a longer time! 
Factors That Affect Bone Health
There are a number of factors that are associated with bone health, directly or indirectly.
Adequate and Balanced Diet
Low calcium and protein levels in the diet  lead to decreased bone density causing early loss of bone and increased risk of fractures. So, it is important to increase calcium and protein intake for strengthening of the bone structure and for resilience.
Physical Activity
Physically inactive individuals have higher chances of having osteoporosis or other bone health conditions.
Race and Family History
Individuals who have a family history of osteoporosis are at a higher risk of developing the condition. When it comes to race, Asians and Whites are at a greater risk.
Hormone Levels
Bone loss occurs drastically after menopause due to disrupted hormone levels such as decreased estrogen in the body. In addition, amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) before menopause can also cause diseases such as osteoporosis.
Eating Disorders
Any eating disorder that restricts food intake to reduce weight can lead to lack of essential nutrients and minerals in the body, which weakens bones.
Certain Medications
Prolonged use of certain medications for example steroids (such as prednisone, cortisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone, etc.), chemotherapeutic drugs, anti-depressants and anti-seizure drugs can be damaging to bones.
Natural Ways to Keep Bones Healthy
Various nutrition and lifestyle habits can help you achieve greater peak bone mass, build stronger bones, and maintain healthy bones for a long time:
Increase Intake of Vegetables and Fruits
Most vegetables and fruits are rich in vitamin C, which not only acts as an antioxidant and protects bone cells from damage but also accelerates the production of osteoblasts (bone forming cells).
Physical Activity
Exercises are helpful in making bones stronger and preventing bone loss in adults after the age of 30. Various studies on weight-bearing exercises report increased bone mineral density, strength and size along with reduction in inflammation markers in bones. Strength training exercises (for example squats, push-ups, plank, bench press, crunches, etc.) not only increase muscle mass, but also protect against early bone loss in both younger and older women.
Vitamin D and Vitamin K2 
Vitamin D has several important roles in the body and calcium absorption in the body is one of them. Children and adults with low vitamin D levels have low bone density and are at greater risk of bone loss. Vitamin D can be obtained through sun exposure, liver, cheese and fish. Along with vitamin D-rich diet, supplements can also be taken. Vitamin K2 modifies a protein in the body known as osteocalcin, which allows it to bind to bone minerals and prevent calcium loss from bones. MK-4 and MK-7 are two most common forms of Vitamin K2. MK-4 is found in liver, eggs and meat, whereas MK-7 can be obtained from fermented foods such as cheese, soybean products, etc.
Avoid Low-Calorie Diets 
Yes, you read that right. Diets with less than 1000 calories per day can lead to significant loss in bone density within months! The reason is that such low-calorie diets can lead to decreased metabolism, creating rebound hunger and causing muscle mass loss, further compromising bone health. If you intend to lose weight and maintain healthy bones, adopt a balanced diet, which provides around 1200 calories per day. This diet should be rich in surplus amounts of protein, minerals and vitamins for bone health. In addition to this, do various physical activities and exercises to keep your weight in check. 
Maintain Healthy Body Weight
Underweight people are at a greater risk of developing osteopenia and osteoporosis. On the other hand, obesity can impair bone quality and obese people are at a greater risk of fractures due to pressure of excess weight on bones. Losing large amounts of weight in a short time period or repeatedly losing and regaining weight is also quite harmful to bone health. In fact, according to one study, it was found that bone loss that occurred during weight loss period was not reversed even after the weight was regained. Therefore, it is best to be patient and take your weight loss journey at a normal pace by taking a balanced diet with sufficient calories.
Bone health is important at all stages of life. However, having strong bones is something people tend to take for granted, as symptoms often don’t appear until bone loss is advanced. Fortunately, there are many nutrition and lifestyle habits that can help build and maintain strong bones, and it is never too early to start. HH

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