Consume Calcium or Else!

By Grace Wang and Chris E. Stout, PhD

Much of the Western world is interested in health insofar as it relates to outward appearance. While there’s something to be said for fighting obesity or working towards six-pack abs, most of an unhealthy lifestyle manifests itself primarily on the inside of our bodies, not the outside. Take cigarette smoking, for example. It damages hair, nails, teeth, skin, etc., but the largest toll it takes is on one’s lungs and thus is completely invisible to us without the help of a scope and a medical professional. Because of this, some governments recently started requiring cigarette companies to display images of smoking’s effects on their packaging. And guess what? It worked. Smoking rates in those countries have decreased.

Similarly, osteoporosis is a serious health issue that cannot be seen. The International Osteoporosis Foundation reports that worldwide, osteoporosis causes more than 8.9 million fractures per year, which means that an osteoporotic fracture occurs every 3 seconds. Additionally, one in three women over the age of 50 will experience osteoporotic fractures, as will one in five men. Jane Cobler, PT, DPT, and experienced clinician at ATI Physical Therapy, describes osteoporosis as, “…a process that results in the weakening of bone tissue, placing individuals at risk for fracture and therefore hospitalization, decline in function, and increased pain.”

Of course, there are several differences between osteoporosis and illness or disease caused by smoking, including severity of the malady, variety in treatment options, rate of survival, etc. But another difference is that smoking’s effects are much more graphic and so using visuals as a scare tactic for consumers is a viable option. However, the same method cannot be used for osteoporosis. “Consume calcium, or else!” just doesn’t produce the intended reaction.

So what are viable preventative measures against osteoporosis? How can we keep our bones healthy and strong? Here are some tips:

  1. Exercise regularly. WebMD indicates that strength training not only bolsters bones, but it also prevents falls that could easily cause fractures and breaks, especially if the skeletal system is brittle or weak. Aerobics, jogging, tai chi, and yoga are all great examples of exercises that keep bones healthy. Cobler says, “Maintaining adequate bone health is supplemented in many ways including exercise. Weight-bearing resistance exercises are some of the best ways to strengthen bone tissue and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.”
  2. Get enough calcium. According to WebMD, if your body doesn’t have enough calcium, it will use what’s stored in your bones. As a result, this breaks your bones down and thus weakens them.  Consuming soy products, dairy products, and calcium-fortified products and supplements will give your body its necessary daily dose of calcium.
  3. Go outside! Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium, says Mayo Clinic. While vitamin D can be found in food (fish, eggs, and cod liver oil, for example), going outside for a minimum of 10 minutes a day can boost your supply as well.
  4. Break unhealthy habits. Studies have shown that excess alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and cola drinks are linked to bone-loss as well. While these studies don’t necessarily show a causal relationship between the two, a correlational relationship has been established. In other words, cola might not harm your bone density directly, but if you’re drinking it instead of healthier beverages, it can be detrimental to your skeletal health.

Taking these steps can go a long way to keep you from risking breaks and fractures later in life – when it’s more difficult to bounce back.