Bone Density & Its Effect On Aging

11/23/2021 | 6 min. read

Healthy Directions Staff Editor

Healthy Directions Staff Editor

Our skeletons go through a lot of change throughout one lifespan. They may seem hard, steady, and fastened in place, but anyone who has fractured or broken a bone may feel differently. In fact, the hardness of our bones, which we refer to in terms of bone mineral density, can change drastically over time, and we may even experience bone loss in old age.

This article will look at the three different stages of our skeletal structure throughout our lifetime. This takes us through the period of childhood, adulthood, and elderhood. We’ll also talk about which nutrients are key for keeping those skeletal gears turning and turning.

How To Track Bone Density

First off, let’s look at the numbers. The specific density of our bones are measured in standard deviations (SD’s), and just like the pattern of effect caused by aging, there are three stages of bone health based on their measured deviations.

Adolescents usually appear within +1 SD or -1 SD on the bone density scale. It’s perfectly normal to appear a little above or a little below the average, but if it’s too far off in either direction, you may find yourself in new stages.

A low bone mass occurs between +1 and +2.5 SD, or -1 and -2.5 SD. After that, beyond +2.5 SD or beyond -2.5 SD results in osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a bone-weakening disease that puts victims at greater risk of bone fractures. Although osteoporosis is a common side effect of aging, even young adults can suffer from it.

The state of someone’s posture can indicate whether or not they have osteoporosis since this disease often affects the spine and can then lead to scoliosis (an extreme spinal curvature). A healthcare provider can also assess family history to determine risk.

What Does An Infant’s Skeleton Look Like?

When it comes to the development of the skeleton, infants go through an apparent period of growth in the mother’s womb but continue to change after birth.

The typical pattern infant skeletons show while developing is as follows: an infant’s joints start to form at eight weeks of pregnancy. By ten weeks, bone tissues include and begin to harden (through a process called ossification).

Sixteen weeks later, your child can move its limbs, and beyond those 16 weeks, the child will continue to grow and develop more tissue. Once the child is born, it contains 275 bones in its body.

Every human contains 206 bones in their body by early adulthood, but infants start with 275 because many of their bones are still sifting together like little puzzle pieces. Since their bones are so fresh and youthful, infants and children, in general, are very flexible and can naturally bend in ways that may be seemingly impossible for adults.

Despite the flexibility, their skeletal systems can still be quite fragile. Their skulls, in particular, need plenty of protection since they house a new, still-developing brain without the hardness that they will later develop in life.

What Does An Adult’s Skeleton Look Like? 

During adolescent growth, your bones are still growing and changing. By adulthood, somewhere beyond your 20’s, you will have reached the peak of your bone’s density, although it varies between every person.

This is arguably when your skeletal system is at its safest in life and when your brain is fully developed and protected, along with the rest of your organs, by the strongest skeletal system it will ever have. The density will remain its strongest until about the age of 50.

This skeletal peak, however, is only followed by the stage of adolescence. Statistically, more adolescents are injured than infants, adults, and elders. During teenage years, the brain is still forming, hormones are affected in many ways, and the body changes.

On top of that, the skeletal system is still forming, and that magic 206 bone count hasn’t been reached quite yet. If adolescents indulge in unwise physical activities while their bodies can’t completely protect them yet, they could potentially contribute to the millions of yearly injuries.

What Does An Elderly Skeleton Look Like?

After making it past the fragility of infant and teen years, adulthood offers the strongest skeleton. Soon, however, the density scale can start to tip, and the skeleton can change all over again.

As was mentioned before, osteoporosis is a commonly occurring skeletal disease in elderhood. This can lead to discomfort, joint pain in the hips, knees, or wrist, and immobility.

Osteoporosis can open the possibility of scoliosis as well and lead to an increased bone fracture risk. Women are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, but this condition can impact anyone regardless of gender.

Your doctor can always prescribe vitamins and medication for maintaining pain and discomfort, and they can even help strengthen bone density. Osteoporosis, however, is not something that you can cure, and the damage is potentially permanent.

Skeletal shrinkage can start to become noticeable as well. You may find that you were taller as a teenager than you are now, and this happens for several reasons.

Since birth, your feet have learned to bear more and more weight, which eventually can change their structure and the structure of your heels. As you get older, your feet flatten, and you shrink, be it ever so slightly.

Spinal fluid can also release from the spine, and the disks can compress, shrinking the spine and thus your overall height.

This constantly occurs, but your bones are weaker at old age, meaning it is harder for them to support their accumulated weight, and you may find that shrinking process even more prevalent in old age.

How To Boost Bone Density?

The answer to keeping those bones alive is treating them with care, knowing your limits, and avoiding misuse. One of the best ways to do that is to feed your body with the proper nutrients and avoid harmful habits like smoking or drinking alcohol.

Vitamin D, magnesium, and all-important calcium play the biggest roles in your bone’s health.

Drinking lots of milk and eating dairy foods usually contain the most amounts of calcium and other vital nutrients for our skeletons. Foods high in iron are also very beneficial since iron constitutes the initial formation of bones, and supplements of these key nutrients can help support your body.

Though there are medications for BMD available, they can have side effects, such as the increased risk for blood clots, strokes, and infection. If you are concerned about your bone health, consult a health care provider for medical advice.

Your doctor may perform X-rays and may calculate your t-score or z-score for more insight into your musculoskeletal system. Blood tests may also be done, which can bring light to liver disease or kidney disease cases.

A bone density test or dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry may also help your doctor get a better idea of whether or not you are at risk, and those with low body weight or breast cancer may be at a higher risk of low bone density.

Conclusion

Bone density decreases as we age, and making certain diet and lifestyle choices when we are younger can help keep our skeletons in good health once we reach old age. Getting plenty of vitamin D and calcium is essential for strong and healthy bones, as calcium is the most abundant mineral in human bones.

Certain people may have an increased risk of low bone density, including those with low body weight. Suppose you suspect that you have poor bone health. In that case, your physician can perform tests, like the gold standard DEXA scan, to investigate your bone densitometry and risk of osteopenia or osteoporosis.

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Sources:

Bone Mass Measurement: What the Numbers Mean | NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center

Scoliosis vs. Osteoporosis: What's the Difference? | Sinicropi Spine

Baby skeleton: how many bones are babies born with? | Baby Center

Nutrients For Bone Health | American Bone Health

             

Healthy Directions Staff Editor