Looking after our bone health is something that is relevant to us at all ages. However, the effect of poor bone health is something that doesn’t appear until we get older and we fracture or break a bone. Osteoporosis or brittle bone disease is very common in older people.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease when bones become very fragile and more likely to break. Throughout childhood and into the mid-twenties, the stores of bone within the skeleton increases, until it reaches ‘peak bone mass’. Beyond this age the amount of bone loss from the skeleton becomes greater than the amount of bone rebuilt and bones begin to lose density. This is a natural part of aging.

However if the ‘peak bone mass’ reached was not high enough or if the amount of bone loss is too great then osteoporosis can develop. This is when the inner structure of the bone becomes overly fragile and prone to breaks and fractures even after a minor bump or fall. This can cause pain and other problems. A fractured hip in an elderly person almost always requires hospitalization and major surgery and can then result in a complete loss of independence.

Are some people more at risk than others?

  • The risk of osteoporosis increases with age
  • Those with a history of osteoporosis in their family  
  • Women are more likely than men to suffer from this disease (they have lighter thinner bones and lose bone density much more rapidly after the menopause).

What can I do to lower my risk?

Reaching peak bone mass in early adulthood is very important, but you must continue to take care of your bones throughout life. Many nutrients work together to build and maintain strong bones.
The good news is that there are lots of steps you can take to help protect yourself against developing osteoporosis:
  • Maintain a healthy balanced diet: This includes good sources of calcium and other minerals. Calcium is best gotten through dairy foods. 
  • Vitamin D: This is needed to absorb the calcium present in the diet. It is found in eggs and fish, but we get most of our vitamin D from the action of sunlight on our skin.
  • Get active: Maintaining an active lifestyle is one of the best ways to keep your bones strong. 'Weight bearing exercise’ where you are supporting the weight of your own body is best, for example brisk walking, running and tennis.
  • Don't smoke: Smoking is bad for your bones in many ways. The chemicals in cigarettes can damage bone cells and make it harder to absorb calcium.

Do I need supplements?

For most people following a healthy balanced diet is the best way of meeting your dietary needs. Taking food supplements does not make up for having a poor diet, however in some cases supplements are recommended. To find out more read our leaflet on supplements.

If you would like to know more about osteoporosis and have your bone density assessed then visit your GP. 

Further information and support can be found at the National Osteoporosis Society (UK) and the Irish Osteoporosis Society (ROI).