Building Healthy Bones

Surprisingly large numbers of women (and men) in Australia are being diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis. This is despite a very high rate of dairy consumption in the country. So what is happening and can you build healthy bones as you get older?

There are three major areas that need to be addressed for good bone health, namely exercise, nutrition and lifestyle factors. Most people think about calcium and perhaps Vitamin D but don’t necessarily address the other key areas.

Bones are constantly being broken down and remodeled and this process results in up to 10% of the bone mass of an adult being replaced every year. This means that changes will take time to have an impact but that you can maintain or even improve your existing bone density.

One indication that you have a problem with your bone density can be having a bone fracture easily or having a fracture take a long time to heal. Usually the bone will remodel and repair over 6-8 weeks however if this process takes considerably longer its essential to get your bone density assessed.

Lifestyle factors are an important consideration and conditions which affect absorption such as celiac disease will increase your risk factors. There are also certain medications , such as corticosteroids, which reduce bone density. Other key lifestyle factors are heavy smoking and drinking. Heavy drinking usually results in a range of key nutrient deficiencies and Calcium and Vitamin D are just two that can be impacted.

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Exercise is critical for bone health and even two hours of regular walking a week can make a difference. Walking causes micro fractures which encourages the process of bone remodeling. Walking needs to be brisk, at a pace where you can speak but not sing! Ideally incorporate some hills and keep stretching yourself.

Weight bearing exercise is also helpful as it can prevent further bone loss and strengthens existing bone. Impact exercise such as aerobics, dancing , tennis and basketball have the benefit of being weight bearing as well as building bone. These are classified as the ideal exercises to build bone however its important to start exercising at an appropriate level and build up slowly.

Nutrition is an area that often gets overlooked or there is a strong focus on calcium containing foods at the expense of synergistic nutrients which assist in bone formation. So how much and what type of nutrients should you be reviewing in your diet?

First up make sure you are absorbing nutrients well. Generally good digestive health is key and this would usually mean that you don’t suffer from reflux, excessive flatulence or belching and that you don’t require medications to manage these conditions. Other indications of poor digestive health can be constipation or diarrhea as in both cases you may be less able to absorb nutrients.

Secondly look at the key minerals required for good bone building. This includes Calcium, Magnesium, Boron, Silicon and Vitamins D and K. In my initial consultations we usually assess these minerals either based on signs and symptoms or further testing as required. How would you know you had a deficiency ? Magnesium for example is a common deficiency and usually results in symptoms like headaches and cramping or an inability to manage stress such that you feel constantly tired but wired! Silicon is a surprisingly common deficiency in Australia and usually results in dull flat looking hair and weak nails.

A good way to introduce more minerals to your diet is to add bone broth ideally made from organic bones. This provides soluble minerals in an easy to digest form. The collagen and gelatine in bone broth is also a gentle treatment for the digestion and may assist in improving the quality of the lining.

Another key nutrient for bone building is protein with about half of the bone comprised of proteins. Very low protein intake can decrease calcium absorption and may affect the rate of bone formation. Very high protein diets can leach calcium from the bone to reduce the acidity in the blood. Up to about 100g of protein from food a day balanced with a good range of vegetables appears to be the right level. Just remember that its 100g of protein and not 100g of protein containing food. For example chicken is about 25% protein so a 200g chicken breast fillet is about 50g of actual protein.(1).

For more information about building healthy bone make an appointment with Christine at Elemental Health on 02 8084 0081.

(1) Beasley JM, LaCroix AZ, Larson JC, Huang Y, Neuhouser ML, Tinker LF, Jackson R, Snetselaar L, Johnson KC, Eaton CB, Prentice RL. Biomarker-calibrated protein intake and bone health in the Women’s Health Initiative clinical trials and observational study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Apr;99(4):934-40. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.076786. Epub 2014 Feb 19. PMID: 24552750; PMCID: PMC3953886.

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