a1 Division of Clinical Sciences, Northern General Hospital, Herries Road, Sheffield S5 7AU, UK
Osteoporosis is a common disease in the elderly, and the fractures that result from this disorder affect 40 % of women and 14 % of men over the age of 50 years. The risk of fracture relates to bone mineral density and the risk of falling, among other factors. Low bone mineral density in the elderly can result from either low peak bone mass or accelerated bone loss, or a combination of the two. Nutritional factors play a role in both the attainment of peak bone mass and in the rate of age-related bone loss. The main determinants of peak bone mass are genetic factors, early-life nutrition, diet and exercise. Of the nutritional factors Ca, and particularly milk, are the most important contributors to peak bone mass. Some of these factors may interact; for example, a low dietary Ca in addition to an unfavourable vitamin D receptor gene polymorphism may result in low peak bone mass. The age-related changes in bone mass may also have a genetic basis, but deficiency of oestrogen is a major contributor. In addition, undernutrition is common in the elderly, and lack of dietary protein contributes both to impaired bone mineral conservation and increased propensity to fall. There is a decreased ability of the intestine to adapt to a low-Ca diet with increasing age. Other dietary factors include vitamin K, Zn and fruit and vegetables. Adequate nutritional status, particularly of Ca and vitamin D, is essential for the successful pharmaceutical treatment of osteoporosis. Thus, strategies for enhancing skeletal health in the elderly must begin in early childhood, and continue throughout life.