Q: I’m 47 years old, and have started to suffer with hot flushes. Osteoporosis runs in my family though, and I’ve heard that post-menopausal women need more calcium. The problem is that supplements irritate my digestive system, and I’m not sure what foods contain it besides milk and cheese. Can I get enough calcium from my diet alone, or should I combine a high-calcium diet with a supplement?

A: Osteoporosis affects 1 in 2 women over the age of 50 in the UK.  But the biggest problem is that osteoporosis is so often a ‘silent disease’, bone loss happens gradually over time, without any symptoms.  Osteoporosis, at the moment, remains woefully unrecognised and yet it is preventable and treatable.

You body needs a wide range of different nutrients, vitamins and minerals to maintain healthy bones, so the aim is to eat a healthy diet and watch the acid and alkaline balance of your food.   I have covered this aspect of bone health in great detail in my book ‘Osteoporosis – how to prevent, treat and reverse it  www.marilynglenville.com

One of calcium’s roles in the body is to act as a neutraliser. When you eat too much acid food your body calls up calcium reserves from your bones to counteract the acidity. We know that women who consume the most acid-producing diets have four times as many hip fractures as those whose diets are the least acid producing.  One of the most highly acid-forming substances, which cause most calcium to be leached from your bones, is protein, particularly in red meat. 

The best way to make your diet more alkaline is simply to aim to have more alkaline-forming (fruit and vegetables) each day than acid (animal protein) and choose good quality animal protein like fish or eggs. You also need to watch what you drink as caffeine causes you to lose calcium and soft fizzy drinks will also cause a leeching effect of calcium from the bones.

The most important nutrients for your bones are, without doubt, calcium, magnesium and vitamin D and if you find it difficult taking supplements, be sure that you eat foods rich in these nutrients. 

Calcium is found in dairy products but don’t forget that you can also get enough calcium from dark green leafy vegetables, like broccoli, fish with bones, tofu, nuts, seeds and oranges.

Vitamin D is necessary for healthy bones because it increases calcium absorption. Much of our vitamin D is synthesised in our skin on exposure to sunlight – however we may also need additional supplies in our diet. Dietary traces of Vitamin D include: avocado, egg yolks, butter and fish oil.

Like vitamin D, magnesium is essential for calcium to be absorbed properly in our bodies and bone density to be maintained.. Good dietary sources are artichokes, nuts, beans and shellfish.  

Finally, as well as eating a healthy, bone building diet a regular exercise programme is crucial for warding off osteoporosis. This is because the more physically active we are, the more bone we will build. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes exercise five times a week.