6 Dietary Changes for Managing Osteoporosis

Find out about the nutrients and dietary patterns related to Osteoporosis.

by Emma Lennon

The bone condition osteoporosis is a chronic disease that affects your bone density and strength. Having weak and brittle bones can increase your risk of severe fractures and injuries. Everybody loses some bone strength as they enter older age. However, in osteoporosis, bone loss is severe enough to seriously impact your quality of life. Some risk factors for osteoporosis, like your age, cannot be changed. However, there are dietary and nutritional changes you can make to prevent developing osteoporosis. Some dietary and lifestyle changes can also help slow the progression of the disease, keeping your bones stronger for longer so that you can get back to enjoying the things you love.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a chronic, long-term bone disease. Your bones are living tissues that give your body structure, strength, and mobility. Your bone tissue is constantly being replaced and reproduced. When osteoporosis occurs, your bone tissue is not produced fast enough to replace what is lost. This leads to your bones becoming less dense, more porous, and more fragile. People with osteoporosis can have bones that are so weak that even minor stresses like a fall, bending over or coughing can cause a break or fracture. People without osteoporosis would be unlikely to break or fracture a bone in these situations. Osteoporosis can be debilitating, as in severe cases even a sneeze can cause a serious and painful injury. Osteoporosis can cause a fracture in any bone in the body, but it is more common in some bones than others. The most common sites for an osteoporosis-related fracture are the hip, wrist, and spine. Fractures also commonly occur in the ankle, leg, forearm, upper arm and ribs, usually after a minor fall or incident.

Osteoporosis can affect people of any age, gender, and ethnicity. However, it is most common among women of older age who have experienced the onset of menopause. When we are young, our bones regenerate more quickly than they are broken down. This helps us to grow taller and develop stronger bones until we reach our age of peak bone mass, which usually occurs by the age of 30. The higher our peak bone mass, the more bone density reserves we have to last us into older age. Having a higher peak bone mass in your youth can help prevent your risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. Your bone mass is partially inherited and determined by your ethnic background. However, there are lifestyle changes you can make at any age to retain as much bone mass as possible. 

Osteopenia vs. Osteoporosis: Bone health in Australia

Some people are diagnosed with a condition called osteopenia. Osteopenia is a more mild condition in which your bone density is lower than expected for your age. Osteopenia is often a warning sign that your bone density is low and can be a predicting factor for progressing into osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is more severe, causing enough bone loss that you are at a greater risk of fractures. 

Osteopenia and osteoporosis are common bone health conditions in Australia, especially among older adults. More than 1 million Australians live with osteoporosis, and over 66% of people aged 50 and older have osteoporosis or osteopenia. Each year in Australia, over 173,000 broken bones occur due to poor bone health. Osteoporosis has a significant impact on older Australians, affecting the care needs of at least 12% of people residing in permanent residential aged care.

Experiencing a fracture due to osteopenia or osteoporosis can be serious and require a long and challenging recovery. Having one fracture due to low bone density also increases your risk of having another one in the future. Early diagnosis and management of bone loss are crucial for preventing fractures and preserving remaining bone tissue to allow the individual to lead a normal and fulfilling life with as much independence as possible. You can read more about bone health and how it affects older Australians here.

Risk factors for Osteoporosis

Several risk factors can increase your risk of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis. These include your age, gender, ethnicity, co-existing medical conditions, some medications and treatments, and your diet and other lifestyle factors. Some of these risk factors cannot be changed, but some, like your lifestyle and dietary patterns, can be modified to lower your risk. 

Non-modifiable risk factors for osteoporosis

Osteoporosis risk factors that cannot be changed include:

  • Gender
    People assigned female gender at birth are more likely to develop osteoporosis than people assigned male at birth.
  • Age
    Your risk of developing osteoporosis increases with age as your bone density slowly declines over time.
  • Race and ethnicity
    Women of white or Asian descent are more likely to develop osteopenia or osteoporosis.
  • Family history
    Having a parent or sibling who developed osteoporosis increases your risk, especially if a parent experiences a hip fracture.
  • Body frame size
    Men and women with smaller frames have an increased risk because they have less overall bone mass to draw from as they age.
  • Lowered sex hormones
    Lowered levels of sex hormones (oestrogen and testosterone) can weaken your bones. Women experience a drop in oestrogen levels after menopause, a strong risk factor for osteoporosis. Treatments for prostate cancer that reduce testosterone levels and treatments for breast cancer that reduce estrogen levels can also accelerate bone loss.
  • Thyroid and other gland/hormonal problems
    Excess thyroid hormones can lead to bone loss. People with overactive thyroids or who take too much thyroid medication can be at an increased risk of osteoporosis. People with overactive parathyroid and adrenal glands may also be at an increased risk of osteoporosis.
  • Steroids and other medications
    Long-term corticosteroid use is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is also linked with certain medications that treat seizures, gastric reflux, cancer, and transplant rejection.
  • Medical conditions
    Some diseases like celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer can increase your risk of osteoporosis. 

Modifiable risk factors for osteoporosis

While some risk factors for osteoporosis are outside your control, there are lifestyle factors and behaviours you can adopt to lower your risk of bone loss. These include your exercise habits, smoking and drinking, and dietary choices.

  • Lack of physical activity
    People who live sedentary lifestyles are more likely to develop osteoporosis than those who are active on a regular basis. Weight-bearing activities like walking, running, jumping, and weightlifting can promote denser, stronger bones and protect you from osteoporosis symptoms.
  • Alcohol consumption
    Overuse of alcohol can increase your risk of bone loss and osteoporosis. Drinking more than two standard drinks per day is associated with elevated rates of developing bone diseases.
  • Smoking tobacco products
    Smoking tobacco has been linked with osteoporosis, with smokers more likely to have concerningly low levels of bone mass.
  • Dietary factors
    Consuming insufficient amounts of healthy food increases your risk of osteoporosis. Consuming enough calcium, protein, magnesium, and other nutrients is essential to preserve a healthy amount of bone mass. 
  • Gastrointestinal surgery
    People who have surgery that reduces their stomach size or removes part of the intestine have a reduced ability to absorb nutrients from food. This increases the risk of low levels of essential micronutrients that promote adequate bone mass.
  • Eating disorders
    Restricting caloric intake and being underweight increases the risk of malnutrition and low bone mass. Eating insufficient amounts of healthy food for an extended period increases your risk of developing osteoporosis later in life, even if you are young and healthy now.

Dietary strategies to prevent or manage Osteoporosis

If you are worried about your bone health, have been told that your bone density is low for your age, or have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, dietary changes can help. Incorporating these dietary changes and exercise can help keep your bones healthy and strong well into your later years. 

1. Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium phosphate is a compound that contains calcium and phosphate. It also comprises vitamin D and is essential for bone health. Calcium is a crucial mineral for keeping your bones strong and healthy into your later adulthood. Calcium levels in your bones are regulated by Vitamin D. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D are two important ways of protecting your bone density as you age. Calcium can be obtained through eating a nutritious, varied diet, whilst vitamin D is primarily obtained from sun exposure. Some people may benefit from oral supplements of these essential nutrients if they cannot consume and absorb enough of them from food and the sun alone. Good dietary sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, dark leafy green vegetables, canned fish with bones (such as sardines and salmon), tofu and fortified soy products, and calcium-fortified foods like cereal and orange juice. 

Men and women between the ages of 18 and 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. This daily amount increases to 1,200 milligrams when women turn 50 and men turn 70. 

Vitamin D helps your body absorb and use the calcium in your diet. If you cannot get enough vitamin D from the sun, supplementation and eating dietary sources of vitamin D can help. Most people need at least 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily, while people over age 70 are recommended to obtain 800 IU daily. Foods rich in vitamin D include cod liver oil, trout, salmon, and kinds of milk and cereals that are fortified with vitamin D. 

2. Potassium

Sufficient potassium levels can help protect your bone health. Dietary potassium can reduce the amount of calcium lost from your bones and increase calcium stores in the kidneys. Potassium-rich foods include potatoes, figs, almonds, and Medjool dates.

3. Magnesium

Magnesium plays an important role in absorbing and metabolising calcium. Magnesium also activates vitamin D in the body, helping your bones retain more calcium and density. 

4. Protein

Eating enough dietary protein isn’t only good for keeping muscle mass healthy as you age. Protein is also crucial for strong, healthy bones. Almost half of your total bone volume comprises proteins, forming an important part of the bone’s collagen structure. Protein also supports the secretion of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), a hormone that supports bone production. Good dietary protein sources include lean meats, fish, poultry, low-fat dairy, and vegetarian proteins like tofu, tempeh, seitan, and soy milk. 

5. Fluoride

Consuming enough fluoride can help keep your bones stronger and healthier in your later years. In Australia, the water supply is fluoridated to prevent dental decay and bone loss. Drinking enough tap water daily is a great way to protect your teeth and bones from decay. Fluoride treatment is even used in some countries as a way to protect bone mass in people who have already been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis.

6. Vitamins C and K

Vitamin K plays an important role in bone matrix formation and has been linked with improved bone density and reduced risk of fractures. Adequate vitamin K levels also improve calcium balance, which is crucial for bone density. Vitamin K-rich foods include dark, leafy green vegetables, beef liver, pork, kiwi, prunes, and soybean oil. 

Vitamin C has antioxidant properties that are beneficial to your bone health and density. Vitamin C can suppress the loss of bone tissue through a process called osteoclasts. Consuming enough vitamin C-rich foods is linked with better bone density and a reduced risk of fractures. Dietary sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, capsicums, tomatoes, strawberries, and white potatoes. 

How Homage Can Help

Caregiving and managing a complex condition like osteoporosis can be overwhelming. Finding the time to prepare meals rich in bone-healthy ingredients can be difficult when you have so many other responsibilities. If you or a loved one needs help preparing healthy, nutritious meals that promote strong bones, Homage’s team of highly trained, compassionate, and friendly Care Professionals can help with meal preparation so that there is always a delicious and healthy meal ready to grab whenever you need it.Everyone’s care needs are unique. We would love to understand your and your loved ones’ needs to develop a personalised care plan. Get in touch for an obligation-free Care Consult today.

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About the Writer
Emma Lennon
Emma is a public health professional who is passionate about creating health content that informs and empowers. When she is not writing, you can find her at the gym or curled up on the couch with her rescue greyhounds.
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