How does lifestyle affect my risk of developing osteoporosis?

According to the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, 10 million Americans over the age of 50 have osteoporosis and more than 33 million have low bone mass, a problem responsible for 1.5 million fractures of the spine, hip and wrist every year in the United States. We naturally experience some amount of bone loss as we age, but there are lifestyle factors that can slow the process—and others that can speed it up. The latter include smoking, excessive alcohol intake, lack of exercise, some nutrient deficiencies and excess body fat. It used to be thought that being overweight—despite all the associated risks, from diabetes to cancer and cardiovascular disease—had, at least, the advantage of generating stronger bones. But alas, emerging research shows that fat—far from being a bone bolsterer—actually undermines them. A study presented at the 2008 annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that among postmenopausal women, higher fat mass also meant lower bone-mineral density.
But hold on … isn’t weight-bearing exercise supposed to increase bone density? Then why wouldn’t carrying around an extra 50 pounds of fat have the same effect? As it turns out, adipose tissue is an active organ, and it produces toxic substances that impair the body’s ability to maintain strong bones. In addition, excess fat induces an inflammatory response that inhibits bone building and multiplies osteoclasts (cells that break down bones). In contrast, packing extra muscle—as opposed to fat—actually does strengthen bones. And fortunately, a proper diet and lifestyle can go a long way toward protecting your skeleton. It’s well-known that calcium is important for strong bones. But researchers increasingly believe that other nutrients found in fruit and vegetables play a big role in boosting bone strength as well. A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that female seniors and adolescents of both sexes bolstered their bone strength by doubling their produce intake. And an earlier study at the University of Tennessee found that girls, ages 8 to 12, who consume more than three servings of fruit per day have greater bone mass (and less calcium excretion) than those who consume fewer than three servings.

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