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Your bones are as good as your diet

Data shows that there is a direct link between bone health early in life, including in-uterine growth, and the quality of bones in adulthood.

health and fitness Updated: Aug 13, 2012 02:29 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times

Your mother's diet when she was carrying you and what you ate in the early years of your life determines how strong your bones are for the rest of your life.

While exercise as well as calcium and vitamin D supplements prevent bone loss in adults, they do not add to bone density, which is an indicator of bone strength. People with high bone mass density are less likely to have osteoporosis — brittle bone disease — which raises their chance of breaking their bones when they stumble and fall.

And now there is data from India to prove this. Statistics from the New Delhi Birth Cohort, which tracked peak bone mass and density data from birth to adulthood, shows a direct link between bone health in early life (including in-uterine growth) and adult bone health. The study was published in the journal, Osteoporosis International.

"This is one of the robust India-specific studies so far and supports objective data what has been believed since long that what we eat during childhood determines our health later in life," said Dr Nikhil Tandon, professor, department of endocrinology and metabolism, AIIMS, who is part of the team that did the study between 2007 and 2010.

In a sunny country where people have more milk than anywhere else in the world, one in two women and one in three men over 50 have low bone mass, which can cause fractures in later life, reports World Health Organisation. Globally, one in four women and one in five men over 50 years are affected.

Children and adolescents who are physically active have higher bone mass, As do adults who have a regular exercise routine of at least 30 minutes a day. "For bones to benefit from exercise, you have to do weight-bearing exercises such as walking, running, jogging, skipping, etc. Swimming doesn't help much for bones," said Dr Tandon.

Compared to a decade ago, people are being diagnosed with osteoporosis at a much younger age, show trends from some hospitals. "The age of diagnosis has come down to 20s from 50s till few years ago, which is primarily because people are staying indoors more and losing out on vitamin D, which helps in calcium absorption, and not eating enough calcium-rich foods, such as milk, yoghurt and green vegetables. Four in five people I see are vitamin D-deficient and one in three people with brittle ones are in their 20s," said Dr SKS Marya, senior orthopaedic surgeon at Max Hospital.

"A baby needs 270mg of calcium 1,300mg is required by people between 18-19 years as that is the peak growth period," said Dr Shilpa Thakur, senior dietician, Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, Faridabad.

Osteoporosis FAQS

What is osteoporosis?
A most common type of bone disease. It is the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time that makes one prone to fractures of hip, wrist or spine.

Is it a disease of the old age?
It was earlier believed to be the disease of old age, but new studies have proved that even young people in their 20s, especially in India, can develop the disease owing to poor lifestyle.

How can we avoid developing weak bones?
Lack of calcium is directly linked with weaker bones. Drinking two glasses of milk and two small bowls of yogurt, eating three to four servings of dark green-leafy vegetables, sprouts and legumes every day helps. Vitamin D deficiency also leads to weak bones.

What kind of exercise is best for bones?
At least 30minutes of weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, skipping etc is a must to maintain healthy bones.

How do I know if I have weak bones?
If you feel recurrent multiple aches in long bones—arms, legs and back etc. you must get a bone density scan done and also a blood test to check the level of vitamin D.

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First Published: Aug 12, 2012 22:37 IST