ESTIMATED READING TIME 4 MINUTES
October sees World Osteoporosis Day, with this year’s campaign ‘Step up for Bone Health’ aiming to raise awareness of the disease and to inspire action among those at risk of poor bone health.
But did you know your bones are related to your gut? Your digestive health is an important yet often overlooked factor determining the health of your bones.
Read on to learn how the two are connected and how you can take steps to better bone health.
Osteoporosis is very common. Worldwide, one in three women and one in five men will suffer a fracture caused by osteoporosis. The disease causes bones to become fragile and break easily. Over five million people in the UK suffer from osteoporosis.
Many people think of bones as inert structures, but like the rest of you, they’re living tissue. Bones are comprised of a framework of collagen scaffolding, onto which is hung calcium to provide strength, alongside other minerals like magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. Bones are constantly being replaced and renewed, with new bone constructed and old bone broken down. These two processes need to be in balance for your bones to be healthy. If bone is destroyed faster than it can be rebuilt, it will become fragile and liable to break.
You might not think there’s an obvious connection between your gut and your bones, but good digestive health affects bone health in several important ways.
Firstly, if your digestion is working well, you’ll be better able to absorb the nutrients your bones need to remain strong. Sufficient stomach acid is important here. If you aren’t producing enough, something naturally occurring with age, or if you’re taking antacid medications, you won’t easily absorb the bone-building minerals from your diet.
The bacteria in your gut, called your microbiome, are incredibly important for bone health. Firstly, certain types of bacteria directly help to absorb bone-supporting minerals like calcium 1, magnesium and phosphorus. Other beneficial bacteria help to make vitamin K and Vitamin D 2, both essential for good bone health.
The bacteria living in your microbiome release substances acting as messengers, known as short-chain fatty acids. Different versions of these have distinct roles, and certain types of bacteria in your gut release different fatty acids to others. Some of these slow down the activity of the cells tasked with the job of breaking down bone, called osteoclasts. Others encourage osteoblasts, the cells responsible for building new bone.
Bacteria have another important job – to control inflammation. They again do this by releasing messenger substances – but only if the bacteria living in your gut are of a certain type. If unhealthy bacteria dominate, a condition known as dysbiosis, they’ll release substances encouraging inflammation. The regulation of chronic inflammation is important for bone health because inflammation is known to increase the activity of osteoclasts, the bone-destroyers.
Another way your gut bacteria support your bones is by balancing your hormones. One clue as to the importance of hormones for bone health comes from the number of women developing osteoporosis after the menopause, when hormone levels decline naturally. Your gut bacteria are directly responsible for regulating oestrogen levels by converting the hormone into its active forms. Declining oestrogen levels stimulate the osteoclasts.
Your gut bacteria are likely to affect bone in other ways not yet discovered. Studies giving supplements of beneficial bacteria to volunteers found those who took the supplements had better bone health markers than those who didn’t 3.
Healthy gut bacteria need to feed on fibre to flourish so one of the best ways to encourage bone-beneficial bacteria is to eat a wide array of plant foods.
Other sensible ways to support your bones include eating plenty of magnesium-rich foods. This mineral is often overlooked in the context of bone health, but it’s just as important as calcium, arguably more so. Good sources include beans, peas, lentils, nuts and leafy greens.
Since you make the majority of your Vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunshine, it’s advisable to take a supplement, especially during the winter months.
Weight-bearing exercises like walking, playing tennis, dancing and rebounding on a trampoline help to stimulate new bone to be built.
Functional tests will discover the reasons behind your poor bone health by examining your nutrient levels, gut health and hormone balance, and detecting any chronic inflammation, all factors impacting bone metabolism. Armed with this information, dietary and lifestyle modifications personalised to you will be recommended to put things right.
Are you concerned about osteoporosis? Why not book a free 15-minute discovery call to see if Functional Medicine is for you.
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