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Feed Your Skeleton

By Coral Stebbings FISTD

Bone is a living tissue 'Healthy eating' is a subject that has had many varied opinions and recommendations over the years. Most doctors, nutritionists and dieticians now agree that it is a balanced diet which is necessary to supply the body with all the nutrients and fibre needed. The body needs to build, repair and protect against disease, such as osteoporosis.

I have selected one area of diet for investigation: Calcium, how to 'feed your skeleton'.

In your balanced diet, foods rich in calcium should be included. These are very important in building and maintaining strong bones. Calcium provides the strength and rigidity to your bones.

An adult contains about 1.2kg of calcium in the body. 99% of this is found in the bones. An adult replaces their skeleton every 7-10 years; children replace theirs every 2 years. So, bone is a living tissue.

The bone mass 'peak' varies, but normally the rate of bone mass will keep increasing until about the age of 25. This is when peak bone mass is achieved and this is when bones are at their strongest.

Approximately, around the age of 35, bone begins to loose some of its calcium. In women, a more rapid loss is found at and after the menopause. Due to the lack of oestrogen, utilisation of calcium in the bone is not as efficient.

Lack of oestrogen is also found in the underweight dancer. A dancer who has perhaps ceased her menstrual cycle, thus causing great concern about the utilisation of calcium at and around the normal 'peak' bone mass time.

When bones loose too much calcium, the bone structure changes and risk of injury and possible fractures are likely. Not only are the older members of society at risk as mentioned above, the underweight, low and non-menstruating dancer also comes under this risk category of osteoporosis.

"Although calcium alone will not prevent osteoporosis, when combined with regular exercise, and for women with hormone replacement therapy after menopause, it will help protect your skeleton from this serious bone disease. (National Osteoporosis Society information)

What is osteoporosis and why is there so much fuss about it? Bone disease only affects old people ...doesn't it?

Osteoporosis occurs when there is significant calcium loss from the bone density, causing gaps and weakness in the bone structure.

Osteoporosis puts bones at a greater risk of breaking.

It now affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 12 men in the UK. (NOS information)

In America the figures are even more alarming; after the age of 50, 1 in every 2 women will suffer some kind of osteoporosis-related injury and 1 in every 5 men. After the age of 75, this increases to a staggering 90% of women having the full symptoms of osteoporosis. (Derek Boisse - The Way to Fitness)

So, clearly it is women who are at a higher risk, this is before we have taken into account the dancers life style and attitudes! Other risk factors include:

  1. Ethnicity Caucasian and Asian women have a lower bone density than African women. Also, those with a petite frame, an early menopause, family history of osteoporosis or a sedentary life style. Not forgetting alcohol and cigarette smoking.
  2. Having more than 3 alcoholic drinks a day reduces calcium and vitamin D absorption and those who smoke are 50% more likely to develop osteoporosis than non-smokers. 3) The abnormal absence of oestrogen causing lack of menstrual periods (amenorrhea). 4) Anorexia, a diet (usually in the teen years) very low in calcium and vitamin D.

The American figure of $14 billion is the estimated national direct expenditure related directly to osteoporosis and related fractures. This includes 300,000 hip fractures, 700,000 vertebral fractures, 250,000 wrist fractures and 300,000 other site fractures. (Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases - National Resource Centre, WA)

Osteoporosis is often called the 'silent disease'. Bone loss occurs without symptoms. When boned become weak enough to cause a fracture after a fall, or the vertebrae are seen or perhaps felt to collapse (with height loss or spinal deformities), the person concerned will already have osteoporosis. Prevention is definitely better than cure!

On the positive side, there are things we can do. As responsible dance teachers, we must find ways to use the trust placed upon us by our students to guide and encourage them into healthy eating habits and positive self-image. Regular exercise, a good balanced diet and an awareness of hormonal stimulus throughout life will help maintain calcium levels.

Dance is an art, a passion and a way of life for many, but can only reach its full potential when the flexibility of traditions, approach and attitude are allowed to evolve. With continued care and communication within our classes, we can begin to give our students the knowledge they need for a bright and healthy future