What is Peak Bone Mass?
Peak bone mass is the largest amount of bone tissue that a person has at any point in life. This occurs within a mature skeleton, as bone mass develops all through childhood, adolescence, the teenage years, and even during the years of early adulthood. Most people reach their peak mass by the age of 30. Because bones are some of the most rigid, sturdy objects in the body, many people forget that they are living tissues, much like muscle. As with muscle mass, bone mass can be lost due to a number of factors.
Just as the body consistently breaks down old muscle tissue and creates new, the body also consistently breaks down bone and replaces it with new tissue. As many people have a few periods of peak fitness in their lives, during which they have the most muscle mass of their lives, everyone also has a period in which they have more bone mass than they have ever had before or will ever have again. At this point they have what is considered to be peak bone mass.
After this point, bone mass can be lost. In order to avoid brittle bones, too much loss of bone tissue, or even osteoporosis, people have to work not to allow their bone mass to fall too far below their peak point. This can be done by getting plenty of calcium and also making sure to participate in regular physical activities. Unlike muscle mass, which can clearly be seen under the skin, bone mass is impossible to see without medical technology. This is because the mass does not just have to do with the size of the bones, but also with their density.
At the point of peak bone mass, the bones are more dense than ever have been or ever will be in the future. Although the bones may have finished growing in size many year before the peak point, they have never stopped developing internally. The difference between a bone at the peak and a bone that has experienced bone density loss or osteoporosis is clear. When bone density has depleted or if osteoporosis sets in, the bones look much more porous and, in a magnified form, can even resemble a pumice stone.
@Iluviaporos - The other interesting thing about calcium and milk in general, is that drinking it can apparently lead to weight loss, which can also help your bones.
It doesn't help directly, since in fact being heavier will lead your bones to higher bone mass, since they have to carry more weight.
But, if you weigh less, you're more likely to move around and be active, which is the best way of increasing bone mass density.
So, drinking a lot of milk can help your bones in more than one way. Of course, eating a lot of ice cream won't have the same effect!
@pastanaga - Actually, I don't think caffeine has much effect on the bones, so you can sip that coffee without feeling guilty.
The introduction and popularity of milk and milk products has probably saved us from an epidemic of osteoporosis since it improves bone mineral density so much in older people. With the modern diet so full of processed foods, I think ice cream is the only thing that really saves a lot of people from losing bone density.
It does also help kids to grow better and probably increases their peak bone mass in general. I know there's a theory that milk products are the reason many people are taller than their parents, particularly people from countries where milk wasn't traditionally made into many foods.
Although, of course, milk isn't the only way to get calcium in the diet. Fish is another good source of it, particularly small fish where you eat the bones along with the flesh (like sardines). Seaweeds, nuts and some vegetables are also good sources.
I've heard it said several times that the rates of osteoporosis and bone breaks in older women has gone down because of the popularity of fancy coffee drinks. I would guess they make the peak bone mass later in people as well.
It's a bit ironic really, because I believe too much caffeine can actually be bad for your bones, but people put so much milk into coffee now, with cappuccinos, and lattes and so forth, that they are getting more calcium than they would otherwise have.
This is particularly true of people in cultures where milk isn't used in many dishes. Starbucks is all over the place (and if it isn't there, something else equivalent will be) and people are willing to spend quite a bit to get a regular coffee fix. And they're helping their bones while they're at it.
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