Monday, July 9, 2012

Bone Development Now, Prevent Problems Later

You may ask, “Why is she writing about osteoporosis in a blog about babies? Isn’t that the disease that old ladies get when their bones break easily?”  Well, you are partially correct. The symptoms of osteoporosis are that the bones become fragile and break easily. It is most common in women though men can suffer from it as well and the symptoms most commonly show up in post-menopausal women. But osteoporosis is a disease that is a result of factors in childhood. For this reason it is a good idea to understand what causes osteoporosis because it is easier to prevent than to cure.
In general, what happens is that the body builds bone density until a person is roughly 30 years old. After that bone density slowly decreases. If bones are not dense enough at 30, they will not have enough density to lose in the 30 years until you are 60 and they will be osteoporotic at that time. There are many factors that go into how dense your bones become by 30 and how quickly they lose density before you are 60.
Genetics may play a role but it is not so clear cut as if your mother had osteoporosis so will you.  Nor, on the other hand, are you safe if your mother did not have it. More importantly, you need to look at what it takes to build bone density.
Calcium is one of the important building blocks for bones and young children need to get enough calcium. The best sources of calcium are dairy products, milk, cheese and yoghurt. Not only are they high in calcium but the calcium is also readily available to be used by the body. This is not true of some of the other high calcium foods. However, many people are allergic to dairy products and others choose not to include dairy in their diets. Other calcium rich foods need to be included in adequate quantities to guarantee enough calcium . These include dark green leafy vegetables including (in order of amount of calcium) turnip greens, bok choy, spinach and collard greens. Other foods with high calcium values include:  almonds, molasses, white navy beans, broccoli and brussel sprouts and salmon or sardines. There are also calcium enriched foods, often cereals, which will provide calcium to the diet. Keep in mind that calcium impedes the absorption of iron so iron rich foods and calcium rich foods should not be served at the same meal to get the full benefit. This may be the rationale behind to old maxim that fish should not be served with cheese.
Vitamin D is important to the absorption and use of calcium by the body. Vitamin D deficiency is the primary cause of Ricketts, a disease that leads to fragile easily broken bones. It has also been linked to other diseases, including heart disease. The major source of vitamin D is the sun. Of course, now we know that the sun is also a cause of skin cancer so many people keeping their children out of the sun. In fact, it is recommended that infants under 6 months not be exposed to direct sunlight at all. There has been an increase in Vitamin D deficiency due to this.  Most milk products are fortified with Vitamin D as are some infant formulas. Breast fed babies may need to have a vitamin D supplement, even if the mother has sufficient vitamin D in her system, as it does not pass through the breast milk in large doses. Vitamin D is a fat soluable vitamin, which means that the body stores the vitamin in fat and it is possible to have too much vitamin D (As with vitamins A, E, and K) in the body which produces effects similar to a deficiency. This is a link to a Canadian Health Department discussion of vitamin D. Although Canada is concerned about the limited sun exposure because of its northern latitude, there is a good description of the needs of breast fed babies in this article.
Simply put, this means walking and running and jumping. These days more and more children are involved in sedentary activities, such as television or computer games or, even,  after school lessons in academic subjects for many hours. They are not taking the opportunity to have the physical activity that they need. This is so important in building bone density. There has been a lot of discussion about overweight children needing exercise but, in terms of bone density, the smaller lighter child needs even more weight bearing activity because they are putting less weight on their bones.
Your infant under 6 months old needs only about 200 mg of calcium a day and between 7 and 12 months about 260 but their need jumps up to 700 mg. at around the first birthday, about the time they start walking. During the first year, you baby will easily have enough calcium and does not need weight bearing, though there may be a need for vitamin D. It is during the childhood and teen years that you will need to be sure to encourage your child to eat calcium rich foods and to go outside and run around.

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