Bone health – part 1

Bones are something we really take for granted……until they fail us. Bones are active, living organs which contain bone tissue, nerves, cartilage and connective tissue. Our bodies are constantly in the process of making new bone, while simultaneously breaking down and removing old bone. Most of our blood cells are manufactured in bone tissue, so healthy bones are critical to our overall health. Bones are made up of mostly calcium and phosphorous (which give them their rigidity), but also substances like collagen, a fibrous protein that provides flexibility, strength and durability. In fact, these fibres are actually stronger than steel fibres of the same size.

Growing strong bones begins in childhood and is especially important during adolescence. Adolescence is a critical time for bone formation, this is when we can really maximise the strength (or density) of our bones and will determine the strength of our bones for the rest of our lives. Between the ages of 10 and 18 our bones are in a kind of ‘hyper drive’ mode and are very good at making denser, more compact bone, so this is the time to really focus on getting the minerals and vitamins into our diets that promote good bone health. After the age of about 30, we start to lose more bone than we make, so the denser our bones are by that time, the stronger our bones will be as we age.

Our likelihood of developing osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones that break easily) depends on:

1. how much bone we have stored up in our younger years

2. what we do to maintain the bone we have

3. what we do to prevent excessive bone loss

Building good bone strength means making sure that we obtain enough:

· calcium

· vitamin D

· phosphorous

· magnesium

· vitamin K

Next month we will look at food sources of these vitamins and minerals that can help us achieve these goals and some things to avoid, that can have a negative effect on bone health.

by Paula Southworth

Paula Southworth
Nutritionist and Health Coach

(BSc Human Nutrition and Sports Science, Massey University)

Member of the Nutrition Society of New Zealand