Osteoporosis is one of the greatest challenges faced by our elderly population as it affects a staggering 1 in 3 people over the age of 55. Fractures occur in 2 out of every 3 women, and one in 3 men over 65 due to osteoporosis. This leads to 7 billion dollars of money spent on associated health care costs, which is only topped by diabetes. Every 8 minutes in Australia, someone is admitted into hospital with a fracture due to osteoporosis.
Many people are aware of osteoporosis, but are misinformed as to what it actually is
Although the figures are staggering, they don’t need to be so high. Many people are aware of osteoporosis, but are misinformed as to what it actually is. If you ask the majority what Osteoporosis is, they will answer “a lack of calcium”. This is an incorrect response or more accurately a partial truth. It’s similar to the 80’s where you were told eating fat makes you fat, so people went to a high carb/low fat diet. These days we know that carbohydrates will make you gain more weight than fats. Like this, calcium is synonymous with osteoporosis, but in fact osteoporosis is a lack of bone density to which calcium is a part of. To understand this better you need to understand the anatomy of the bone. The bone is made up of 3 components: the matrix, the minerals and water. Many will focus on the middle components, the minerals, which is dominated by calcium, but also includes phosphate, magnesium and other minerals. This is to the detriment of the first component, the matrix. The matrix is what is required for the calcium to bind or join to, otherwise it won’t stay in the bone tissue.
This is my issue with calcium supplements on their own. The matrix is made up of collagen fibres (yes the same stuff that women inject into their lips). So what is collagen? It’s Protein, in fact the most common protein in the body. This is something rarely mentioned in discussions of osteoporosis. The matrix provides the bone with tensile strength. Think of it like scaffolding inside the bone, or rather the steel reinforcements they lay down before pouring concrete. With out the scaffolding or reinforcement, the calcium cant bind to anything and the supplement is being wasted.
How do people build up the bone matrix?
The exact same way they build muscle tissue, through exercise. There is an effect in the bone known as the piezoelectric effect, which although sounds complex, is fairly straight forward. If you put pressure on a bone, more than it is use to, it will start to lay down more bone to build strength to accommodate for this added pressure. If you want to increase bone strength and density, you have to load it with exercise. In particular, resistance exercises or strength exercises. This does need to correctly prescribed to make sure it is done safely, but for people over 55 with osteoporosis, they should not be afraid as it is very safe. It is also very time efficient. We have seen improvements in people doing less than an hour a week of exercise. What counts is the quality of the exercise. It needs to be challenging, if it’s not, then chances are it isn’t helping much.
I have seen in the past 10 years, hundreds of people improving their bone density with exercise.