What if your home had a frame, porous with holes that made it weak and prone to breakage? Not a comforting thought, for sure.
However, that exact scenario might very well be happening in your skeleton without your knowledge. Osteoporosis—literally, “porous bones”—puts you at risk for falls, fractures, pain, and a “dowager’s hump.” (No way!)
I will make no bones about it: Osteoporosis is NOT just for “old folks.”
I learned that fact the hard way when I was informed in my 30s that I had inherited the disease. This “silent disease” goes unnoticed over many years by millions of American women (and men, too), and at increasingly younger ages, because signs often are not there until it’s too late.
In humans, bone mass peaks between 20 and 30 years old. After that time, the window for increasing bone mass has all but closed, and your primary job shifts to diligently maintaining your bone mass. Otherwise, chances are that lifestyle and diet will cause your bones to weaken over time.
If you are an older, thin, white or Asian female, especially with a family history of fractures, you are at the highest risk. Other causes of weak bones include genes, inactivity, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, steroid use, low vitamin D, anorexia, smoking, and emotional stress.
Regardless of whether you land in any of those increased-risk categories, I strongly urge you to start right now to maximize and maintain your bone strength. The earlier you begin, the better! Read on to discover what you can do today to boost your bone health along with me. Your quality of life as you age may depend on it!
Can you take a test for bone health?
Yes! Consult your physician about a painless bone density scan. This can determine your level of bone health right now, from very strong to osteopenia (the first stage) to osteoporosis. A good test to request at the same time is vitamin D level, as weak bones are a consequence of deficiency—yes, even for you men, as we have seen more men with this problem in recent years.
Your physician can then recommend how to begin supplementation and whether other medication is suggested.
What nutrients help build and maintain healthy, strong bones?
Four main ingredients help build and maintain a strong human frame. The good news is that they all are readily available naturally in foods as well as in supplement form.
Why: Constantly in flux, your calcium intake is needed for more than teeth and bones. Blood clotting, nerve function, muscle contraction and relaxation, enzyme regulation, and membrane permeability all require this mineral. It’s constantly deposited and broken down from birth, but as we age, more is broken down than replaced through your diet. That can add up to deficiencies, then weakness.
Sources: Foods high in calcium include fermented dairy products (like kefir), spinach, green leafy vegetables, kidney beans, broccoli, almonds, sea vegetables, and sardines. Note: Lots of cow dairy is controversial—I personally have cut down.
Supplements: Many are available. Aim for 1000 mg daily.
Why: This mineral is required for proper calcium metabolism. Learn about the vast role this mineral plays in daily functioning of your body by clicking here.
Sources: Magnesium is high in leafy vegetables, legumes, pumpkin seeds, halibut, sweet potatoes, basil, avocado, and dark chocolate (…moderation is wise!).
Supplements: They’re widely available. Aim for 500 mg daily.
- Vitamin D
Why: “The sunshine vitamin” plays a vital role in many aspects of health, from immunity to cardiovascular health to optimal functioning of the nervous system.
Sources: There are two. First: your body actually makes vitamin D3 when bare skin is exposed to direct sunlight, but that needs to be done with careful monitoring to avoid burning the skin. Still, sun exposure is often insufficient to supply enough of the vitamin, especially if your levels are low and you live in Northern areas (in winter). The second source is foods: egg yolks, orange juice, some cereals, and fatty fish.
Supplements: Usually necessary, but also easily available. Aim for 1000-5000 IU daily.
- Vitamin K2
Why: Dubbed “the forgotten vitamin,” this nutrient stimulates bone-building and helps prevent bone breakdown. Long-term antibiotics, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and gut imbalances can deplete vitamin K2.
Sources: Vitamin K2 is in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, peas, lentils, and cabbage.
Supplements: Aim for 65 mg for women, and 80 for men.
…and a fifth for extra credit: Strontium
Found naturally in your bones, strontium supplementation (680 mg daily of the strontium citrate form) can strengthen your levels. Seafood is a food source of the mineral, and small amounts of it also are present in whole milk, wheat bran, meat, poultry, and root vegetables.
What else can you do now?
In addition to “boning up” on those critical nutrients, you should also look to limit substances that can be detrimental to bone health: sugar, alcohol, colas and other sweetened beverages, and caffeine.
Check your exercise habits as well. For building and maintaining bone health, be sure your activity includes weight-bearing movement—that is, any routine that requires you to hold up your own weight, or even more, while you do it. Just a few examples: walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, lifting weights, using a rebounder, playing tennis, jumping rope, dancing, using a vibrating platform….
The winning combination for me?
Osteoporosis is one of the only negatives I inherited from my wonderfully vital 97-year-old mother. I am grateful, but I am always vigilant about doing whatever I can to keep my bone-density levels stable through exercise (cardio, weights, and Pilates are all regulars in my line-up), a diet rich in many of the foods listed for you above, and careful daily supplementation. So far so good, I’m happy to report!