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Updated: January 12, 2013 18:44 IST

Are your bones older than you?

DR. RAJEEV K. SHARMA
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Make your bones strong. Photo: K.R. Deepak
The Hindu Make your bones strong. Photo: K.R. Deepak

Brittle bones aren’t just a problem of old age. Damage can start decades earlier.

Women tend to suffer from brittle bones after the age of 40. But fragile bones can become a problem much earlier.

A sedentary lifestyle, bad habits like smoking and drinking combined with unhealthy low-calcium diets are all causes for soaring osteoporosis. Usually calcium stores in the body decrease in the teens, 20s and 30s, so it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle during these years.

Osteoporosis affects the bone structure and makes it weak. When we’re young, the body absorbs calcium more efficiently. But as the body ages, calcium reserves are depleted and this makes the bones weaker. High levels of stress also make the body produce the hormone cortisol, which causes bone loss.

Deficiency of calcium and vitamin D can also lead to weaker bones. Approriate intake of calcium through diet or supplements is essential.

Vitamin D deficiency is a more serious problem. This is also known as the ‘disease of neglect’. Vitamin D, also called Sunlight Vitamin, is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps absorption of calcium and phosphorous in the bloodstream.

Human beings require different amounts of calcium and Vitamin D during different phases in life. An average adult requires 1000 IU/day; a pregnant woman 2000 IU/day and a lactating mother 4000 IU/day. Similarly when it comes to calcium, adults in the age group of 19-50 require 1000 mg/day while those above 51 years require 1200 mg/day.

The main sources of vitamin D are sunlight and supplements. Ninety per cent of vitamin D production in the body is through sunlight. In food, vitamin D is found in milk, mushroom, wild salmon, fish and vitamin D supplements. Calcium sources in food include yoghurt, cheese, orange juice, salmon, tofu, and leafy green vegetables such as kale, broccoli and spinach. Dried fruits such as figs and currants and fortified breakfast cereals are also good sources.

How can one prevent bones from getting weak? The answer is to lead a healthy life: exercise daily, avoid smoking and alcohol, eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D and take supplements if necessary.

Since obesity can cause vitamin D deficiency, opt for low-fat or skimmed milk and yoghurt and bony fish like salmon and sardines.

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