Calcium is one of the many attributes of milk that we often share when promoting the consumption of dairy products. This nutrient is a cornerstone in bone development, and foods containing calcium can help ward off bone density loss and osteoporosis.
This is an area where we should heed our own advice, as the loss of bone density can be particularly dangerous for people on farms. Working conditions such as uneven surfaces, slippery floors, poorly lit walkways, climbing on and off of machinery, and carrying heavy objects all elevate the risk for falls that can lead to broken bones.
According to registered nurse Linda Emanuel, the community health director for the AgriSafe Network, osteoporosis is a condition that affects many. During an AgriSafe webinar, she shared that one in two postmenopausal women and one in four men will have osteoporosis and most will suffer a fracture during their lifetime. Of the 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, 80% are female.
While men can experience bone density loss, women are at a much higher risk because their bones tend to be smaller and thinner. On top of that, menopause stops the production of reproductive hormones, which also play a role in bone renewal and calcium absorption. Women lose more than 30% of their bone mass within five years after menopause.
“Bone density is constantly changing, and as we age, we don’t have the estrogen there to help with calcium absorption,” Emanual explained. “This can result in bones becoming thinner and more brittle, and we see the result in bone mineral density.”
While menopause is a natural, unavoidable part of aging, there are some risk factors that are within our control. For example, alcohol consumption, caffeine intake, and smoking all elevate the risk of bone density loss. Inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake can also lead to negative consequences.
Emanual advised that anyone of the age of 50 be assessed for osteoporosis risk. She also recommended maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes no smoking, minimal alcohol intake, and weight-bearing exercise such as walking, running, or weightlifting.
For farmers, she encouraged looking for ways to make work safer, including shoes with good grip and minimizing trips and falls.
Of course, diet is also an important part of the prevention strategy. Emanual encouraged listeners to eat calcium rich foods, including leafy greens, salmon, and – you guessed it – dairy products.