May 2014

Health & Wellness: Love your Mother, Love your Bones

Author: George Sutherland, MD

This month on Mother’s Day, we celebrate mothers and the women who have cared for us over the years, shown us constant love, and dedicated their time and effort to our families. This month also marks another observance day that is crucial to the health of our mothers and all women: N National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month. Osteoporosis is a bone disease that happens when you lose bone density, causing bones to become weak and break more easily. Osteoporosis affects all bones in the body, but breaks are most common in the hip, wrist and spine.

The majority of the 40 million Americans living with osteoporosis are women, and it is estimated that one in two women over age 50 will break a bone as a result of osteoporosis.

George Sutherland, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Optim Orthopedics, recommends women talk to their doctors about their bone health, particularly as they age. He also suggests the following tips that women can do every day to strengthen their bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis:

Go green. You probably know that calcium is important for bone health and that dairy is a great source of the bone-boosting nutrient, but are you aware of other calcium-rich foods? Try incorporating dark, leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, into your diet to get more of this important nutrient. Remember, it is recommended that women try to get 1,200 mg per day of calcium, even if they are already taking medication for osteoporosis. The recommendation for men is just slightly lower at 1,000 mg per day.

Get some sun. Calcium is best for your bone health when it is consumed with vitamin D, which helps your bones to properly absorb the calcium. If you spend a lot of time indoors, or live in a place that doesn’t get much sunlight, consider adding a vitamin D supplement to your diet to ensure you meet your daily needs, or try to eat more foods rich in vitamin D, such as fatty fish (like salmon or tuna), fortified milk and orange juice, and egg yolks.

Try weight-bearing exercise. Exercise is always important for your overall health, but the type of exercise you get is particularly important for bone health. Weight-bearing exercise, such as running or stair climbing, is great for bone health because it ‘compresses’ your bones to make them stronger. These exercises also help strengthen quadriceps, which can reduce the amount of pain or stiffness associated with knee osteoarthritis.

Cut out tobacco. Smoking can have a number of poor health implications; but it’s particularly bad for your bones, because it prevents them from properly absorbing calcium and vitamin D. The toxins also upset the balance of hormones needed to keep your bones strong.

Maximize your omegas. Omega-3 fatty acids are important to promote bone formation and reduce the rate at which bones are broken down. You can increase your intake by eating foods such as fatty fish (e.g. salmon), and some nuts and seeds (e.g. flaxseeds and walnuts), canola oil and eggs. Remember omega-3s are considered an essential fatty acid (EFA), or a good source of fat, which the body cannot create on its own, so it is important to consume in your diet.

Consume less caffeine. Coffee and other caffeinated beverages can be good for some aspects of your health, but not for your bones. Too much caffeine can actually affect the way that your body absorbs calcium. While you don’t have to give it up entirely, try to drink it in moderation, and make sure that you’re getting plenty of calcium as well.

Drink less alcohol. Like coffee, too much can be a bad thing for your bones, and of course your overall health. Drinking too much alcohol can cause bone loss, because it interferes with vitamin D functioning properly within the body. However, moderate consumption—one drink per day for women and two for men—is okay and may even help slow bone loss, according to some studies.

Pump up the potassium. Studies have shown that a diet high in potassium can improve bone health, because it may neutralize acids that remove calcium from the body. As an added bonus, potassium is important for helping nerves and muscles communicate, and can reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. Try eating more foods rich in potassium, such as sweet potatoes, bananas, white beans and yogurt. 

George Sutherland, MD is a board certified orthopedic surgeon at Optim Orthopedics, specializing in joints and sports medicine. He completed his training at Louisiana State University in Shreveport, La. and the Hughston Foundation in Columbus, Ga.

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