Bone health: The skeleton in the cupboard

Introducing the notion of caring for your bones might not be the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about happiness. But think about it: a happy mind thrives in a healthy body, and that includes our skeletal system.

Often overlooked, our bones are the silent supporters of our body’s structure, providing the foundation for movement, strength, and vitality. Yet, just like any other part of our body, they require care and attention to remain resilient and robust.

By nurturing our bones through nutrition and lifestyle choices, we not only safeguard against future issues like arthritis or osteoporosis but also promote overall well-being and happiness. After all, a happy body starts from the inside out.

In this blog post, I’ll be delving into the essential practices that can help you build and maintain strong, healthy bones, because when your bones are happy, your body and mind follow suit. Let’s embark on this journey together towards a happier, healthier you!

Not many people think about nourishing their skeleton. There is almost a belief that once your bones are formed, they are there for good – until they start to break down. Hello, joint problems like arthritis or osteoporosis.

 

Yet the bones, like every other part of the body, are continually being rebuilt. Fortunately, many nutrition and lifestyle habits can help you build strong bones and keep them healthy as you age, and I’m going to be sharing some of my best tips in this guide.

What is bone?

Bone is a living tissue that is constantly changing and renewing itself. There are two different types of cells in your body that carry out this process: osteoclasts and osteoblasts. Osteoclasts break down old bone, creating cavities. Osteoblasts build new bone, filling the cavities.

During childhood and adolescence, there is an emphasis on building new bones, increasing their density and strength. By the time you get to your mid to late twenties, you will have reached your maximum bone strength, which is called peak bone mass.

Then, after the age of 40, the ageing process leads to an increase in the breaking down of bone. This means you start to lose bone density and strength, making bones more susceptible to fractures.

Osteoporosis

A fear– or worse still, a diagnosis – of osteoporosis makes many women think seriously about the health of their bones. The ageing process is the silent thief that robs up to 25% of your skeleton by the time you reach 50.

Particularly prevalent in women after menopause due to falling levels of both oestrogen and progesterone, getting older increases the risk of bone fractures. Osteoporosis is also more common in women because they tend to have smaller, less dense bones than men.

However, it’s not just a female phenomenon. Osteoporosis is still common in men, affecting one in five, often secondary to another health problem, thanks to decreased testosterone.

We need more than just calcium

Protecting bones isn’t just about taking calcium supplements. Osteoporosis is more complex, and calcium alone isn’t enough.


Magnesium is crucial for preventing and reversing osteoporosis, and even a mild deficiency can increase the risk. Other nutrients like phosphorus, vitamin D, boron, vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin K2 play vital roles in bone health. They help with calcium absorption, collagen production, and making new bone cells.

You can find these nutrients in bone-friendly supplements, but it’s best to seek advice from a nutrition professional and your GP if you’re concerned about your bone health.  

Seeking the expertise of a qualified health coach can be invaluable. With personalized guidance, they can assist in crafting a customized plan, including dietary adjustments, lifestyle modifications tailored to meet your specific needs. 

Are you making one of these diet mistakes?

  • Eating too much refined sugar and/or carbohydrates. This depletes the minerals necessary for good bone health.

 

  • Drinking too much coffee, alcohol and other diuretics. These cause you to excrete minerals. Cola drinks are especially bad because they are high in phosphorus and promote the excretion of the calcium and magnesium necessary for good bone health.

 

  • Eating a very high protein diet. While everyone needs protein, protein-rich foods are acid-forming. The body must keep the blood pH as close to neutral as possible. Minerals are needed as buffers, and once stores of sodium are used up, calcium is taken from the bones to neutralise the acid. Therefore, the more protein you eat, the more calcium you need.

 

  • Not eating enough fruit and veg. A diet high in fruit and vegetables has been found to reduce bone turnover and increase bone density*.

 

* Prynne CJ, Mishra GD, O’Connell MA, Muniz G, Laskey MA, Yan L, Prentice A, Ginty F (2006) Fruit and vegetable intakes and bone mineral status: a cross-sectional study in 5 age and sex cohorts. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 83: 1420-1428.

Food for strong bones

leafy greens help keep bones healthy

You can’t just pop a pill if you want to show your bones some love. Science tells us, it’s far better to get your calcium from food than from a supplement*.

* Anderson et al., (2016) Calcium Intake From Diet and Supplements and the Risk of Coronary Artery Calcification and its Progression Among Older Adults: 10-Year Follow-up of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Journal of the American Heart Association, 5 (10).

Calcium
Calcium-rich sources of food are dark leafy greens (kale, rocket, watercress), almonds, cheese, yoghurt, broccoli, chia seeds, sesame and tahini, sardines and canned salmon (because of their edible bones), whey protein, edamame beans and tofu.

Vitamin D
You’ll find vitamin D in oily fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and fresh tuna, egg yolks, liver and cheese. That said, it’s hard to get a therapeutic dose from food, and it’s worth getting your vitamin D tested so you can supplement adequately.

Vitamin K2
The two most common forms of vitamin K2 are MK-4 and MK-7. MK-4 exists in small amounts in liver, eggs and meat. Fermented foods like cheese, sauerkraut and a soybean product called natto contain MK-7.

Vitamin C and Collagen
The best food source of collagen is bone broth. Vitamin C also helps to support the production of collagen, and you’ll find vitamin C in all kinds of fruit and veg, including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, red pepper, kiwi, strawberries and citrus fruit like oranges.

Magnesium,  Zinc and Phosphorus
Foods rich in magnesium are dark chocolate, avocados, almonds, legumes, tofu, seeds, wholegrains and leafy greens. Good sources of zinc include beef, prawns, spinach, flaxseeds, oysters and pumpkin seeds. Foods rich in phosphorus include pork, cod, salmon and tuna.

Strengthen your bones with exercise

exercise strengthens bones

Regular physical activity boosts bone mineral density, promoting stronger bones and overall well-being. Weight-bearing exercises, such as dancing, walking, weightlifting, and resistance training, are particularly effective. Aim for 50 minutes of moderate weight-bearing exercise most days, as recommended by the Royal Osteoporosis Society. Choose activities you enjoy to stay motivated, start gradually, and consult your GP if you have concerns. Remember, exercise not only benefits bones and muscles but also enhances overall health.

Healthy weight happy bones

Apart from making you feel hungry and miserable and wrecking your metabolism, low-calorie diets are bad news for your bones. Studies show that diets providing fewer than 1,000 calories per day can lead to lower bone density in normal weight or overweight people*

* Villareal et al., (2015) Effect of Two-Year Caloric Restriction on Bone Metabolism and Bone Mineral Density in Non-Obese Younger Adults: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Bone Miner Research, 31 (1).

 

Being underweight – especially in perimenopause and beyond – contributes to reduced bone density and bone loss [Rav et al. 1999. Low body mass index is an important risk factor for low bone mass and increased bone loss in early postmenopausal women*.

* Early Postmenopausal Intervention Cohort (EPIC) study group, Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. DOI: 10.1359/jbmr.1999.14.9.1622.

The same is true at the other end of the scale. Research suggests that being obese can impair bone quality and increase the risk of fractures due to the stress of excess weight – so finding your healthy weight keeps your bones happy, too.

* Sundh et al., (2015) A High Amount of Local Adipose Tissue Is Associated With High Cortical Porosity and Low Bone Material Strength in Older Women. Journal of Bone Mineral Research, 31 (4).

The effect of stress on your bones

workplace stress

There are all kinds of ways in which stress robs you of your health. Since we’re talking about bones here, it’s worth knowing that an increase in the stress hormone cortisol impairs calcium absorption*, which leads to leaching of important minerals and may result in a range of mineral deficiencies.

 

* Deutsch E (1978) Pathogenesis of thrombocytopenia. 2. Distribution disorders, pseudo-thrombocytopenias. Fortschr. Med.96 (14): 761–2.

Do you have a good stress action plan, which includes plenty of relaxation and good quality sleep?

Book your free 45-minute healthy habits review with me today and find out how I can help you transform how you feel, without compromising your lifestyle or leaving you hungry!

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