We don’t see our bones. At least when all is going well we don’t! But this out of sight reality can put bone health out of mind too. With a little thought about our wellbeing, we can have healthy bones for life – just follow the guidelines.
Healthy bone is dynamic, living, changing tissue that is constantly being reabsorbed (broken down) and rebuilt. This is a natural process and if we keep it in balance, a healthy one.
Bones are a little like brains and the two share a couple of unhelpful misconception that I’d like to break down for you in the cause of building up better bone health. As with our brain, the most important growing of bones happens in childhood, and this is the time when we really need to feed the bone-growing process. But just as people thought for many years that adults couldn’t regenerate brain matter, there has been a false belief that bones only weaken and fragment as we age.
Truth is, your bones are doing their best to rebuild right now. They are forever changing and they need assistance, with diet and exercise especially, to regain and retain the health, strength and density to support us well into a long, healthy life.
Bone mineral density
The key is understanding bone mineral density (BMD), which is the measure of the strength of our bones. Lack of proactive bone building can result in an unhealthy decline in BMD, leading to potentially serious problems with chronic bone weakness and acute problems such as fractures and breaks.
Perhaps the biggest shadow that hands over unsupported bones is osteoporosis, which is a common condition characterised by loss of BMD.
Osteoporosis is a familiar condition that affects many woman, especially after the age of 40. Osteoporosis estimates that up to 50 percent of women will experience an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime.
A postmenopausal drop in oestrogen, and lack of calcium and Vitamin D have been targeted as the main reasons for osteoporosis, leading to the widespread belief that it affects only women. This is a myth; research suggests that 33 percent of men will suffer lowered BMD related condition in their life. And by the time we turn 65, men and women are equally at risk.
But as bone weakness can set in, especially in women, even before the age of 30, consider building BMD to be a crucial lifelong task.
Our bone life cycle
Like all nature, our bones have a life cycle of their own. We reach peak bone density somewhere between 20 and 30 years of age. Thereafter the decline increases – after age 40 bone-mass decline by 1 to 2 percent a year. We can act against this decline and maintain strong, dense and healthy bones by supporting our bone mineral density.
The good news is that the atoms in our bones regenerate and replace themselves within three months. To retain our BMD we have two allies: exercise and nutrition. Constantly reabsorbing and rebuilding bones demand mineral and nutritional support. And new bones need strength, which is gained by exercise and especially weight bearing exercise.
Optimal exercise is a regular mix of cardio training, such as running, walking, swimming or cycling, combined with weight-bearing exercise.
Any weight use forces our muscles to contract, stressing the bone and prompting it to build improved density.
The key to weights is not how much you lift, but how often. Even very light weights, such as hand-held or ankle weights used while walking, are as effective as weight lifting in a gym.
Regular and consistent cardio, combined with weight-bearing exercise is most effective, not just in preventing bone-loss but reversing it too, You can build your bones with weight workouts into old age, even if you’ve never lifted weights in your younger years.
Many studies, even of people in advanced years and with osteoporosis, have shown that the difference between good and bad bone health can be as simple as a brisk 15 to 20 minute walk daily.
Food for strong bones
Good, healthy bones require more than just taking calcium supplements or drinking large glasses of milk. Bone building is a resource-hungry task that demands nutrients, especially calcium, protein, vitamins D, K2, C, B6, B12, boron, selenium, folate and riboflavin.
Eating rich foods, and a diet based on regular, generous servings of vegetables and legumes, can deliver much of what the body needs. Be aware also, that too much protein in our diets can cause our bones to leach out calcium.
Healthy eating is always the best option, but for many of us supplementation is a more realistic alternative, if not the ideal answer.
The must have supplements will contain the bone-building vitamins and minerals listed here, together with glucosamine and chondroitin. And, if recent lab-based research proves accurate, resveratrol is also important, showing exciting results in building bone density.
Supplements, however, are only as good as our ability to absorb them.
Nutrients absorption needs healthy digestion, so pay attention to food intolerance. Foods that inflame the stomach prevent us from absorbing their goodness. Even unhealthy processed foods that may not make our digestive system obviously react can be destructive. Refined sugars, for example sugary processed food and drinks, cause an increase in urinary excretion of calcium, stripping out this much-needed nutrient. Aspartame (a common artificial sweetener) is especially suspect and is best avoided altogether.
Maintaining good gut flora is a priority. Eat acidophilus yoghurt, and take capsules and tablets or see your naturopath to ensure you absorb all the goodness you consume.
Your bones are for life. Taking a little time and effort to keep supporting their strength can, in turn, build your long, strong and healthy life.
- Osteoporosis (which translates as ‘porous bone’) can be described as the progressive loss of bone, resulting in bone thinning and increased likelihood of fractures and breaks.
- Most vulnerable are the hip, spine, ribs and wrist.
- It affects both men and women.
- Symptoms (listed progressively) can include:
– Muscular pain
– Bone sensitivity
– Back pain
– Loss of height
– Spinal deformity, stooping/hunchback
Must-Eat Bone Food
- Steamed green, leafy vegetables and beans
- Calcium-rich milk, low-fat yoghurt and cheese
- Salmon, sardines, tuna, gurnard, snapper, seafood
- Chicken liver or breast; turkey breast
- Lean beef and lamb loin
- Cauliflower, tomatoes, yarns, beets and sweet corn
- Split peas, lentils and beans, especially kidney, lima, black, pinto and soy
- Avocado, celery, carrots and capsicum
- Banana, oranges, figs, plums-and prunes
- Green olives, parsley, thyme and basil
Heathy Bones Beat The Odds
- Bone loss in women can begin as early as age 25.
- Worldwide, the lifetime risk for a woman to have an osteoporotic fracture is 30 to 40 percent. In men, the risk is about 13 percent.
- More women are hospitalised with osteoporosis-related hip fractures than breast cancer.
Calcium, Magnesium, Boron And The Sun
- Calcium supplementation is well known as crucial for bone building, but to be effective you need magnesium, too. Combine calcium, magnesium and the trace mineral boron with Vitamin D.
- Sunshine is the best source of Vitamin D, which facilitates calcium storage in your bones. This reduces the risk of breaking a bone in any part of the body by 33 percent and breaking a hip by 69 percent.
- Aim for 20 minutes of sunshine exposure daily. Vitamin D food source include oily fish salmon, tuna, sardines, eggs, beef, yoghurt and cheese.