Approximately 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, a disease where bones gradually lose their density and structural integrity. In addition, 44 million Americans have low density bones which puts them at risk for bone breaks and fractures.¹ The word “osteoporosis” means “porous bone.”
Bones are made of growing tissue that consists of a soft framework of collagen (a protein) flexible mesh fiber and the mineral calcium phosphate that hardens the framework. Throughout our lifetime, new bone is added to the skeleton and old bone is removed (reabsorbed). When we are young, new bone is added faster than old bone is removed.
It is important to have good bone health during our childhood. By our late teens and early 20’s, our bones have reached their maximum size and strength. This is called “peak bone mass”. The greater our peak bone mass during our, the less the risk of having osteoporosis later in life. Up until about age 40, all bone lost is replaced. After that time, less bone is replaced. If bone loss exceeds the ability of the body to rebuild, our bones become thin and porous. Healthy bone looks like honeycomb when viewed under a microscope. Holes and spaces in the bone are much larger when a person has osteoporosis. Less dense bones are weaker and have a greater tendency to break than healthy bones.
Mineral reserves are stored in our bones. Our blood is slightly alkaline (pH 7.35-7.45). The proper pH balance in the blood is vital for many biological functions. Our kidneys and lungs work to maintain a healthy pH level in our blood. Consuming fish, meat, eggs, grains, sugar, and soda create a more acidic environment. Vegetables, fruits, and seeds are alkaline. When our pH levels become too acidic, mineral reserves will be pulled from our bones into our bloodstream to maintain the proper pH balance.
According to the CDC, one in five women ages 50 and over and one in 20 men ages 50 and older have osteoporosis. Weakened bones result in breaks in one of two women and one of five men over the age of 50. Women are at a greater risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia (lower bone density but not yet osteoporosis) because women’s bones are smaller and less dense than men’s bones. Menopause also puts women at a greater risk because of decreased estrogen levels. The gold standard for testing bone density is a DEXA scan, a low level x-ray that measures the mineral content in the bones.
Risk factors for increased bone loss include:
- Low intake of potassium, Vitamin D, calcium or protein
- Smoking (depletes estrogen)
- Insufficient peak bone mass in our late teens and early 20’s
- Excessive alcohol
- Low levels of estrogen (women) or testosterone (men)
- Certain diseases such as hyperthyroidism, kidney disorders, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and celiac disease (these create faster bone turn-over or malabsorption issues) Diabetes (low magnesium levels common)
- Long term use of some medications including steroids, cortisol, blood thinners, diuretics, and aluminum containing antacids
The good news is we do not need to helplessly stand by and let our bones slowly lose their density. With proper nutrition and regular exercise, we can slow down this process considerably.
Some of the vitamins and minerals and their food sources that will preserve our bones include:
- Vitamin D – Essential for the absorption of calcium found in foods*
- Fortified foods
- Mushrooms (when exposed to sunlight 15-120 minutes before cooking)
*Vitamin D increases calcium in the bloodstream. If there is not enough calcium in the bloodstream, Vitamin D will help pull calcium from the bones and move it into the bloodstream.
- Calcium – Gives hardness to bones and teeth and regulates pH balance in the blood
- Bok choy
- Fortified foods
- Vitamin B6 – Strengthens collagen
- Whole grains
- Bell peppers
- Bok choy
- Vitamin K – Keeps calcium in the bones
- Collard greens
- Swisss chard
- Romaine lettuce
- Magnesium – Stimulates calcium absorption into the bones
- Swiss chard
- Pumpkin seeds
- Summer squash
- Black beans
- Potassium – Neutralizes acidity
- Swiss chard
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
Other minerals needed for a healthy bone matrix include manganese, boron, zinc, and copper.
There are some calcium robbers, however, that should be avoided. Artificial sweeteners cause calcium to be excreted through urine. Sodium and salt excreted by the liver will excrete calcium along with it. Excessive alcohol consumption reduces Vitamin D and calcium absorption, and caffeine reduces calcium absorption.
Exercise is THE key factor for good bone health and is needed for the nutrition to work and for proper mineralization of bone.² One hour of moderate exercise three times a week can increase bone mass in post-menopausal women.³ Weight bearing exercises including lifting weights, walking, heel drops, rebounding, jumping jacks, jumping rope, etc., “encourage” the rebuilding of bone, and increase both bone density and overall strength as well as slow down bone loss.
Action Steps to Protect Your Bones:
- Eat dark green vegetables such as kale, bok choy, cabbage, and collard greens daily
- Include calcium rich foods such as tofu, fortified orange juice, black-eyed peas, white beans, navy beans, and the grain amaranth in your diet
¹ Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation (2023, May 1). Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month 2023. Healthy Bones Are Always in Style.
² Lukaczer, Dan ND, Jones, David S. MD, Lerman, Robert H MD, PhD. (2004, p. 10). Clinical Nutrition, A Functional Approach. Gig Harbor, WA. The Institute for Functional Medicine.
³ Murray, Michael ND. (2005, p.754). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY. Atria Books.