Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disorder that reduces our bone density and strength. It rarely presents with symptoms however makes us prone to fractures in the event of a trauma, e.g. a fall. To appreciate how we can help ourselves combat this disorder, we must first appreciate why / how it occurs.

We humans get everywhere and do many different things in our lifetime. Therefore our bodies must continually adapt to our ever changing tasks. Our bone tissue does this by continually breaking down and rebuilding our bones. At any one time we can be knocking down and rebuilding up to 10% of our bones!

There are two types of cells involved in this process, osteoblasts and osteoclasts. The osteoclasts breakdown bone whilst the osteoblasts rebuild it. When we have osteoporosis there is an imbalance. Either the osteoblasts are lagging behind or the osteoclasts are working too hard. The net result is loss of bone density.

The osteoblasts/clasts respond to various signals for clues on how hard to work. These signals come from a number of sources which are:

  1. The forces passing through our bodies when we perform a physical activity,
  2. Various circulating hormones, particularly those from the adrenal (estrogen / testosterone), thyroid (calcitonin) and the parathyroid (parathyroid hormone) glands.
  3. Foreign substances such as alcohol and some medications (steroids being the most notable).

As we are designed to be more physical when we are younger, the quantity of estrogen / testosterone falls as we age. Unfortunately the drop in estrogen after menopause is significantly greater than the testosterone drop in males. Thus osteoporosis is commonly a female disorder.

The osteoblasts will obviously need the right raw materials to make the new bone. As bone tissue is made from protein fibres encased in calcium/phosphate crystals we need to be consuming and absorbing a range of amino acids, calcium and salts.

Now we have the basic understanding of osteoporosis we can work out how to help our bodies maintain our bones. Performing regular load bearing activity or exercise sends positive signals to our bones, whilst minimising alcohol consumption reduces negative signals. Eating a balanced diet rich in vegetables, diary products, pulse/beans, meats and fish gives osteoblasts the material they need to create new bone. Should we have any medical problems with our adrenal, thyroid and parathyroid glands or our kidneys and digestive systems these need to be investigated and treated accordingly.