Bone health and osteoporosis

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Most people don’t think about their bones until they have a fracture or until they reach older age, but bones are the body’s foundation, providing support and structure and giving protection to organs. Healthy, strong bones are key to leading long, healthy, active and independent lives.

Bones are living tissue, constantly in a state of renewal, so building and maintaining bone health is a lifelong matter. Poor bone health can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis, a disease characterised by low bone mass, leading to a high risk of fracture.1 In Australia, osteoporosis affects one in two women and one in three men over the age of 60 years.2

Building and maintaining strong bones is important at every life stage. For example, childhood is the greatest window of opportunity to build bone strength and ultimately reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Along with the rest of their body, children’s bones are growing rapidly throughout this period of their life.

During adolescence, over roughly two years (12–14 for girls and 13–15 for boys) teens' bodies build one-quarter of their adult bone mass, making this a critical period of rapid bone growth and important for decreasing fracture risk later in life.

By the early twenties, a person has built up as much bone as he or she will ever have. From early adulthood, bones gradually lose bone minerals such as calcium and gradually become weaker, therefore it is vital that during adulthood, daily calcium needs are met and regular exercise is important. Following menopause, women begin to lose bone mass rapidly and by the age of 65 both men and women lose bone mass at the same rate.3

Genetic predisposition can impact bone strength and while this risk factor can’t be changed, a ‘bone-friendly’ lifestyle can be adopted at any life stage.4 In a position statement and review of the literature, the US-led National Osteoporosis Foundation stated lifestyle factors are important for achieving peak bone mass and strength, and important for reducing the risk of osteoporosis.5 The key ingredients for strong bones for life include weight-bearing exercise, calcium-rich dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese and vitamin D from safe sun exposure, foods or supplements.6



1 Osteoporosis Australia. What is Osteoporosis? [Internet]. Osteoporosis Australia, Glede, 2014. Available from: http://www.osteoporosis.org.au/what-it

2 Australian Bureau of Statistics [Internet]. Canberra: ABS; 2015. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12. Arthritis and Osteoporosis. Calcium. Cat 4364.0.55.001. Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4364.0.55.001chapter3102011-12

3 Ebeling P, Daly R, Kerr D, Kimlin M. Building bones throughout life: an evidence-informed strategy to prevent osteoporosis in Australia. Med J Aust. 2013;199(7 Supp):S1.

4 Osteoporosis Australia. Risk factors [Internet]. Osteoporosis Australia, Glede, 2015. Available from: http://www.osteoporosis.org.au/risk-factors

5 Weaver C, Gordon C, Janz K, Kalkwarf H, Lappe J, Lewis R et al. The National Osteoporosis Foundation’s position statement on peak bone mass development and lifestyle factors: a systematic review and implementation recommendations. Osteoporos Int. 2016; published online ahead of print. doi: 10.1007/s00198-015-3440-3

6 Ebeling P, Daly R, Kerr D, Kimlin M. Building bones throughout life: an evidence-informed strategy to prevent osteoporosis in Australia. Med J Aust. 2013;199(7 Supp):S1.