Keeping your bones healthy isn’t something most people think about too often. With diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes on the rise, it’s easy to forget about diseases of the bones, which include osteoporosis and osteomalacia.
But the sad fact is that more than 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, with around 50% of women aged 50 or more suffering from at least one osteoporosis-related fracture.
What’s worse is that several studies say that a non-vertebral fracture, particularly of the hip, can lead to significant disability and even death.
I bet you’re thinking that death from a hip fracture is pretty rare?
It’s not all that rare…osteoporosis kills more women than all gynaecological cancers combined.
Looking after our bones now, and throughout our lifetime, is imperative for bone health and overall wellbeing.
Can We Influence Our Bone Health?
Many believe that bones are lifeless – and that the condition of their bones is down to genetics. In actual fact, that’s not the case at all!
Bones are made from living, growing tissue and throughout our lives we are constantly making new bones whilst losing old bone.
By about age 30 we have reached our ‘peak bone mass’ – after which we tend to lose bone faster than we create new bone. But that’s not to say that we can’t influence our bone health well into old age.
Here are some of the top dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to improve bone mass, and avoid osteoporosis and other bone conditions:
Cut Out Cola Drinks
If you regularly drink colas, you’re doing your bones no favors.
The phosphoric acid in these sugar-laden drinks is thought to be to blame for their bone-eroding abilities.
A US study found that women who regularly drink cola (three or more a day) had a 4% lower bone mineral density in their hips than women who didn’t drink any.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that those with osteoporosis don’t drink more than five cola drinks a week. Even better, cut it out altogether.
While the study didn’t find the same bone loss in women who drank other types of soft drinks, there are a lot more reasons why you should be cutting out sodas for your health!
Put the Salt Shaker Down
Having enough calcium in our bodies is vital for healthy bones and osteoporosis prevention.
But even if we’re hitting the recommended targets for calcium consumption, a high sodium diet will increase the amount of calcium we excrete from the body through urine.
Read labels on processed and pre-packaged foods too – over 75% of the sodium in our diets comes from processed and restaurant foods!
Go Easy On The Coffee
Coffee actually has some health benefits, so if you’re a coffee lover you don’t have to go without your daily fix.
But, if you drink a lot of coffee you should cut down to be on the safe side.
While some studies show no association between coffee and bone loss, others have found that coffee drinkers tend to have more brittle bones.
A study published in Epidemiologic Reviews in 2013 found that participants who drank 4 or more cups of coffee a day had decreased bone density by 2% to 4%, compared with those who drank less than one cup a day.
This isn’t a huge amount, and isn’t enough to increase the risk of fracture, but it is something to keep in mind – particularly if you’re already at risk of developing osteoporosis. Why not switch the occasional coffee for a cup of Matcha?
Enjoy a Drink or Two
Studies in both humans and animals show that heavy drinking, especially in your teenage and young adult years, can dramatically affect bone quality and even increase osteoporosis risk.
However, when you get older, you may be able to enjoy an alcoholic beverage or two, while actually protecting your bones – but probably just if you’re a woman!
Plenty of studies have shown that women who drink moderately (one or two drinks a day) have higher bone density than non-drinkers or heavy drinkers.
A 2012 study has even shown that just a two-week break from alcohol increased bone decline in women, leading researchers to think that alcohol may suppress the rate at which bones shed old cells.
Make sure you stick to just one or two drinks though as more than three glasses of wine in one day can have a ‘detrimental effect on bone’, say experts. (For other health reasons, you should have two alcohol-free days a week according to World Health Organization guidelines.)
Avoid Smoking & Exposure to Smoke
If you’re a smoker, here is yet another reason to quit the habit – nicotine and toxins are extremely damaging to your bones.
Cigarette smoke generates free radicals which attack the body’s natural defenses and harm the cells, organs, and hormones involved in keeping bones healthy.
If you live with a smoker, you may have cause for concern – at least one study suggests that second-hand smoke during youth and early adulthood increases the risk of developing low bone mass.
The good news is that after quitting smoking your risk of low bone mass and fracture is reduced.
Balance your Hormones
According to the Mayo Clinic, a hormonal imbalance can contribute to bone loss.
For example, too much thyroid hormone can have a negative effect on your bones. Learn how to heal thyroid problems naturally.
In women, bone loss increases dramatically around menopause thanks to dropping estrogen levels. In men, low testosterone levels can cause a loss of bone mass.
How do you know if your hormones are out of whack? Check out these 10 warning signs, and consult your doctor if you suspect you have a hormonal imbalance.
Pump Some Iron
Along with a healthy diet, physical activity is vital for strong bones.
While cardio workouts (like walking, running, aerobics) are important for heart health, when it comes to bones strength training is key.
You can use weights like dumb-bells or kettle bells or even just your own body weight in exercises like knee bends or push-ups.
It’s important to work out all the muscle groups in your body to look after all the bones in your body! Start slowly and work with a trainer to come up with a plan that suits you.
Meet Your Calcium Needs
If we don’t eat enough calcium in our diet, we’re at serious risk of developing osteoporosis. Make sure you eat a wide variety of calcium-containing foods to keep your bones strong.
Adults and children over 4 years of age need between 1,000mg and 1,300mg of calcium every single day.
Even though milk is the poster-child for calcium content, it’s by no means the only food containing calcium. Some may be surprised to hear it’s not even the best source!
Good sources of calcium include:
- Organic Tofu, 4oz firm, calcium set – 250mg to 750mg
- Organic Soy Milk, 1 cup, calcium fortified – 200mg to 400mg
- Orange Juice, 1 cup, calcium fortified – 300mg
- Whole Milk, 1 cup – 276mg
- Spinach, 1 cup cooked – 240mg
- Non-Fat Greek Yogurt, 6oz – 187mg
- Broccoli, 1 cup cooked – 180mg
- Sesame tahini, 2 tbsp – 130mg
Soak Up the Sun
For strong bones, Vitamin D and calcium are the most important nutrients you can get.
And where do we get Vitamin D? From the sun of course. So get out there and soak up some rays – at least 15 minutes a day in peak sunlight hours.
Getting enough Vitamin D means you can help your bones in two ways. Firstly, you’ll build stronger bones. Secondly, you’ll improve muscle function, which in turn improves balance and decreases the likelihood of falling and causing fractures or breaks.
Other research shows that a deficiency is a common risk factor for poor fracture healing.
Get the full lowdown on Vitamin D here.
Get Plenty of Protein
Protein is one of the building blocks of bones so getting enough protein in your diet is a smart move.
A high-protein diet with plenty of calcium, fruits and vegetables has been found to play an important role in bone health and osteoporosis prevention.
While some research suggests that the type of protein you eat has no effect on bone health, other studies say that plant-based proteins are superior to animal proteins.
For example, a study of over 1,000 women aged 65+ found that those who got the bulk of their protein from animal sources suffered more bone loss in their neck, and had a greater risk of hip fracture than those who didn’t.
Another study of 764 elderly Chinese women found that those who ate mostly plant-based protein sources excreted less calcium in their urine. As calcium is vital for healthy bones, it’s something we want out bodies to hang on to!
Wherever you choose to get your protein from, make sure you get enough.
Animal based sources include poultry, red meat, fish and cheese while plant-based sources include tempeh, quinoa, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
Add More Magnesium
Magnesium is required for proper bone and muscle formation. If you’re not getting enough magnesium, your bones may develop softer than they should.
Dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, whole grains, avocado, bananas, figs and even dark chocolate all contain magnesium. Vary your diet and you’ll more than meet your needs.
For more about the importance of magnesium in the body, and other food sources, check out this article.
…And More Manganese
The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that manganese is one of several trace elements necessary for bone health. A deficiency in this nutrient can result in impaired growth and skeletal abnormalities.
You’ll find manganese in seafood, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, tofu, whole grains, beans, spinach, kale and pineapple.
Remember The ‘Forgotten Vitamin’
Vitamin K, known as ‘the forgotten vitamin’ as it is so often overlooked, is essential for strong bones.
This important vitamin can be found in grass-fed animal products, natto, blueberries and dark leafy greens like kale, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens and Brussels sprouts.
Eat More Fruit & Vegetables
One of the easiest ways to strengthen your bones by meeting your recommend daily dose of calcium, Vitamins D and K, magnesium, manganese and all the other nutrients we need for healthy bones and general health, is to eat fruits and vegetables of all kinds.
Several studies have proven the beneficial effect of eating fruits and veg for bone health – across men and women of all ages.