What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones have lost calcium and other minerals, become fragile and tend to fracture more easily. In Australia, osteoporosis affects one in two females and one in three males over the age of 60.
During childhood and the teen years, particularly just before puberty, the body is very efficient at storing calcium and building strong bones. By our early twenties, peak bone mass (maximum bone density) is achieved – this is when our bones are at their strongest. Building a higher peak bone mass early in life helps prevent osteoporosis later in life. It is essential to eat enough calcium-rich foods and do regular physical activity (high impact or weight bearing) during the first twenty years of life to help achieve a healthy maximum bone density.
After peak bone mass, a woman’s bones gradually lose minerals and strength. For the 5–10 years following menopause, there is a sharp decline in the amount of the hormone oestrogen in a woman’s body. During this time, women may lose 2–4% of their bone per year.
In men, bone loss generally occurs after the age of 50, but does not occur at the same rate as in women. By age 65, both men and women lose bone at the same rate. Eating enough calcium-rich foods is therefore essential throughout life to maintain strong bones and to help slow down the bone loss that occurs naturally with age.
Those most at risk of osteoporosis include:
  • Those with a family history of osteoporosis;
  • Caucasians (fair skinned) and Asians who are slim and have small bones (low peak bone mass); and
  • Women who had early menopause.
A number of lifestyle factors can also increase the risk of osteoporosis:
  • Low intake of calcium-rich foods, particularly a low intake of dairy foods;
  • Inactivity (i.e. not undertaking regular exercise);
  • Limited exposure to sunlight and therefore reduced levels of vitamin D;
  • Extreme dieting, which may restrict consumption of nutritious foods and can result in low body weight;
  • Smoking; and
  • High alcohol intake.
Nutrition Australia would like to acknowledge Dairy Australia as the original author of this resource.
Published: January 2018
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