Diet therapy

Osteoporosis ‘the silent disease’

Osteoporosis is a condition in which bone is either lost or destroyed by the body more quickly than it can be replaced.

This causes bone mass to be significantly less than that seen in young adulthood. Over time this causes the skeleton to weaken and fractures tend to occur, most commonly in the vertebrae, wrist and hip. Osteoporosis is known as a silent disease as people are often unaware they have the condition until they break a bone. Osteoporosis is usually detected through a Bone Density Scan at hospital.

Many people associate osteoporosis with frail little old ladies, however it is not only this group that is affected. Age-related bone loss starts in mid-life. Osteoporosis mostly affects both women and men over the age of 50 with about 56% of women and 29% of men over the age of sixty suffering a fracture as a result of osteoporosis. Women are more at risk due to a significant loss of bone at the onset of menopause; when estrogen levels fall.

Some people are more at risk from developing osteoporosis than others.

 Risk factors for Osteoporosis

  • Female
  • 50 years or older
  • Post menopause or early menopause
  • Previous history of fracture
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Thin (‘small boned’)
  • Low level of calcium in diet
  • White, Caucasian or Asian ancestry
  • Smoker
  • <30 minutes of outdoors in sunlight each day
  • <30 minutes of physical activity each day
  • Heavy alcohol drinker (moderate use is okay)
  • Long term use of certain medications (steroids and anticonvulants)

Genetics and lifestyle

These factors, along with calcium intake and exercise, that determine the peak bone mass and the risk of osteoporosis later in life. As bone is largely made up of calcium, dietary calcium is extremely important for bones. Physical activity is also important for bone health, as is the time period just before puberty as this is the time when lots of bone is accumulated.


Osteoporosis is not just limited to older adults, just as a reduction in estrogen associated with menopause increases bone loss, estrogen levels can also be reduced in younger women who become amenorrhoeic, such as athletic women or those with an eating disorder. No matter how old you are, it is never too late to do something to help improve your bone health and any health for that matter!

If you have any concerns relating to bone health or osteoporosis contact us, we can offer helpful advice to individuals or families of all ages. A nutritional assessment can help determine the adequacy of calcium and vitamin D in your diet.

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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