With advancing age our muscles lose strength and mass while our bones lose density and undergo decalcification and demineralisation. Consequently, as we get older, we often experience a loss of strength and become more prone to falls, which potentially can lead to fractures and breaks. We are also more prone to conditions such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
But there are a number of ways we can maintain good musculoskeletal (MSK) health as we age, including the use of dietary supplements which have been proven to help maintain both muscle strength and bone density.
In order to maintain good musculoskeletal function, we need to stop or reduce muscle loss and rebalance growth hormone creation. Loss of bone density, degraded articular cartilage and a narrowing of intervertebral discs are primary features of an ageing skeleton, and more often than not lead to pain and a loss of mobility. It also affects the quality and length of life (both personally and professionally), by limiting what people can do -and often in later life their ability to be independent.
As we age, our bone volume and mass declines in both sexes, but this loss of bone density accelerates more in women after menopause, leading to bones becoming more fragile.
In addition, as we age, our joints are affected by a loss of cartilage thickness in synovial joints, which can contribute to osteoarthritis. This thickening also decreases structural integrity within the intervertebral discs leading to loss of disc height and collapse and compression within the spine.
Musculoskeletal problems often cause of severe long-term pain and physical disability. An estimated 17.8 million people live with a musculoskeletal condition in the UK. That’s nearly a third of the total population. In fact, more years are lived with musculoskeletal disability than any other long term condition.
Generally speaking, there are three groups of musculoskeletal conditions:
Rheumatoid arthritis is an extremely common long-term condition that can cause pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. The symptoms more often than not will affect the hands, feet and wrists. There may be periods where symptoms become noticeably worse (due to a lack of mobility or an increase of pain), these are known as flare-ups.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can also present themselves as tiredness and weight loss.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK. For those with this condition, the protective cartilage on the ends of their bones breaks down, causing pain, swelling and problems moving the joint. Bony growths can also develop, and the area can become inflamed.
Osteoporosis means spongy (porous) bone. Everyone experiences some degree of bone loss as we get older, but the term osteoporosis is used only when the bones become quite fragile. When bone is affected by osteoporosis, the holes in our bone’s natural honeycomb structure become larger and the overall density of the bone becomes lower. Making the bone much more likely to fracture.
Treatment for common conditions such as osteoporosis is based on treating and preventing fractures, and using medication or diet to strengthen bones.
Nutrition is a key influencer of bone strength as good nutrition lays a firm foundation for a healthy body and strong bones. Dietary intake also plays a significant role in protecting the skeleton by maintaining healthy tissues to cushion the force of a fall.
In the event of a fracture, each stage of the healing process brings with it increased nutritional demands. The whole process requires a great deal of energy—which is generally supplied through the intake of calories in food. Next, healing requires the synthesis of new proteins, which is dependent upon an ample supply of dietary proteins.
Calcium is one of the main bone-forming minerals and an appropriate supply to the bone is essential at all stages of life. Since calcium is the primary mineral in the composition of human bone, it comes as little surprise that it plays the central role in recovery from bone fractures or other bone injuries.
Vitamin D plays an important role in drawing calcium from your blood into the bones. Without adequate doses of vitamin D, dietary calcium can have difficulty finding its way into the bones that need the mineral to heal. Vitamin D can be acquired through exposure to unfiltered sunlight, (it is extremely difficult to get enough vitamin D from foods alone). However, in countries in the higher parts of the hemisphere (such as the UK), we don’t receive enough sunlight throughout the course of the year. All adults should consider taking a daily supplement containing the recommended daily allowance (10 micrograms) of vitamin D.
Vitamin K plays a key role in strengthening osteocalcin, a protein component of bone, without increasing the mineral density of bone, while vitamin C, a key player in the production of collagen protein is essential to bone healing.
The prevalence of musculoskeletal conditions is expected to continue to increase, due to our ageing population, rising levels of obesity and physical inactivity. However, conditions such as osteoporosis aren’t an inevitable part of ageing – there’s plenty you can do to keep your bones strong and healthy.
Your weight and levels of physical activity can be two major modifiable risk factors in the development of a musculoskeletal condition, while the addition of vitamin supplements can prevent, or control the impact of musculoskeletal ill health and offer a more mobile, pain free lifestyle.