In addition to the aforementioned risk factors, there exist a number of other contributors to senior Americans’ skyrocketing osteoporosis rates. The good news is there are many things we can implement in the areas of diet and lifestyle to prevent and even restore bone mineral losses.
Salt Leaches Minerals
Along with a high intake of non-dairy animal protein, excessive sodium causes the body to lose calcium. Most Americans consume approximately twice the quantity of salt that’s recommended as society has shifted more into heating up pre-prepared foods and grabbing food on the go over cooking meals from scratch.
U.S. Dietary Guidelines advises limiting sodium to 2,300 mg a day, equivalent to a teaspoon of salt. Linda Massey, PhD, RD and professor of human nutrition at Washington State University states, “Generally speaking, for every 2,300 mg of sodium consumed, about 40 mg of calcium is lost in the urine.”
Two big salt pits are processed food and restaurant meals. The former contributes the bulk of our daily sodium load and these include canned food, bread, chips, crackers, cereals, lunch meat, cheese, ready-to-bake rolls and pastries, flour tortillas and wraps, condiments, cookies and most frozen entrees, side dishes and breakfast items. Additionally, nearly every restaurant meal is high in sodium.
Low sodium foods are mostly traditional staples, such as dry goods (grains, flour, sugar), fruits, vegetables, seeds, beans, nuts, meat, fish and poultry. Coupled with the time and effort these require to prepare is the problem that a sizable and growing percentage of our society have never learned how to cook.
In postmenopausal women, excess salt has been shown to increase bone mineral loss. In a recent study done at University of California at San Francisco, the daily administration of potassium citrate equivalent to the potassium found in 10 bananas was effective in minimizing urinary mineral losses even after dietary sodium was increased to 9 grams daily.
Since bone is made up of living tissue that becomes stronger with use, people who are inactive suffer greater losses of bone than those who are physically active. Weight-bearing exercise and strength training are the most effective types of exercise for increasing or maintaining bone density. In women, two 40-minute weight training sessions weekly have been shown to increase bone mass as much as estrogen replacement.
Activities such as walking, jogging, dancing or climbing stairs strengthens bones in the legs, hips and lower spine. Resistance training (lifting weights) can improve bone strength in the arms and upper spine. Daily physical activity is strongly recommended - weight-bearing exercise for at least 30 minutes on all days and strength training at least two times a week.
Vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent worldwide, especially in developed nations, and is a major factor increasing risk for osteoporosis as this vitamin increases intestinal absorption of calcium and reduces urinary calcium losses. Without sufficient vitamin D, calcium absorption from diet is low and insufficient for body requirements even when calcium intake is adequate.
Due to a low level of sunlight exposure, use of sunscreen (SPF 8 reduces skin production of the vitamin by 95%), and the fact that few foods other than fatty, cold-water fish (salmon is best) are naturally rich sources, most nutrition experts today recommend supplementing vitamin D. See Nutrition Nuggets, November 2010 - Is the “Sunshine Vitamin” a Cure-all? for recommended amounts.
Medication and Prevention
A number of medications are available to help slow bone loss and maintain bone density. The bisphosphonates are most commonly prescribed. These act in a way similar to the effect of the female hormone, estrogen, in that they inhibit bone breakdown and can even increase bone density. Included among these are alendronate (Fosamax) and ibandronate (Boniva).
Although there are limitations as to what can be done in adulthood to increase bone density and mass, regular exercise and medication can create major differences in fracture risk. At the same time, eating a whole food, plant-based diet, adequate in protein, calcium and vitamin D will do much to minimize the normal bone losses associated with aging.
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