U. MICHIGAN (US) — To keep your bones healthy, ask Santa to put an orange in your stocking instead of chocolate or Christmas cookies.
High-fat, high-sugar foods cause obesity and promote heart disease, but new research shows they also weaken bones contributing to conditions like osteoporosis. Researchers say if the trend continues, it may cripple large numbers of at-risk baby boomers.
While this high-fat, high-sugar diet trend and the subsequent risk of osteoporosis are climbing frighteningly fast, there’s hope, says Ron Zernicke, professor of orthopedic surgery and biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan. The medical community and the public can reverse this trend through diet, exercise, and, in some cases, medication.
Demographics in the US demand action now, says Cy Frank, executive director of the Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute and an orthopedic surgeon practicing in Calgary. Baby boomers are the first generation weaned on fast food, creating a dietary legacy of high fat and sugar. Today, about a quarter of America’s 2- to 5-year-olds and a third of its school-age children, including adolescents, are obese or overweight.
“Boomers themselves—the oldest now 66—have reached the stage in life when they’re most susceptible to bone and joint disorders,” Zernicke says.
The US surgeon general forecasts that by 2020, half of Americans over 50 will develop or be at risk for osteoporosis of the hip. This is particularly bad news for women, who develop osteoporosis at two-to-three times the rate of men.
“One in three women will break a hip due to osteoporosis by age of 85, and about 20 percent will die within a year of the fracture,” Frank says. “Right now, roughly 12 million Americans over 50 have osteoporosis.”
Sugar and fat weaken the bones in two ways. First, diets high in saturated fats and sugar block calcium absorption. Instead, calcium needed for healthy bones washes through the body in urine. Second, saturated fats tend to form insoluble “soaps,” which coat the intestines and can block necessary calcium from bones. Again, calcium passes through the body unused.
Excessive junk food layers fat onto a weakened skeleton that struggles to support the extra weight, Zernicke says. Osteoporosis, the so-called “silent thief” because it shows no symptoms, robs bones of tissue and leaves thousands of tiny pores in the bones. Porous bones can break with little stress. Treating osteoporosis fractures costs approximately $18 billion a year—a cost experts predict will double by 2025.
Diet and exercise are primary preventions against osteoporosis. A growing child near puberty rapidly lays down new bone. Healthy foods and physical activity optimize bone growth and accumulation, which lowers the likelihood of osteoporosis fractures later in life.
The child’s parents and grandparents are past the rapid bone-building stage, but secondary stages of prevention exist through middle and late adulthood. Healthy diet, exercise and medication to slow bone loss, if necessary, can reduce the likelihood of osteoporosis fractures. A healthy, balanced diet includes vegetables, fruit, and whole grains, and limits saturated fats, salt, and sugar.
But prevention goes beyond diet and exercise. Eliminating junk food from places charged with promoting healthy lifestyles—schools, recreational centers, hospitals—could help, Zernicke says.
“It’s imperative that we change this tide, beginning today. Implementing measures and policies to protect our bones and our health can improve the quality of life for millions of people.”
Source: University of Michigan