Osteoporosis 101

What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bone’. This silent but lethal disease often only makes itself known when the first fracture occurs. The density and quality of bone is reduced, the loss of bone occurs progressively and as bone becomes more and more porous and fragile, the risk of fracture is greatly increased, particularly at the hips, spine and wrists. The incidence of these fractures increases with age in both women and men.

A common myth is that osteoporosis is a disease that generally affects post-menopausal women, and should simply be seen as a normal part of ageing. While it is indeed true that in women over 45 years of age, osteoporosis accounts for more days spent in hospital than many other diseases including diabetes, myocardial infarction and breast cancer, men and children are also at risk.

The good news is that osteoporosis is now a largely treatable condition and, with a combination of lifestyle changes and appropriate medical treatment, many fractures can be avoided.

What role does calcium and Vitamin D play in bone health?
Calcium is the most important composition of bone tissue and approximately 99% of calcium is stored in the bones and teeth. Vitamin D’s essence lies in the development and the maintenance of bones through assisting the absorption of calcium from food in the intestines to the bones, as well as ensuring the formation of bone tissue and that the relevant minerals are provided.

Does the protein in milk cause calcium loss?
Part of our ongoing message is to stress the importance of a balanced diet in order to effectively combat bone loss and osteoporosis. Protein (milk is a key source) is essential for maintaining bone health and also plays a major role in the healing of osteoporotic fractures. A rough estimate of about 1gram per kilogram body weight per day is thought to be sufficient. Alkali rich foods like fruit and vegetables are also important to maintain a healthy balance between these key nutrients.

What is the role of Vitamin K?
Vitamin K is needed for the production of osteocalcin, as well as guaranteeing its functionality. Osteocalcin is the second richest protein in bone after collagen, and is required for the mineralization of bone. Low dietary intake of vitamin K can cause an increase in the risk of fragility fractures in the elderly. Vitamin K can be found in foods such as lettuce, spinach, cabbage and kale, liver, and some fermented foods such as cheese.

Is there a need for Magnesium and Zinc supplementation?
If there is a reason for not absorbing magnesium e.g. diabetes, alcoholism and malnutrition, magnesium should be supplemented. Magnesium is important to maintain the calcium balance in bone and also to help with the formation of bone mineral. Zinc, on the other hand, plays a crucial role in regulating bone turnover.

Good nutrition alone will neither prevent nor cure osteoporosis, but in the context of a bone-friendly lifestyle it is the more pleasurable and less onerous task. Remember to also do weight-bearing exercise, stop smoking, and limit alcohol intake!

For more information, visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa at or call them on their helpline 086 110 2265.

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