Simple Ways to Keep Your Bones Healthy
Taking care of your bone health is simpler than you think. Learn how your diet, physical activity, and lifestyle choices can impact the strength of your bones.
Providing structure, safeguarding organs, supporting muscles, and storing calcium are just a few of the crucial functions that bones serve in our bodies. Although it is essential to develop strong and healthy bones during childhood and adolescence, you can also take measures in adulthood to safeguard your bone health.
Importance of Bone Health: Why You Should Care
Your bones are in a constant state of change. New bone is formed, and old bone is broken down. During youth, the production of new bone exceeds the breakdown, leading to an increase in bone mass. Typically, individuals reach their peak bone mass around the age of 30. However, as you age, the balance shifts, and you start losing slightly more bone mass than you gain.
The likelihood of developing osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak and brittle bones, depends on the amount of bone mass you achieve by the age of 30 and how rapidly you lose it afterward. Having a higher peak bone mass acts like a reserve, reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis as you grow older.
Factors Affecting Bone Health
Several factors can impact the health of your bones. Consider the following:
- Calcium intake: A low-calcium diet can lead to reduced bone density, early bone loss, and an increased risk of fractures.
- Physical activity: Being physically inactive raises the risk of osteoporosis compared to those who are more active.
- Tobacco and alcohol use: Research suggests that smoking weakens bones. Additionally, consuming more than one alcoholic drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men may increase the risk of osteoporosis.
- Gender: Women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis due to having less bone tissue than men.
- Body size: Being extremely thin (with a body mass index of 19 or less) or having a small body frame may increase the risk as you may have less bone mass to rely on as you age.
- Age: Bones naturally become thinner and weaker as you grow older.
- Race and family history: The highest risk of osteoporosis is seen in individuals of white or Asian descent. Furthermore, having a parent or sibling with osteoporosis increases your risk, particularly if there is a family history of fractures.
- Hormone levels: Excessive thyroid hormone can lead to bone loss. In women, the drop in estrogen levels during menopause significantly increases the rate of bone loss. The prolonged absence of menstruation (amenorrhea) before menopause also raises the risk of osteoporosis. In men, low testosterone levels can result in a loss of bone mass.
- Eating disorders and other conditions: Severe food restriction and being underweight weakens bones in both men and women. Additionally, weight-loss surgery and conditions such as celiac disease can affect the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
- Certain medications: The long-term use of corticosteroid medications like prednisone, cortisone, prednisolone, and dexamethasone can be detrimental to bone health. Other drugs that may increase the risk of osteoporosis include aromatase inhibitors used for breast cancer treatment, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, methotrexate, some anti-seizure medications (e.g., phenytoin and phenobarbital), as well as proton pump inhibitors.
Top 10 Ways to Naturally Increase Bone Density
Low bone density increases the risk of fractures. You can enhance your bone density through activities like strength training, making smart dietary choices, managing your weight, and adopting a healthier lifestyle.
Bone density evolves with time. During childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, your bones absorb essential nutrients and minerals, gradually gaining strength. However, as you approach your late 20s, you reach your peak bone mass, which signifies that further bone density gain is unlikely.
With age, bone density may decrease, and this decline becomes more pronounced, especially after menopause. Osteoporosis, a condition that makes bones more susceptible to fractures, becomes a concern.
But fear not, there are numerous natural ways to bolster and sustain your bone density. Here are the top 10:
1. Work Out Your Muscles
Strength training has been found to enhance bone mineral density and decrease inflammation. Research indicates that both weightlifting and strength training play a crucial role in stimulating new bone formation and preserving existing bone structure.
For instance, a study on bone density in children with type 1 diabetes revealed that engaging in weight-bearing physical activities during the peak years of bone growth can lead to improved bone density. Similarly, another study involving children produced similar outcomes.
The advantages of weight and strength training encompass:
- Increases bone density
- Improves bone mineral density
- Reduces inflammation
- Prevents bone loss
- Increases muscle mass
2. Get Enough Calcium Throughout the Day
Calcium stands as the key nutrient for maintaining healthy bones. Given that bones undergo constant breakdown and growth, it’s crucial for individuals to incorporate sufficient calcium into their daily diets.
The most effective method for calcium absorption involves consuming small, regular amounts throughout the day, rather than relying on a single high-calcium meal.
In general, obtaining calcium through dietary sources is recommended unless otherwise advised by a medical professional. Foods rich in calcium include:
- Certain leafy greens like kale
3. Eat More Veggies
Vegetables are not only low in calories but also rich sources of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Research suggests that vitamin C, found in vegetables, can play a role in safeguarding bone health. Incorporating yellow and green vegetables into your diet can be beneficial for various age groups.
For children, these veggies promote healthy bone growth, while in adults, they contribute to the maintenance of bone density and strength. One study even showed that children who consumed green and yellow vegetables while limiting fried foods experienced an increase in beneficial fat and bone density.
Furthermore, a separate study focused on postmenopausal individuals who consumed 9 servings of vegetables and herbs, including cabbage and broccoli, over a three-month period. The results revealed reduced bone turnover and calcium loss, attributed to the abundance of polyphenols and potassium provided by these vegetables.
4. Incorporate Vitamin D and K-Rich Foods
Vitamin K-2 plays a vital role in supporting bone health by reducing calcium loss and aiding mineral binding to the bones.
Foods rich in vitamin K-2 include:
- Natto (a soybean product)
Vitamin D, on the other hand, is crucial for calcium absorption in the body. Individuals with vitamin D deficiencies face a heightened risk of bone mass loss.
Vitamin D can be naturally absorbed through moderate sun exposure. Inadequate vitamin D levels increase the risk of developing bone-related conditions like osteoporosis or osteopenia.
5. Maintain Optimal Weight for Strong Bones
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for bone density. Individuals who are underweight face an increased risk of developing bone-related issues, while excessive body weight places added strain on the bones.
It’s advisable to steer clear of rapid weight fluctuations and the yo-yo effect of gaining and losing weight. When weight loss occurs, there can be a simultaneous loss in bone density, and regaining the weight doesn’t restore that density. This decline in density can lead to weakened bones.
7. Increase Protein Intake
Protein is a vital component for bone health and density, so it’s important to ensure an adequate protein intake in your diet.
A study involving approximately 144,000 postmenopausal individuals showed that those who consumed higher amounts of protein experienced an overall increase in bone density. Additionally, this group also reported fewer forearm fractures.
Before making significant changes to your protein intake, consult with a healthcare professional.
6. Avoid Extremely Low-Calorie Diets
Super low-calorie diets can have adverse effects on health, including a negative impact on bone density.
Before embarking on any diet plan, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider to determine a safe and appropriate daily calorie intake. A well-balanced diet should encompass a mix of protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals for overall health, including bone strength.
8. Incorporate Omega-3 Fatty Acids into Your Diet
Numerous older studies have highlighted the role of omega-3 fatty acids in preserving bone density.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in various foods like salmon, mackerel, nuts, and seeds. You can obtain these essential fatty acids through your dietary choices or opt for supplements if necessary.
9. Eat Magnesium and Zinc-Rich Foods
Just like calcium, magnesium and zinc are crucial minerals that contribute significantly to bone health and density. Magnesium plays a vital role in activating vitamin D, facilitating the absorption of calcium. On the other hand, zinc is naturally present in bones, supporting bone growth and safeguarding against breakdown.
You can boost your intake of these essential minerals by including foods like nuts, legumes, seeds, and whole grains in your diet. You can get these essential fatty acids from your diet, or you can take supplements if needed.
10. Cut Back on Cigarettes and Alcohol
Smoking is widely recognized as a serious health risk. While it’s commonly associated with lung cancer and respiratory problems, it’s important to note that smoking can also contribute to bone diseases like osteoporosis and elevate the likelihood of bone fractures.
To promote and maintain healthy bone density, individuals, especially those in their teenage and young adult years, should refrain from smoking.
Likewise, when consumed in moderation, alcohol is unlikely to have a significant impact on bone health. However, chronic and heavy alcohol consumption can impair calcium absorption, result in reduced bone density, and pave the way for the development of osteoporosis later in life.
Young women who engage in heavy drinking during their teens and twenties are particularly vulnerable to bone density loss.
When to Talk With Your Doctor
If you have concerns about your bone health or if you are at risk for osteoporosis, including recent bone fractures, it is important to consult your doctor. They may suggest a bone density test to assess your bone density and measure the rate of bone loss.
By considering this data along with your risk factors, your doctor can determine if medication is necessary to help slow down bone loss.
Bone density undergoes development during early life, reaching its peak in the late 20s.
To promote and maintain healthy bone density, it’s crucial to ensure an ample intake of calcium, vitamin D, protein, and vegetables.
Additionally, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are key steps in supporting bone density throughout adulthood.