Tag Archives: osteoporosis

Beating Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis: Is Calcium the Key?

Is Calcium the Key to Preventing Osteoporosis?

World Osteoporosis Day takes place every year on October 20. The campaign, organised by the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF), aims to raise global awareness of the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis and metabolic bone disease.

Our bones are constantly being broken down and rebuilt in a process known as ‘bone turnover’. In our early years, bone is built faster than it is broken down, and we reach our ‘peak bone mass’ at some point during our 20s. After this time, preserving healthy bones becomes a vital health concern. If bone is broken down more quickly than it is remade, then osteoporosis may occur.

This condition is of particular concern to postmenopausal women who produce less of the bone-protecting hormone oestrogen. Women lose more bone during their menopausal years than at any other time in their life [1]. However, men are under-diagnosed when it comes to osteoporosis and are more likely to go untreated.

The Key Three: Calcium, Magnesium and Vitamin D

Calcium is widely understood to play a key role in bone health and in preventing osteoporosis. After all, 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in bone. However, a calcium-rich diet in the absence of other bone-building nutrients is not effective in building healthy bones. Good quality studies have even linked high calcium intake with increased risk of bone fracture. This is most likely because calcium must work alongside other nutrients to build and maintain healthy bones.

Calcium must be absorbed and retained effectively to benefit bones. This requires two more nutritional helpers: magnesium and vitamin D. These three nutrients work synergistically – none is effective without the others.

60% of the magnesium in our body is stored in our bones. Magnesium works hand in hand with calcium by stimulating the hormone calcitonin which helps to draw calcium into bone and keep it there. Magnesium is also required in order to convert vitamin D to its active form.

Unfortunately many of us fail to meet the recommended daily intake of magnesium. Deficiency in this mineral is a particular concern for girls. In a recent national survey, more than 50% of girls between the ages of 11 and 18 had inadequate magnesium intake, putting them at risk of osteoporosis in later years.

Vitamin D is also essential for calcium absorption, helping to transport calcium out of the intestine and into the bloodstream. An estimated 60-70% of the UK population are low in Vitamin D. Elderly people and darker skinned populations are at particular risk of osteoporosis due to this. It is difficult to obtain sufficient Vitamin D from diet alone. Supplements or sun exposure (around 15 minutes each day) are the best ways to obtain the daily requirement of this vitamin to support healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis from occurring.

Nutrients for Bone Retention

Building healthy bone is only one part of the picture. Once healthy bone has been built, it is important to ensure that it is retained. Preventing bone from being broken down is essential in warding off osteoporosis. Special compounds in plant foods play a key role in preventing bone from being broken down. These compounds have ‘bone resorption inhibiting properties’. They support bone health by ‘turning off’ osteoclasts, the cells that break down bone tissue.

Dried plums, a source of phenols, have been shown in human studies to improve bone density by preventing bone breakdown. Other phytonutrients such as quercetin and hesperidin, present in fruits and vegetables such as onions, broccoli and citrus fruits, show similar benefits. Including these fruits and vegetables regularly alongside sources of calcium, magnesium and Vitamin D is the key to nourishing strong and healthy bones, therefore preventing osteoporosis in later life [2].

Bone Boosting Recipes

Dried Plum ‘Bone Booster’ Snack Bars

Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 30 minutes Serves: 8

Special phenolic compounds in dried plums increase levels of a hormone linked to bone formation. These compounds also help to prevent bone from being broken down. Dried plums, or prunes, are also high in antioxidants and provide an excellent source of potassium, boron and copper – essential nutrients for bone health. Soy flour provides a source of ‘bone boosting’ phytoestrogens, while almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are useful sources of calcium and magnesium. [3]


  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • ¼ cup Dried Plum (Prune) purée
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tsp grated orange zest
  • ¼ cup soy flour
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup whole almonds
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • ¼ cup raw sunflower seeds


Heat oven to 160°C. Spray an 8×8” baking pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper, leaving the paper overhanging on 2 sides. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together dried plum purée, honey, orange juice, egg white and orange zest. In small bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon and baking powder. Fold flour mixture, oats, almonds, coconut, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds into dried plum mixture.

Press mixture evenly into prepared pan. Bake about 30 minutes or until firm to the touch. Cool on rack; remove from pan, using paper to lift it out. Cut in four, then cut across in half to make 8 bars.

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 212
Cholesterol: 0mg
Total Fat: 12g
Saturated Fat: 4g
Sodium: 41mg
Carbohydrate: 22g
Protein: 6g
Fibre: 3g
Potassium: 159mg

‘Better Bones’ Banana Oat Bars

Makes one 9×9-inch pan. 6 Servings.

Oats and flaxseed provide lignans which support bone and hormonal health after menopause. Bananas provide potassium which helps to prevent loss of calcium from the body. Anti-inflammatory omega 3, in the ground flaxseed and walnuts, is linked with improved bone density. Special phenolic compounds in dried plums increase levels of a hormone linked to bone formation. These compounds also help to prevent bone from being broken down. Dried plums, or prunes, are also high in antioxidants and provide essential nutrients for bone health such as potassium, boron and copper.


  • 2 large, very ripe bananas
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup pitted, chopped prunes
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseed
  • Grated nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)


Heat the oven to 180°C and lightly grease a 9×9-inch square baking dish with olive oil.

Peel the bananas and mash their flesh in a medium mixing bowl until no large chunks remain. Stir in the vanilla, if using. Add the oats and stir them in. Stir in the prunes and nuts.

Pat the thick mixture evenly into the baking pan. Sprinkle the top lightly with cinnamon. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges just begin to crisp up.

Per serving:

Calories: 200
Fat: 4.9g
Fibre: 5.6g
Sugar: 10.7g
Protein: 5.5g

Written by Nadia Mason

1. Feskanich D, Willett WC, Colditz GA. Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: a prospective study among postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77:504-511.
2. Hooshmand et al (2011) Comparative effects of dried plum and dried apple on bone in postmenopausal women. Brr J Nutr 106(6):923-30.
3. Gunn et al (2015) Nutrients Increased Intake of Selected Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit may Reduce Bone Turnover in Post-Menopausal Women 7(4): 2499–2517.


The importance of bone health

Bone health is an issue which is becoming increasingly more prominent in today’s society. According to the National Osteoporosis Society (1), one in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 in the UK will suffer with a bone fracture. This is mainly due to poor bone health which means that we all need to know how important it is to build and maintain strong bones.

In addition to weight baring exercise, nutrition is absolutely vital for establishing strong bones in childhood and adolescence as this is when the body passes through the bone growth stages to create individual peak bone mass. Within the 4 years surrounding an adolescent’s peak height, around 39% of their total body bone mineral is gained. This highlights how crucial this time is for building strong bones for the future as we go in to adulthood, as low bone mineral growth during youth is linked to the risk of developing brittle bones and osteoporosis in older age.

Fresh Orange Juice
Many Fresh Orange Juice's can be bought fortified with Calcium, Magnesium or Vitamin D.

Nutrients such as calcium, vitamins D and K and magnesium have all been specifically identified for bone health and having an influence on bone mineral density. A recent review (2) published in the journal Clinical Biochemistry focuses in particular on calcium’s effect on bone health. They reviewed numerous research papers looking into the effects of certain calcium rich foods on bone density.

For example, one study reported that women who had a lower intake of milk in childhood and adolescence had low bone density in adulthood and as a result they had a much greater risk of fractures later in life. Additionally, the authors reported on findings that with low intake of cow’s milk, even pre-pubertal children can have a higher risk of fractures which shows how important calcium intake is in early life.

As well as dietary calcium intake, calcium supplementation has also been found to be a fantastic contributor to bone mineral accretion. So be sure you add calcium to your family’s supplement regime to ensure all your bones are as strong as they can be to help prevent breakages.

Once peak bone mass is achieved around the age of 20 it needs to be maintained in the bone maintenance stage which lasts around 10-20 years. Then as we reach middle age our bone density starts to reduce by approximately 0.5–1.0% per year. However, it is important to note that female bone losses can be considerably more around the time of the menopause, at around 2–3% per year due to decreases in oestrogen levels. This represents a crucial time for maintaining bone density through our food and nutrition choices. Not surprisingly, calcium intake has been linked to the prevention of bone loss around this time.

Within the review paper, the research indicates that baseline calcium intakes of 500–1000 mg/day (meeting the recommended intake of 700mg a day) which were increased by 500–1200 mg/day prevented bone loss.

In order to be within this calcium intake, try to include the following foods into your typical day’s food intake, which combined equates to around 1578mg of calcium:

Typical servings: plain low fat yoghurt, 225g (415 mg of calcium), cheddar cheese, 40g (307mg), milk (around 300mg), pink salmon, 85g (181mg), Orange juice, calcium-fortified, 170ml (375mg). Dietary calcium is also available from sources such as other dairy products, bony fish, legumes, certain nuts (such as almonds and Brazil nuts), fortified soya milk and some fortified breakfast cereals also contain smaller amounts of calcium.

However, the report noted that most people’s calcium intake from dietary sources is often not sufficient especially for those that do not drink milk e.g. Chinese cultures. They therefore recommended calcium supplementation to meet the requirement. Vitamin D is also a great contributor to healthy bones on its own however when combined with calcium it has a much greater effect and the review noted that supplemental vitamin D combined with supplemental calcium can help to slow bone loss. This study included 1200 mg/day calcium and 1000 IU/day vitamin D supplementation and found that the two nutrients used together had a greater effect on maintaining bone density than when used individually.

It was also noted that calcium and vitamin D supplementation, at an intake of around 1000–1200mg calcium (depending on dietary calcium intake) and 800 IU vitamin D daily, is particularly important for those with osteoporosis or those at risk of its development. However, make sure that you are not exceeding the recommended upper limit of calcium which is 3,000 mg/day for children and adolescents aged 9–18 years, 2,500 mg/day for 19–50 year olds and 2,000mg/day for those aged> 50 years.

What all of this means it that it is really important to get enough calcium and vitamin D in both food and supplement forms to help keep bones healthy and strong, and also that your kids are getting enough to help build their bones for the future.

Written by Lauren Foster

(1) National Osteoporosis Society

(2) Zhu, K. & Prince, R.L. (2012) Calcium and bone. Clinical Biochemistry, p7.