Most of us don’t think about our bones unless we break one. Find out exactly what they are, what they do, and how to keep your bones healthy
Everyone knows what our bones look like – Halloween skeletons have a lot to answer for – or at least, we think we do. Our bones are actually living structures, constantly renewing themselves, so keeping them in good shape is essential.
Here’s what you need to know to help support strong, healthy bones.
We actually have two different types of bone:5
Some of our bones also contain bone marrow, the spongy tissue that produces stem cells, which can become red or white blood cells, brain cells or bone cells, among others.6
Our bones are mostly made of collagen, the ‘elastic’ substance in the body, combined with the mineral calcium phosphate.7 This creates an extremely hard but flexible structure that is able to withstand forces up to three times our own body weight.8
We build up most of our bone mass during our childhood, teens and 20s, when new bone is added to our ‘bone bank’ faster than old bone is broken down and removed. But after the age of 30, and particularly after menopause, this process reverses and we start to break down bone faster than it is replaced.9
Osteoporosis is a condition where your bones become weaker as you age, and could fracture very easily. It can run in families, while low body weight or an eating disorder can also increase your risk. The precursor to osteoporosis is osteopenia – a lower than average level of bone density.12
Frustratingly, there are no obvious symptoms of osteoporosis – breaking a bone is often one of the first signs – but there are a number of ways you can look after your bone health, at any age.
A number of factors can influence how much bone you build or how fast you lose it. Some you can’t alter, like your genes and your gender – women build less bone tissue than men13 – but other elements you can control:
Our gut bacteria can also produce vitamin K, so including more fermented foods in your diet – natural yoghurt, miso, kimchi – can promote good gut bacteria that, in turn, can help maintain strong bones.
If you’re concerned about your bone health, talk to your GP who can arrange a bone scan if necessary.