What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis, which translates to “porous bones,” is a condition that causes bones to become brittle, fragile, and weak, putting individuals at risk of fractures.
The condition usually advances painlessly until a fracture happens, most commonly in the wrist, spine, or hip.
If an individual suffers a fracture, side effects can include loss of independence, difficulty breathing, pain, and even death in rare instance where complications result from the fracture.
Osteoporosis is a major public health threat for Australians aged 50 years of age and older. With hundreds of thousands of individuals estimated to already have the disease and millions estimated to have low bone mass, osteoporosis poses a significant threat to ageing Australians.
Women, in particular, are at a higher risk of osteoporosis, with over 80 percent of cases affecting women. Menopause causes a drop in estrogen levels in women. Since estrogen helps slow down or block bone loss, a decrease in this important hormone puts women at a significantly higher risk of developing this condition. Women also tend to have thinner, smaller bones than men.
In fact, one out of every two women will develop osteoporosis in their lifetime. As the number of ageing individuals rises, these statistics will likely increase as well. Though osteoporosis is a common condition, there are steps that can be taken to help protect yourself against it.
What Factors Negatively Affect Bone Health?
Decreased bone health and osteoporosis have several risk factors such as:
- Low body weight
- Certain medications
- Poor Diet
When possible, it is important to deal with any risk factors you have control over, such as poor diet and smoking. Getting more exercise, eating a nutritious diet, and quitting smoking can all have a significant impact on improving your bone health.
Supplements for Bone Health
While it is important to maintain a healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables, the right supplements can be helpful for helping to maintain healthy bones.
Fortunately, there are a host of supplementation options that can assist you in obtaining the vitamins and minerals needed for optimal bone health. Let’s take a look at two of these bone health superstars — Vitamin D and Fish Oil.
Vitamin D has a host of important jobs in the body, including helping to absorb calcium and phosphorus — key minerals for bone health — and promoting mineralisation of the skeleton. Despite its importance, many people do not get enough Vitamin D.
Exposure to sunlight results in the production of Vitamin D in the skin, but the rise in the use of sunscreen and a rapidly ageing population has contributed to insufficient Vitamin D levels in many individuals.
When exposed to sunlight, the skin makes Vitamin D and stores it in fat to use later. The amount of Vitamin D created depends on the season, the individual’s age, skin pigmentation, time of day, and several other factors.
Dietary Sources of Vitamin D
Only a few foods such as egg yolks, fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, or tuna naturally contain Vitamin D.
Cereals, dairy products, and orange juice are often fortified with it, but it can be unreliable to depend on these as your sole form of Vitamin D intake.
Wild mushrooms are also excellent sources of vitamin D2. However, commercially grown mushrooms (often found in the supermarket) are usually grown in the dark and contain very little D2.
Risk Factors for Vitamin D Deficiency
Certain people are at higher risk for becoming deficient in vitamin D. These individuals include:
- People living in nursing homes
- Homebound individuals
- Individuals who consistently wear clothing that covers most of their body
- People with medical conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and Celiac disease (these conditions can have a negative impact on Vitamin D absorption)
- People who spend limited time oustide or cover up/wear sunscreen when outdoors
- Individuals with very dark skin (this reduces the body’s ability to synthesize Vitamin D from the sun’s rays)
- Obese or overweight individuals
- Older adults with certain risk factors
- People taking certain medications such as anti-seizure medicines
Vitamin D and Calcium – Superstars of Strong Bones
You probably already know the importance of getting enough calcium for strong bones, but some scientists believe Vitamin D is just as critical for bone health since it aids in the absorption of calcium from food and supplements into the bloodstream.
Without sufficient Vitamin D levels, calcium absorption significantly decreases. This means that even if you are taking enough calcium, it might be going to waste if your Vitamin D levels are insufficient.
Vitamin D also helps ensure proper calcium levels in the bloodstream, which initiates a variety of important functions.
Vitamin D and Bone Health
Vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency is now recognised as a significant cause of metabolic bone disease in the elderly population. Deficient Vitamin D levels can cause osteomalacia (soft bones) and worsen osteoporosis (brittle bones).
Vitamin D may also help by supporting muscles to decrease the likelihood of a fracture. Given its many benefits for bone health — as well as for overall health — Vitamin D may be a supplement worth considering adding to your routine if you have any of the risk factors or symptoms of low Vitamin D.
How Do I Find Out If I Am Deficient in Vitamin D?
Since Vitamin D is fat soluble, it can build up over time in your fat to toxic levels if you are not monitoring your supplementation. This makes it especially important to work with your doctor.
A simple test — the 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test — can be performed by your doctor to determine the current amount of Vitamin D in your body. Your doctor can help you look at the results and decide if you need to supplement and how much.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids From Fish Oil
In addition to Vitamin D, Fish Oil may be another supplement worth considering to encourage healthy bones. Studies suggest that Omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil may help guard against bone loss due to ageing.
Fish oil is rich in a variety of beneficial nutrients such as Vitamin D — mentioned above for its bone supporting abilities — and omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish Oil for Overall Bone Health
Some studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids may help to raise the level of calcium in your bones, thereby decreasing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
Animal studies have shown that a higher dietary Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids ratio is associated with positive effects on bone health.
NASA-sponsored studies have indicated that the Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil may help mitigate bone breakdown that astronauts experience in space. With further studies and research, this may have positive implications for both space travelers and individuals susceptible to bone loss here on earth.
Are You Getting Enough Omega 3s?
Typically, individuals in Australia do not consume enough animal-based Omega 3 fats. However, Omega 6 fats — found in highly processed vegetable oils like canola, corn, and soy — are consumed in abundance.
This throws the ratio between Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids out of balance and can result in high levels of inflammation. Since many scientists agree that chronic inflammation can lead to a host of negative health consequences, maintaining enough Omega 3 fatty acids in your body is crucial.
Ideally, the ratio between Omega 3s and Omega 6s should be close to 1:1. You can help reach the ideal ratio by consuming high-quality fish oil supplements and consuming foods naturally rich in Omega 3s such as wild caught salmon or other fatty fish. It is also important to limit consumption of processed foods high in Omega 6 fatty acids.
Added Health Benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Along with its potential to strengthen your bones, some of the areas Omega 3 fatty acids have also demonstrated benefits in include:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Improving endothelial function
- Reducing inflammation
- Lowering triglyceride concentrations
- Preventing fatty deposits inside the arteries
Fish oil and Vitamin D3 can make a powerful pair when it comes to supporting bone health. Consider talking to your doctor about the best ways to prevent osteoporosis and to find out what your Vitamin D level is.
Do you currently supplement with fish oil or Vitamin D? Have you ever been diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiency or had your levels tested? Let us know – we always enjoy hearing from you.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.