Protecting your bone health at any age

We often take the health of our bones for granted, but it is important to be aware of and protect bone strength and mineral density throughout our lives. A pharmacist from South Africa’s first national courier pharmacy outlines what everyone should know. 

“As many as 50% of women and 30% of men are likely to experience bone-loss–related fractures. The good news is there are several ways to reduce your risk,” says pharmacist Bright Kupa of Medipost Pharmacy.

“When we are young, our bones are still growing and continuously reforming, and our bodies will readily absorb the minerals, especially calcium, needed to develop bone density and mass for strong bone structure to sustain us for the rest of our lives.

“Proper bone development during childhood and adolescence is especially important to help prevent bone diseases such as osteoporosis later in life. As we grow older, our bones gradually lose mineral density. If a person’s bones lose minerals faster than the body can replace them and the bones become less dense, lose strength and break more easily it is described as osteoporosis,” he explains.

Building blocks of strong bones

“Calcium is a mineral that is most essential for bone health – with 99% of the calcium in the body contained within our teeth and bones. It is also vital for critical bodily functions such as muscle contraction. When our bodies do not have enough calcium for critical bodily functions, it will take calcium from our bones, causing even further loss in bone density,” Kupa says.

“Our bodies cannot produce calcium, so dietary sources are very important. These include milk and dairy products and certain vegetables like broccoli and soybeans. To build and maintain our bone strength, we need sufficient amounts of this mineral in combination with vitamin D and plenty of weight-bearing exercise, for example, walking.”

Adequate calcium intake to aim for per day is specific for different age groups and genders, with a recommended supplementation range from 500mg to 1 200mg per day. A recommended amount of vitamin D supplementation for adults is generally between 400 IU and 1 000 IU per day. 

“Remember that taking too much of these minerals and vitamins can cause side effects, and dosages should be discussed with your primary healthcare provider or pharmacist,” Kupa says.

“Babies get all the calcium they need from breast milk or formula when necessary. Most children and teenagers do not need any supplements, as they generally get sufficient nutrients from the food they eat; however, for those who may be at increased risk of osteoporosis, such as children on chronic corticosteroids, supplements are often advised to boost their bone health.

“Vitamin D assists with the absorption of calcium from the food you eat. With exposure to sunlight, the body can produce vitamin D, but dietary sources are also important. Without these vital nutritional building blocks, our bones will not grow strong. In children, this can lead to serious disorders such as rickets, where the bones are soft and weakened.”

Risk factors

Patients with autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis, and certain gastrointestinal disorders are more at risk for developing osteoporosis. A family history of osteoporosis, low body weight and multiple pregnancies are also risk factors,” Kupa says. 

“Regular use of certain medications, including aluminum antacids and corticosteroids, can also predispose a person to osteoporosis, and so it is important to discuss your medicines, including those available without a prescription, with your doctor or pharmacist.”

Pharmacist’s advice

“At the Medipost Walk-In Pharmacy in Gezina, we are often asked about supplements for bone strength. I recommend combination products containing calcium and vitamin D to make it simpler to meet the body’s requirements,” he says.

“Supplements should be taken with meals, as this helps with absorption – although some foods, such as spinach and wholegrain cereals, can block calcium absorption so supplements should be taken at least two hours apart from eating these foods. Also avoid taking antacids containing aluminium with these supplements.

“Liquid supplements specially formulated for children, such as those available from our retail pharmacy and online at shop.medipost.co.za, may be easier for younger children to swallow than supplements in tablet form. Chewable tablets are also available if preferred,” he advises. 

“As primary osteoporosis is often related to menopausal oestrogen loss and ageing, chronic supplements are mostly advised for women past childbearing age and older men. Pregnant women are sometimes prescribed calcium carbonate 500mg to ensure they have enough calcium for their baby’s healthy development and to maintain their own bone strength.”

Medipost Pharmacy dispenses chronic medication and a variety of generics for all types of bone deficiency conditions, including osteoporosis, and bone health supplements are recommended as an adjunct therapy unless contraindicated or otherwise instructed by the patient’s treating doctor.

“The courier pharmacy service provides free monthly delivery for all chronic medication to any address nationwide, and many patients combine their delivery with orders for supplements or other pharmacy items. Patients based in Pretoria often prefer to pop in at our friendly Gezina Walk-In Pharmacy,” Kupa says. 

“Looking after our bone health should be a priority for everyone at any stage of life. Discuss your individual needs and risk factors with your doctor, and we will gladly assist with your pharmacy needs.”

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