Osteoporosis: How to Optimize your Bone Health
Osteoporosis is also known as the silent thief because it strips away your bone mineral density leaving your bones weak, brittle and prone to devastating fractures without you knowing it. According to Osteoporosis Canada, 2 million Canadians are affected by this condition; with more females affected than males.
The key time to build your bone density and potentially stave off osteoporosis is in early life into your thirties. In fact, peak bone density is established in your late teens to mid-20s. It’s highest between the ages of 25 to 35, after which time it starts to decline. Establishing good bone mass early in life that will carry you into adulthood requires a healthy dose of physical activity, the adequate intake of minerals and vitamins and a well-balanced, whole foods diet. Let’s examine some of the nutrients and lifestyle factors that can support healthy bones.
The Benefits of Exercise
I’m sure you can rhyme off the many benefits of exercise – improved cardiovascular health, musculoskeletal strength, and maintenance of a healthy weight to name a few. Weight bearing exercise, in particular, helps to establish peak bone formation, especially in childhood and early adulthood. It’s important to encourage children and teenagers to engage in physical activity to optimize peak bone mass and prevent osteoporosis. Consider exercise an investment in future bone health.
Along with weight bearing exercise, be sure to include exercises that help with balance and stability. These types of core strengthening exercises may help reduce your risk of falls. So exactly how much is enough? To start, any daily activity would be helpful. However, typical exercise recommendations are 3 times per week, and 30 minutes each session.
To maximize the impact of exercise on your muscles and bone, one recommendation is to choose exercises of short duration and high impact with a focus on upright activities to keep the core muscles engaged. Consider activities such as dance, soccer, skipping, circuit training and high intensity interval training. It’s also important to include exercises that target large muscles groups such as: biceps, triceps, quadriceps, hamstrings and your core (abdominal and back muscles). If you’re new to exercise, try group classes or personal training sessions with a friend to get you motivated. And remember, it’s never too late to start!
Foods and Beverages to Avoid
Bone is active tissue. This means that it is constantly remodeling which is why there are certain foods and beverages you may want to avoid to ensure that all your exercise, dietary and supplementation efforts are not in vain. Can you imagine eating as well as you can, exercising daily, only for it to be undone by certain foods and behaviors? Here are some foods and beverages that you should be weary of.
Alcohol: heavy drinking is never a good idea. However, with respect to bone health, alcohol can lead to bone loss. Therefore, try to keep alcohol consumption to the absolute minimum at less than 2 drinks per day.
Caffeine: Another common societal drug, caffeine from coffee, tea and sodas can decrease the absorption of calcium and other minerals potentially contributing to bone loss.
Wheat bran: This may come as a surprise as wheat bran is regarded as a high fiber food; however, studies have shown that the phytates in wheat bran can bind up and prevent your body from absorbing minerals such as calcium. Therefore, it’s best to have wheat bran 1 to 2 hours away from foods that are high in calcium.
Calcium is one of the most important nutrients for bone health and the most abundant mineral in your body with 99% of the body’s calcium stored in your bones. Food intake is the best way to get your calcium. If you’re considering a supplement, calcium bisglycinate such as this one by Trophic is well absorbed. To maintain healthy bones, 1000 to 1500mg of calcium is recommended from a combination of supplements, if necessary and food. Food sources of calcium include sardines, salmon, dairy products, tofu, nuts, kale and broccoli.
Vitamin D deficiency is a growing epidemic in North America. The sunshine vitamin is important for the absorption of key nutrients such as calcium and magnesium and some studies show that maintaining optimal blood levels of vitamin D may stave off bone loss reducing your risk of osteoporosis.
According to the Vitamin D Council, it’s important to maintain blood levels of vitamin D above 120 nmol/L which can be difficult if you live in a northern climate. This may be challenging even if you live in the south. Sunscreen blocks up to 95% or the sun’s rays and the sun is essential for initiating the synthesis of vitamin D within your skin. Therefore, it’s important to test your blood levels with your health care provider and to supplement throughout the year as needed. Vitamin D is available in fortified dairy products and canned salmon (with the bones) – but these sources won’t provide nearly enough. Check with your health care provider to ensure that your vitamin D levels are adequate and be sure to supplement as needed.
Low levels of blood magnesium correlates to a low bone density. This abundant mineral plays a role in a plethora of enzymatic reactions and metabolic processes. According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult body contains approximately 25 grams of magnesium. It’s important for the absorption of calcium and for maintaining the firmness of bones and teeth. We tend to focus on getting enough calcium, however without adequate magnesium, your dietary calcium won’t be well absorbed. It is quite likely that many North American’s and anyone living in industrialized nations have suboptimal dietary intakes of magnesium.
Magnesium is abundant in whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds however, due to the consumption of processed foods and depleted soils, some studies have shown that plants are low in magnesium which could mean that no matter how abundant your diet is in greens and whole grains, you may still not get enough. A 2016 research paper in, The Crop Journal, discusses this in detail, calling magnesium deficiency in plants, an urgent problem.
There are many forms of magnesium available. Magnesium glycinate, citrate and gluconate are well absorbed. One side effect to keep in mind is that depending on the form of magnesium, it can cause loose bowel movements. This may be a desired effect if you suffer from constipation but if it isn’t, you can balance this out by taking calcium with it. Another potential benefit of magnesium supplementation is improved sleep, if taken before bed and a calming effect on your nervous system which may improve the way your body manages stress.
What you do in your early years will have a lifelong impact on the health of your bones. Eating a balanced whole foods diet, weight bearing exercise and avoiding foods and behaviors that can cause bone loss in your adult years is equally as important and will hopeful set you up for healthy bones and a reduced risk of osteoporotic fractures in the future.
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