Are you concerned about your bone health? If so, you’re not alone – over three million people in the UK suffer from osteoporosis.
The word osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bones’, with bones becoming less dense and more liable to fracture.
Often, osteoporosis doesn’t give rise to any early warning symptoms. Many people leave it until they experience a fracture before giving their bones a second thought, but it’s never too early to protect your bone health.
Before we discover how to look after your bones, let’s first talk about bones themselves and why they can become porous.
Your bones are made of a framework of collagen, with calcium providing strength.
Your bones don’t simply sit there supporting your body, they’re living, dynamic tissues constantly being renewed. Two types of cells are involved in this process. Osteoblasts oversee the building up of bone by creating new collagen and directing calcium to be laid down onto it, while osteoclasts break down bones and release calcium into your blood. This process is known as bone remodelling, and it’s needed to repair any damage to your bones. Ideally both these processes should be balanced, so bones remain strong.
If osteoclasts work faster than osteoblasts, bones are broken down faster than they’re rebuilt, becoming porous.
We know osteoblast activity declines with age, and osteoporosis particularly affects post-menopausal women because the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone play a role in bone turnover.
However, osteoporosis isn’t an inevitable consequence of ageing or menopause. Support your bone health with these simple tips:
You might automatically think of milk in relation to bone health. Milk contains calcium and so do bones, so drinking more milk may seem logical if you want to protect your bones. However, with some research revealing women who drink the most milk suffer an increased risk of fractures, we need to look a little closer.
Calcium isn’t the only mineral important for bone health – magnesium is also incredibly important and must be in balance with calcium to reduce osteoporosis risk. Milk contains far less magnesium than calcium. We know magnesium deficiency is associated with weaker bones, and it’s thought low magnesium may increase osteoclast activity and inhibit osteoblasts.
So simply taking in large amounts of calcium isn’t the answer, although it’s sensible to ensure you’re consuming enough of this mineral from healthy sources like green leafy vegetables, beans, tofu, nuts, seeds and fish with bones.
Good sources of magnesium include brown rice, beans, peas, lentils and nuts.
Other nutrients important for bone health include boron, iron, manganese and copper, selenium and zinc.
The key is keeping nutrients in balance, so it’s best to check your levels before taking a supplement. A Functional Medicine practitioner can advise on supplements which are easily absorbed.
Although you might not immediately connect your gut with your bones, good digestive health results in better absorption of essential bone nutrients.
Stomach acid production reduces with ageing or use of antacid medication, and insufficient stomach acid means minerals are not absorbed as easily.
A healthy population of gut bacteria, or microbiome, is important for controlling inflammation. Inflammation is known to increase osteoclast activity.
The so-called sunshine vitamin is needed to absorb calcium from food as well as allowing calcium to latch onto bones.
Vitamin D is scarce in food, but your body makes it when you expose your skin to the sun. Try to get outside for around 20 minutes per day without sunscreen – but make sure you don’t burn.
Cola drinks, even diet ones, contain phosphoric acid. This has been linked in studies to reduced bone mineral density.
Meanwhile sugar increases inflammation and can lead to insulin resistance, associated in research to slower bone turnover. Find out how to quit sugar in 14 days here.
This vitamin helps calcium to be attracted into your bone matrix. It’s found in green leafy vegetables, olive oil, egg yolks and fermented soya beans.
Some vitamin K needs to be transformed by your gut bacteria so you’re able to use it, so it’s important your digestive system is in good shape.
Stress negatively effects digestion, and stress hormones are also thought to reduce calcium absorption from your gut as well as increasing calcium lost in your urine.
Stress also steals progesterone, negating its bone-protecting effect.
Exercise helps stimulate bone renewal, particularly weight-bearing exercise like walking, jogging, playing tennis and dancing.
Strength exercises involving lifting weights can be helpful, too. Exercise also improves balance and reduces the likelihood of falls and trips.
All your body systems are interconnected and influence each other, and your bones are no exception. Poor bone health doesn’t have one single cause.
Functional tests can examine your nutrient levels, gut health, and any inflammation, all factors impacting impact bone health. Contact me to start your first steps to healthier bones.
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