Osteoporosis prophylaxis begins in childhood

Osteoporosis is a disease of the skeleton, which is characterized by a low bone density and a damaged micro-architecture of the bone. The consequences are increased bone fractures, mainly in the vertebral bodies, the wrist and the hip. Osteoporosis is a typical disease of older people – but prevention begins very early, namely in childhood .

The often underestimated disease osteoporosis can have significant consequences: the dreaded femoral neck fracture in older people is still associated with a high mortality rate of up to 20% and severely limits the quality of life. Every third woman in her 50s will suffer a fracture in the remainder of her life.

Although women are more often affected than men, the lifetime risk for men of suffering an osteoporotic fracture is also relatively high at 20%. Genetic factors that we cannot change play an important role in the development of osteoporosis. What we can influence, however, are a bone-friendly lifestyle and an appropriate diet, which make a decisive contribution to prevention.

Bone building and bone loss

The bone is a metabolically active tissue, which constantly remodels itself. If the breakdown exceeds the structure, the bone density decreases. The bone must be optimally supplied with nutritional energy, vitamins and minerals to build up. Calcium, protein and vitamin D are particularly important. Exercise, especially those that stress and thus activate the bones, is also of great importance.

Whether the bone density reaches the critical osteoporotic range within the lifetime depends on two parameters: on the maximum bone density (so-called peak bone mass), which is normally reached between 20 and 30 years, and on the annual rate of decrease in bone density (on average approx. 1%), which occurs in all people after a plateau phase.

As a result, two things are very important for prevention: firstly, the maximum increase in bone mass and secondly, the reduction in the loss rate.

Maximum bone density – parents watch out

The bone structure and the maximum bone density are strongly dependent on the lifestyle in childhood and adolescence. A calcium and protein-rich diet as well as a high supply of vitamin D are the most important factors in addition to regular exercise. Three servings of dairy products a day already cover a large part of the calcium and protein requirements. Several handfuls of fresh fruits and vegetables every day provide other important nutrients.

An example: In girls between the ages of 11 and 13, the same amount of bone mass accumulates as it is lost in the 30 years after menopause! Regular, bone-activating exercise is also very important: the difference in maximum bone mass between children who exercise a lot and those who exercise little is up to 40%. Adolescents with a very low body mass index (BMI) or even anorexia are particularly at risk; they are usually undersupplied with calcium and protein.

Slow down bone loss

The blame for the development of osteoporosis cannot only be blamed on one’s parents. The adult lifestyle is a major contributor to how quickly bone density decreases. The continuation of a healthy diet for the bones, regular exercise and the avoidance of risk factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption or being underweight are crucial.