Author: Doug Cook, RD MHSc CDE
Think thinning bones is only something women need to worry about? Think again. Men need to think about the health of their bones too, maybe more so. Why? Because men are less likely to be tuned into their bodies, or be informed about health issues, like women are, and often miss catching potential problems like osteoporosis early on. The fact of the matter is, one in five men over the age of fifty will break a bone due to osteoporosis, making it a health issue men are more likely to face than prostate cancer. A sobering thought indeed.
Osteoporosis is a progressive disease where bones lose mass over time and deteriorate; bones become thinner and lose strength leading to increased bone fragility and a significant risk for fracture (or broken bones), most commonly the hip, spine, wrist or shoulder. To make matters worse, thirty-seven percent of men will die within one year after breaking a hip compared to twenty-eight percent of women. It’s thought to be because men typically have more comorbidities, or other diseases, at the time of the fracture.
Peak bone mass, or the maximum amount of bone tissue that is formed, occurs between the ages of 20 to 25 for men. Starting around the age of 30, bones naturally thin over time which is why it is so critical to lay down as much bone as possible during adolescence and young adulthood; building strong bones early on is the best defense against osteoporosis later on in life.
Risk factors for osteoporosis include a low intake of bone-building nutrients (including calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamins D, B12 and K2, and protein), age – older adults are at greater risk – and ethnicity. Caucasians and Asians are at greater risk due to having a lower bone density at the outset. As well, little physical activity, smoking, more than three alcoholic drinks per day, high sodium intake, and certain medications such as glucocorticoid steroids, or medical conditions that inhibit the absorption of nutrients are also important considerations.
The good news is that it’s never too late to start to reduce the risk for osteoporosis. Bone, like all bodily tissues, is constantly being broken down and rebuilt, a processed called remodelling and research has clearly shown that new bone tissue starts to be made as soon as adequate amounts of key bone-building nutrients are provided; nutrients typically lacking in the diets of many men. These include calcium, vitamin D, K2 and magnesium, and protein in the elderly.
Preventative strategies include getting more weight bearing exercise such as weight training or swimming, but walking will help too. Additionally, stopping smoking, moderating alcohol consumption, and reducing sodium are first line lifestyle changes to address.
Calcium can be found in milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese, canned fish with bones – which are also a good source of vitamin D – dark green vegetables, tofu set with calcium salts, beans, almonds and calcium-fortified milk alternatives, such as almond, soy, or rice beverage. Sneaking more calcium into your diet is easy when you include a variety of calcium-rich foods into your meals such as the one below that uses cheese and spinach, not to mention you’ll be getting bone-building nutrients such as protein, zinc, vitamin B12 and magnesium at the same time.
Because there are few food sources of vitamin D, supplementation is essential; aim for 2000-3000 IU per day for adults 19 and over.
Magnesium-rich foods include teff, quinoa, whole grains, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate (>70% cocoa), halibut, cooked spinach, and legumes.
Vitamin K2 is a new one for most people. Historically found in dairy foods, beef, and eggs when livestock was pastured and ate primarily grasses, it’s rare in today’s diet. Best sources nowadays are cheeses such as Dutch gouda, brie, camembert, blue and feta or any aged cheese (those that have been aged for at least six months), as well as, liver and liver pate or natto [a common food consisting of fermented soy beans and is more popular with people of Japanese background]. Aged cheeses are likely to be the easiest to incorporate; simply use a vitamin K2-rich cheese in any recipe where cheese is called for. These burritos will give your bones the vitamin K2 they need when aged cheddar is used.
Many don’t realize that bones are largely made up of protein, which is laid down on top of a scaffolding of minerals. Not getting enough protein is a risk factor for bone loss; this is often a concern with seniors who often skimp on protein-rich foods. Include good sources such as eggs, pulses like lentils, chickpeas, dried peas and beans, fish or meats like lean beef, pork and chicken every day. For a good source of protein, try this easy and delicious recipe:Chipotle Marmalade Chicken with Quinoa. It owes its high magnesium and zinc content to quinoa, a nutrient-dense grain that is a nice alternative to rice.