Bone Health

“Your bones are for life. Look after them and they will carry you far.”

- Susan Hampshire

Your guide to better bones

Osteoporosis is the disease known as the “silent epidemic”, a stealthy sickness that goes unnoticed until a bone fractures. Osteoporosis is also a non-discriminating disease. It can affect everyone, from young to old.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa (NOFSA), one in three women and one in five men will develop this disease in their lifetime.

When you’re afflicted with osteoporosis, your bones literally “thin” out – that is, you lose too much, make too little or both. Your bones become weaker and more prone to injury even from a minor fall. In some serious cases, even just bumping into furniture can cause harm.

The important thing to know about osteoporosis prevention and treatment is: earlier is better. Nutritionists and health experts’ advice being diligent about calcium intake from an early age to offset problems later on in life. Calcium is widely regarded as the most important nutrient needed for a healthy skeleton – especially in the elderly, children and pregnant or lactating women.

Why is calcium so vital? According to NOFSA: “Each day we lose calcium through our skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine and faeces. Unless we can replace this calcium through dietary supplementation, the body will begin to leech calcium from bone, resulting in a loss of bone structure and strength.”

Know your bones

  • The worldwide hip fracture rate is two to three times higher in women than in men. (In developing countries like South Africa, men and women are equally affected after the age of 60).
  • People who are thin or have a small frame are at greater risk for osteoporosis.
  • Women can lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass in the five to seven years following menopause.
  • The symptoms of osteoporosis are often invisible, until a fracture occurs. The hips, the spine and the wrist are the bones most often broken by men and women with osteoporosis.


5 foods that show promise
Dried plums: A study by the Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma gleaned positive results by feeding dried plums to rats. They found that the plums have a potent effect on bone metabolism and prevent deterioration in bone mass, and they hope the study can be replicated in humans.

Walnuts and flaxseed oil: Walnuts and flaxseed oil are rich sources of Omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). What’s so great about ALA? A study published in Clinical and Experimental Obstetrics and Gynecology revealed that when ALA is added to calcium and Vitamin D, bone mineral density increases (more than by just using calcium and Vitamin D alone). The study found that women with osteopenia (a condition in which the protein and mineral content of bone tissue is reduced) had better bone mineral density on a diet that included calcium, Vitamin D and ALA.

Eggs: Eggs are cheap and tasty. What’s not to love? Even better, they are a fantastic source of Vitamin D and this vitamin is key in bringing calcium into your bones.

Olive leaf extract: This extract has concentrations of oleuropein, which in recent studies, were shown to stimulate the number and activity of osteoblast cells (the cells that are responsible for bone formation). Researchers state: “Our data suggest that oleuropein, highly abundant in olive tree products included in the Mediterranean diet, could prevent age-related bone loss and osteoporosis.”

Vitamin D plays an important role in the state of your bones. It helps the body absorb calcium and ensures correct renewal and mineralisation of bone. Good dietary sources include oily fish (salmon and sardines), egg yolk, liver, and milk, margarine and cereals fortified with Vitamin D.

3 calcium culprits

  1. The more salt you eat, the more calcium your body needs. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation in the US, salt causes excessive calcium excretion through the kidneys. The World Health Organization recommends five grams of salt per day (one teaspoon).
  2. Smoking is another calcium culprit, siphoning off calcium from your bones and weakening them further.
  3. Yes, alcohol can also affect your bones. Excessive alcohol intake is associated with lower bone density.

Quick questions

Q: Is osteoporosis reversible?
A: Unfortunately not. If you already have the disease you can never regain the amount of bone that has been lost. Any form of treatment will aim to stop the bone loss and improve the quality of the bones in order to prevent future fractures.

Q: Will exercise help or hurt?
A: Do not be scared to exercise! Physical activity actually helps with maintaining bone mass whereas being immobile increases the rate of bone loss. Ask your doctor which exercises would work best for your state of health.

Q: Calcium supplements – yay or nay?
A: The International Osteoporosis Foundation advocates that calcium needs be met primarily through diet. Failing that, they recommend a supplement, preferably in combination with Vitamin D for optimal absorption.

Recommended daily allowance of calcium and Vitamin D
1-3 years old: 700 mg calcium / 600 IU Vitamin D
4-8 years old: 1 000 mg calcium / 600 IU Vitamin D
9-13 years old: 1 300 mg calcium / 600 IU Vitamin D
14-18 years old: 1 300 mg calcium / 600 IU Vitamin D
19-30 years old: 1 000 mg calcium / 600 IU Vitamin D
31-50 years old: 1 000 mg calcium / 600 IU Vitamin D
51-70 years old males: 1 000 mg calcium / 600 IU Vitamin D
51-70 years old females: 1 200 mg calcium / 600 IU Vitamin D
70+: 1 200 mg calcium / 800 IU Vitamin D
14-18 years old pregnant/lactating: 1 300 mg calcium / 600 IU Vitamin D
19-50 years old pregnant/lactating: 1 000 mg calcium / 600 IU Vitamin D

(Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to provide general background information and not to substitute any medical diagnosis or advice received from a qualified healthcare professional.)


– California Dried Plum Board. June 2015. (Online) Available at Accessed: w/c 5 October 2015.
– Dr Ingrid van Heerden. How to Eat Right to Prevent Osteoporosis. August 2015 (Online) Health24. Available at: Accessed: w/c 5 October 2015.
– Symptoms of Osteoporosis. July 2014. (Online) Health24. Available at: Accessed: w/c 5 October 2015.
– Nelson, Jennifer K. Break Free from Osteoporosis. May 2014. (Online) The Mayo Clinic. Available at: Accessed: w/c 5 October 2015.
– Interview conducted with
Teréza Hough, CEO, National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa. October 2015.
– WHO Issues New Guidance on Dietary Salt and Potassium. June 2013. (Online) Available at: Accessed: w/c 5 October 2015.
– Osteoporosis and Musculoskeletal Disorders. International Osteoporosis Foundation. (Online) Available at: Accessed: w/c 5 October 2015.

Reviewed by:
Dr Emma-Jane Roberts – Osteopathic physician
Teréza Hough – National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa (NOFSA)

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