Why does bone health matter?
Our bones play a crucial role in supporting our bodies and ensuring our health. Beyond providing structure, bones are dynamic, living tissues that require proper care and attention throughout our lives.
Bone health is integral to our overall well-being as it affects our ability to move, provides protection for vital organs, and supports the structure of our bodies. Beyond these functions, bones also serve as a mineral reservoir, playing a key role in maintaining mineral balance in the body.
In this article, we'll dive into the importance of bone health, what they are made of and the roles of various nutrients in optimal health. We'll discuss common bone-related conditions like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, and provide practical tips for promoting bone health across different life stages.
What are bones made of?
Bones are a complex mixture of organic and inorganic compounds, including protein, collagen, vitamins and minerals. Protein contributes to the structural integrity of bones, while collagen provides flexibility and strength. Vitamins like vitamin D and K also contribute to bone density and strength. Most importantly, there are 12 main minerals that are essential to bone health and 64 trace minerals!
Bone health is not just about calcium! The 12 main minerals include magnesium, boron, calcium, chromium, iron, silica, selenium, sulfur, potassium, phosphorus, manganese and zinc.
Laying the Foundation: Nutrient Requirements for Bone Health
To ensure strong and healthy bones, certain nutrients are crucial:
Calcium: Essential for bone structure and function. Good sources include dairy products, leafy greens, fish with the bones, beans, and cabbage.
Vitamin D: Facilitates calcium absorption, meaning it helps the bones absorb calcium. Sun exposure is by far the best way to get ample vitamin D, but fatty fish and egg yolks also contain vitamin D. In the winter, we often recommend supplementation (always with vitamin K2).
Vitamin K: Promotes bone mineralization by helping turn calcium into bone. Leafy greens, broccoli, and olive oil are rich in vitamin K.
Magnesium: Supports bone density. Nuts, seeds, avocado, whole grains (like quinoa), and leafy greens are magnesium-rich foods.
Phosphorous: Integral for bone strength. Found in meat, dairy, and whole grains.
These nutrients are just the short story - there are many other trace minerals that contribute to bone strength! There is a delicate interaction between these nutrients and too much or too little of one can result in an imbalance of another, affecting bone strength and mineral balance.
Rarely will we recommend one of these supplements without considering the others and we'll never put you on just a calcium supplement. Instead, we'll look at which vitamins and minerals you may be missing from your dietary intake and supplement those accordingly. We'll almost always use a complex multi-mineral and vitamin to deliver the bone supporting nutrients your body can actually use.
Promoting Bone Health Across The Lifespan
Proper nutrition during growth phases is vital for optimal bone and connective tissue development and the maintenance of healthy bones as we age.
Most people know that children and adolescents need adequate calcium, but they often forget about other bone supporting nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin K and magnesium. These nutrients are essential early on for laying a foundation of healthy strong bones for future you.
Most people reach peak bone mass around 25 to 30 years old and then start slowly losing it after 40.
But you don’t have to!
As we age, ensuring adequate intake of bone healthy nutrients is still important, but doubling down on regular exercise and preventing bone loss becomes equally important.
Inactivity, especially weight-bearing exercise can weaken bones. Smoking and chronic alcohol intake also interfere with bone density and can increase your risk of fractures.
Low body weight and those with eating disorders are at a greater risk of decreased bone density. Being at an appropriate weight for your body is really important for bone health. If you’ve struggled with low body weight or an eating disorder in the past, getting a baseline assessment of your bone health with a DEXA scan may be wise.
Certain medications like glucocorticoids (steroids) or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can also contribute to bone loss and later, osteoporosis.
Bone Conditions: Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both. It’s characterized by weak, porous bones and increases the risk of fractures. Osteoporosis is also partly an inflammatory issue.
It's prevalent especially among older adults, postmenopausal women, and those with certain medical conditions. In fact, 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men over the age of 50 will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture.
But it doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of aging.
Eating enough nutrient dense foods, especially those rich in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K and magnesium can help prevent bone loss and osteoporosis.
Regularly moving your body, especially with weight bearing activities like weight lifting, walking, running, and even going up the stairs can increase bone strength. Initiating preventative measures early on is key to mitigating osteoporosis risk.
Think about it this way - don’t train or eat for your beach body, train for your future, more mature body! Strong bones are essential for aging well and continuing to engage in the activities you love (with the people you love!).
Bone Conditions: Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that affects cartilage and is typically caused by overuse, injury, and time. It's prevalent among older adults and those with joint injuries and is a major cause of functional loss as we age.
It’s generally agreed that the cause of osteoarthritis is multifactorial, involving genetics, acute and chronic joint trauma, metabolic and inflammatory mechanisms and dietary factors.
Acute or chronic joint trauma may trigger osteoarthritis, but inflammation carries the torch from there. Eating an inflammatory diet or leading an inflammatory lifestyle (ie. high stress, poor sleep, too much or too little exercise) can contribute to the progression of osteoarthritis.
There’s only so much we can do about joint injuries, but we can maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and eat an anti-inflammatory diet to support osteoarthritis management.
Inflammation and Bone Health
Chronic inflammation negatively impacts bone health, contributing to conditions like those mentioned above. Fortunately, diet is one of the best tools you can leverage to reduce and combat inflammation.
Including plenty of richly colored fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and olive oil while reducing processed foods and refined sugars is a great way to reduce inflammation. Turmeric, ginger, oily fish, berries, and green leafy vegetables are also anti-inflammatory powerhouses to add to your regular rotation. Make it a game to see how many colors you have on your plate at once. The more colors, the more antioxidants!
Gut Health and Its Impact on Bones
We aren’t what we eat - we are what we absorb!
A healthy gut microbiome is essential for optimal nutrient absorption, including those crucial for bone health. Showing your gut a little TLC supports all parts of your body, including your bones.
Include plenty of fiber, fermented foods, and stay hydrated to support a diverse and healthy gut microbiome. Work on optimizing your digestion as having the digestive enzymes and proper level of stomach acid is key to unlocking nutrition in the first place.
If you’re concerned about your gut health, consider working with our team to get to the root cause. All parts of your health will flourish when you start to improve your gut health.
Prioritizing bone health is essential for a vibrant and active life, especially as we age. Understanding the role of various nutrients and adopting a proactive approach to nutrition and lifestyle, you can lay a strong foundation for optimal bone health across all life stages.
Remember, building and maintaining strong bones is a lifelong journey, and small, consistent efforts can make a significant impact on your overall well-being.
If you’re worried about your bone health, have a family history of osteoarthritis or osteoporosis, or just aren’t sure how to incorporate bone healthy foods into your diet, we’re here to help! Schedule a FREE 15 minute consultation to determine how we could support your goals.