Updated: Nov 8
Can I really make a difference now?
The nutrients needed to physically make bone are, without doubt, essential. But as I said in the previous blog, dysfunction in other parts of the body can massively impact this disease. This is why there are a series of equally critical lifestyle-based approaches that women (and men) can take to protect themselves against osteoporosis and keep their bones strong and healthy.
Tip 1: Reduce any chronic inflammation.
Did you know that inflammation can significantly impact bone health? Chronic inflammation can increase bone breakdown and decrease bone formation.
Inflammation and the immune system are also intricately linked. When the immune system becomes chronically dysregulated, it can lead to chronic inflammation, triggering a cascade of events that impact bone health.
What is inflammation? Where do I find it? How do I stop it?
Gastrointestinal Issues: The Gut-Bone Connection
Chronic inflammation can arise from gastrointestinal issues such as Crohn's disease, Coeliac disease, dysbiosis, and food sensitivities. These conditions can impair calcium absorption, affecting bone health. Maintaining a healthy gut is vital for reducing inflammation and optimizing nutrient absorption, including calcium. Focus on nourishing your gut through a balanced diet rich in fiber, probiotics, and foods that promote gut health.
Oral Health and Bone Health
Believe it or not, a healthy oral microbiome is essential for overall bone health. Poor oral hygiene and gum disease can lead to chronic inflammation, indirectly affecting bone health. Maintaining good oral hygiene and promptly addressing any oral health issues can help minimize inflammation and support bone health.
Blood Sugar Control: A Sweet Spot for Bone Health
When blood sugar control is poor, inflammation can be triggered.
Excess sugar in the bloodstream can also lead to glycation, a process where sugar molecules attach to proteins, including those found in bone. This results in the formation of Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) that can compromise bone quality.
Maintaining stable blood sugar levels through a balanced diet, portion control, and mindful eating can help reduce inflammation and support bone health.
Tip 2: Reduce Stress.
Heavens, here she goes again, I hear you say. Yes, that is very true.
Stress will impact your blood sugar balance – which, as described above, is super important.
Stress can cause a reduction in stomach acid. This is needed to help the body process and digest foods. If this doesn't happen very well, then we can't access the mass of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from our food needed to create healthy bones.
Stress also can contribute to high cortisol levels. This can inhibit bone formation; it is catabolic to both muscle and bone. Cortisol affects other hormones, intestinal calcium absorption, and the amount of calcium the kidneys excrete.
Stress also impacts our choices, whether or not to exercise, the food we eat, alcohol consumption, etc.
In other words -stress matters BIG time.
Tip 3: Weight Bearing Exercise.
People who lead a more physically active life tend to have a higher bone mineral density. When the brain observes stress on the bones via exercise, this signals the body to build and strengthen bone tissue. Weight-bearing rather than cardiovascular exercise is important, although cardiovascular exercise has other benefits.
Weight-bearing exercise not only benefits bones but improves muscle strength. Strong muscles provide better support for the bones, reducing the risk of falls and fractures.
If you type in 'bone density exercises' on YouTube, you will find a whole raft of different options. It doesn't matter what you do, just that you do something regularly – so you must enjoy it.
Tip 4: Balance your hormones.
Oestrogen – is a significant regulator for ensuring the balance between bone breakdown and reformation in both men and women. Oestrogen lengthens the lifespan of osteoblasts, which build bone and is anti-inflammatory.
During perimenopause, whenever this happens, the reduction in oestrogen leads to an accelerated rate of bone loss.
Oestrogen can also impact our gut bacteria.
When we are in perimenopause, our adrenal glands become the primary producers of oestrogen instead of the ovaries. If we are too busy creating cortisol because of our stressed-out life – this will suffer, as will progesterone production.
Both oestrogen and, to a lesser extent, progesterone are important in regulating blood calcium levels.
Although oestrogen IS super important in bone health, other hormones should be considered too.
Both too much and too little thyroid hormone can be problematic. The thyroid has a greater tendency to go pear-shaped around menopause – this is an added reason to get it routinely checked out.
Cortisol – I have spoken about this already, as with insulin.
Tip 5: Sort out your diet.
While the factors listed above are super important, there is no getting away from the fact that adopting a healthy diet is a crucial strategy.
Get adequate calories and protein. We need an anabolic state, where our body is encouraged to build bone, not break it down. Protein is the basis for both bone and collagen. Eating between 1.0g – 1.2g of protein/ kg body weight is an excellent rough figure. Being underweight is linked to more bone loss, as is calorie restriction and a low protein intake.
Calcium. You have probably heard that calcium is vital for bones, and it's true. Women aged 50 and older need around 1200mg of calcium a day. That doesn't mean to say that you need to rush off and buy a supplement in Tescos or any other supermarket, for that matter. We can get much of this from the diet.
Calcium-rich foods include dairy, almonds, spinach, chia seeds, sardines, tofu, and leafy greens. You need more than just plant sources alone for calcium, as they are harder for the body to absorb than animal sources. The ideal scenario is that you spread your calcium intake across the day.
If you find this difficult, then a supplement can be beneficial. You are unlikely to need the total amount from a supplement. There are different forms of calcium in supplements (as there are for magnesium) – calcium citrate is better absorbed and gentler on the stomach. However, food is by far the better source.
Magnesium is an essential micronutrient that we tend to be deficient in as we age. Magnesium and calcium function together, so one deficiency affects the other. Magnesium can affect bone through several processes. I recommend supplementing the two together rather than one or the other.
Both calcium and magnesium are hopeless without vitamin D. It is crucial for calcium absorption in the gut, for the immune system, and to help reduce inflammation. I encourage clients to always get their vitamin D levels checked. It is a cheap and easy test and reduces the guesswork with supplements.
Vitamin K helps in several ways – the 'glue' binds calcium to the skeleton rather than elsewhere. K2 can be found in liver, eggs, and meat (in small amounts), also in fermented foods like cheese, sauerkraut, and a soybean product called natto.
Omega 3 Fatty acids. These provide anti-inflammatory properties and may contribute to bone health. Include fatty fish, walnuts, flax, and chia seeds to boost your omega-3 intake.
Raw materials such as boron, silicon, manganese, copper, and zinc are also necessary. Generally, these will be found in a healthy diet. A bone-supporting formula of multivitamins and minerals may be helpful if you have a higher risk for osteoporosis. It is always worth talking to a nutrition professional about supplements. Collagen also deserves mention – this can be found in bone broth or via a supplement.
Tip 6: Consider HRT.
This may be a controversial topic for some. Still, the fact is that the decline in hormones is a driver for osteoporosis. Taking HRT isn't essential, but it is a valuable consideration. It is effective in helping with bone density by replacing oestrogen loss and supporting the bone-building process. It is super important for those women who experience POI or menopause before 45.
Other pharmaceutical products can be used. Whether or not these are needed is a discussion between you and your GP.
Taking charge of our bone health is a lifelong investment that can make a remarkable difference in our overall well-being. By consciously prioritizing a nutrient-rich diet and adopting a bone-friendly lifestyle, we can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and its potential complications.
It would be better if we were told this earlier and started this process in our teens, but age is not a barrier to building strong bones. It's always possible to begin incorporating calcium-rich foods, getting regular exercise, managing stress, and making other positive changes supporting bone health.
Please contact me if this resonates with you and you need some support or accountability.