MANY of us can remember our mothers telling us to drink our milk to develop healthy bones. Well, experts say this is one of the best pieces of advice to follow if you are a woman, because as women get older, bones get frailer and calcium consumption becomes even more of a necessity.
Weak bones that break easily are a sure sign of a disease called osteoporosis which is more common in women than men. It happens as a result of the loss of protein and calcium that provides the body with strength and makes it resistant to fractures. Because of the brittleness of the bones, they break and give the illusion that someone is shrinking.
"Osteoporosis occurs when more of your bone tissue is being removed from your bones (in a process called resorption) than is being created. If you need to have a picture of someone who has been affected by osteoporosis, think of an older woman who seems to have shrunk over time," said family physician Dr Jacqueline Campbell.
Resorption usually occurs after age 30, although a woman's risk of osteoporosis increases after 50 years old. This is because of a decrease in oestrogen levels in women around the time of menopause.
"Twenty five per cent of post-menopausal women will develop osteoporosis if supplemental oestrogen is not provided," said obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Sharmaine Mitchell.
"Oestrogen replacement, however, has significant side effects and may not be appropriate for some women, especially if there is a high risk for breast cancer, heart disease, strokes and a clot in the leg," she explained.
Apart from menopause and a calcium deficiency, other causes of osteoporosis include a Vitamin D deficiency, a sedentary lifestyle and confinement to bed as well as excessive alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and a history of hormone treatment for prostate and breast cancer. It could also result from an absence of the menstrual period for long periods of time, chronic rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease, or an eating disorder.
A precursor to osteoporosis is osteopenia which means that your bone health is at risk as a result of your bone mineral density being lower than normal. Regular strength training exercises, the elimination of cigarette smoking, daily calcium supplementation and a reduction in foods that contain caffeine can help to preserve bone density.
"Calcium supplementation may aggravate or contribute to constipation in some patients. This may be counteracted by increasing the amount of fibre in the diet. Consumption of bran cereal and prunes may offer some relief," said Dr Mitchell.
"If necessary, the addition of a stool softener will provide relief. The consumption of foods containing calcium will definitely be beneficial. These include broccoli, milk, cheese, yoghurt and fish, especially sardines."
If you suspect you might be suffering from oesteoporosis, it is important that you visit your health provider who will be able to provide treatment for your condition.