Throughout your life you’ve been losing bone and building it back. For many people, there comes a point when they start losing more bone than they can replace.
Osteoporosis is a progressive disease that manifests in low bone mineral density, which makes the individual susceptible to bone fractures. Osteopenia is also substandard bone mineral density, but is not clinically low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. Both conditions need to be addressed.
Researchers suggest that nearly 45 million Americans are facing major bone health problems. It’s surprising, but one-quarter of the 45 million of those at risk are MEN even though we think of osteoporosis as a “woman’s disease.”
Susan E. Brown, Ph.D., CNS, specializes in osteoporosis and osteopenia and has more than 25 years of experience in clinical nutrition and bone health research. She is also a medical anthropologist who has authored numerous academic articles and several books, including "Better Bones, Better Body." (1)
Brown outlines the major myths about bone health:
- Myth #1. Calcium and vitamin D are enough to maintain strong bones. Although it’s true that these two nutrients play a vital role, they are only two of the 20 nutrients essential for healthy bone structure and function.
- Myth #2. DEXA testing for bone density is the only way to measure bone health. It’s more accurate to say the DEXA is the best test we have.
- Myth #3. Osteopenia leads to osteoporosis and bone fracture. This progression is only true for a fraction of women. With proper nutrients, diet, exercise and lifestyle changes, it’s possible to stop osteopenia or even osteoporosis.
- Myth #4. Prescription drugs are the only answer for osteopenia or osteoporosis. While prescription drugs may help some patients, these medications can often do more harm than good.
According to Dr. Brown, these are the greatest risk factors for bone problems:
- Inadequate nutrition
- Low levels of specific nutrients vital to bone formation
- An acid-forming diet
- Lack of weight-bearing exercise
- Chronic stress
- The use of bone-depleting medications and pharmaceuticals
Recommendations for Building Bones
Eat an alkaline-forming diet. The modern American diet is filled with large amounts of acid-forming foods, such as animal protein, refined flour products, an array of processed foods, low-quality fats, refined sugars and alcohol. To eat an alkaline-forming diet:
- Include more vegetables (especially root crops and green leafy vegetables), fruits, nuts, seeds and spices.
- Add fresh lemon or lime to your water. These citrus fruits are thought of as acids, but they actually alkalinize your body.
- Eliminate soda, excess caffeine and excess animal protein from your diet.
- Avoid processed foods, white flours, refined sugars, additives and preservatives.
Get the optimal amount of Vitamin D through sunlight, food sources and supplementation. Harvard University researchers note that taking calcium paired with vitamin D seems to be more beneficial for bone health than taking calcium alone.(2) Vitamin D has been shown to reduce fractures as much or even more than drug therapies. Try to be in sunlight for at least 15 minutes a day.
- Deficiency levels: < 50 ng/ml
- Optimal levels: 50 – 80 ng/ml
“Sunlight is not the enemy. It’s lack of antioxidants in your diet that is the enemy. Natural light is a lovely source of vitamin D; you can’t overdose. But many people – to get their levels of vitamin D into optimal – are going to need 5,000 to 10,000 international units per day. So, vitamin D is important.” – Christiane Northrup, M.D.
Add a high-quality, whole food multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement. This needs to contain the 20 key bone-building nutrients in optimal doses to fill in gaps.
Get more vitamin K. Vitamin K has been shown to affect how calcium helps with new bone building by allowing calcium to bind to the bone matrix.
Vitamin K, which is found mainly in green, leafy vegetables, likely plays one or more important roles in calcium regulation and bone formation.(3)
A report from the Nurses’ Health Study suggests that women who get at least 110 micrograms of vitamin K a day are 30 percent less likely to break a hip than women who get less than that.(4) Data from the Framingham Heart Study also shows an association between high vitamin K intake and reduced risk of hip fracture in men and women, and increased bone mineral density in women.(5)
Limit animal protein. Animal proteins are high in sulfur-containing amino acids and are particularly acid-producing as you metabolize them.
Generate stronger bone with exercise. Remember that our bodies were meant to move, and our bones need exercise to trigger bone-building activity.
Weight training is the most effective way to increase bone mass and decrease the risk of osteoporosis. Numerous studies reveal this fact. (6.7,8)
Minimize stress. Chronic stress takes a huge toll on our health – it increases the body’s acid load. (Keep in mind this can be physical stress, as occurs during the menopause transition, as well as emotional or mental stress.)
Here is a short testimonial from one of my female patients. Her physician diagnosed her with osteopenia and we worked together to circumvent the progression of the disease and optimize her health:
"Lindy helped me to break the hold that carbs and sugar held on my life. She performed a thorough evaluation of my medical condition and eating habits and then customized a lifestyle plan for me to follow. My physician diagnosed me with osteopenia and I knew I needed a nutrition plan to address that condition. She was quick to respond to any questions or concerns I had, and her expertise and encouraging spirit were instrumental in my success! I am so very glad that our paths crossed."
Bone is ever-changing, and when we take control of our diet, exercise habits and stress, we will build better and more beautiful bones, no matter our age.
(1) Brown, Susan and Russell Jaffe, MD. Better Bones, Better Body: Beyond Estrogen and Calcium. McGraw Hill. Apr 1, 2000.
(2) Calcium and Milk: What’s Best for Your Bones and Health? The Nutrition Source. Harvard School of Public Health. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium-full-story/
(3) Weber P. Vitamin K and bone health. Nutrition. 2001; 17:880–87.
(4) Feskanich D, Weber P, Willett WC, Rockett H, Booth SL, Colditz GA. Vitamin K intake and hip fractures in women: a prospective study. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999; 69:74–79.
(5) Booth SL, Broe KE, Gagnon DR, et al. Vitamin K intake and bone mineral density in women and men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003; 77(2):512-16
(6) Cussler, Lohman et al. Weight lifted in strength training predicts bone change in postmenopausal women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 35(1):10-7
(7) Nickols-Richardson, S.M., Miller, L.E., Wootten, D.F., Ramp W.K. and Herbert, W.G. Concentric and Eccentric isokinetic resistance training similarly increases muscular strength, fat free tissue mass and specific bone mineral measurements in young women. Osteoporosis Int. 2007; 18(6):789-96.
(8) Winters, K.M. and Snow, C.M. Detraining reverses positive effects of exercise on the musculoskeletal system in premenopausal women. J Bone Miner Res. 2000; (12):2495-503.
Lindy Ford, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Nutritionist who runs Lindy Ford Nutrition & Wellness, LLC, a private practice in Wilmington. She received her degree in Nutritional Science from the University of Maryland, College Park. She treats each patient according to their unique physiology so they can achieve long-term results. For more information, visit lindyfordwellness.com, call (443) 417-8352 or send an email to [email protected].