- 15% of body weight
- made of collagen, hydroxyapatite and minerals
- you have 206-213 bones depending how many ribs, vertebrae and toes you have
- the largest bone in the body is the femur
- 99% of the body's calcium is found in the bones
- bones are dynamic, constantly remodelling (2)
- they have their own maintenance & repair mechanisms
- they respond to parathyroid hormone, estrogen, testosterone, vitamin D and stress/exercise
- 2 million red blood cells are made every second in the bone marrow
- bones play a role in metabolism
- storage of minerals and some fatty acids
- producing the early forms of some hormones
- pH balance (it is very important to keep blood pH at 7.3)
- detoxification and storage of heavy metals from the blood
- calcium regulation
So, take some calcium and you're good to go, right? Nope.
Consider the quality of the bones, how they respond to compression and tension, and other factors that impact their strength, metabolism, components, and position.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is when the bones become less dense, causing an increased risk of fractures. In its early stages it's recognized as Osteopenia. Remarkably, 2.3 million Canadians are living with Osteoporosis (3). I had no idea it was that high until I looked it up for this article! Now that we know how complex the system is that regulates bone growth and degradation, what is really going on? Osteoporosis occurs when bones are being broken down faster than they can be formed or rebuilt.
This imbalance can occur when:
- nutrients are low, like vitamin D and calcium
- we need to borrow minerals from storage
- blood pH needs to be regulated
- medications interrupt the process or increase the risk of falls, especially with long term use -> like corticosteroids, prednisone, cancer drugs, antacids (proton pump inhibitors), depo-provera, some seizure medications, overdosing thyroid replacements, some mood altering drugs: benzodiazepines/anti-psychotics/anti-depressants/sleep-aids, diuretics, some blood pressure medications, blood thinners, acetaminophen, opioids... etc.
- low activity levels
- women are post-menopausal
- smoking and alcohol are present
You can check your height annually to have an idea whether you might be losing bone. Otherwise, osteoporosis is often not discovered until a fracture occurs.
Starting often at age 65, Bone Density Tests can be done to assess the density of the bone in the spine and hip. The DEXA X-ray compares your bone density to the average young adult, and someone your age. A T-score that is 2.5 below the norm is considered osteoporosis, and below 1 is osteopenia. This information isn't the full story, but when taken into account along with clinical data like whether you have rheumatoid arthritis, your BMI, whether your parent broke a hip, smoking and alcohol use - fracture risk can be determined.
Some medications like Actonel and Fosemax may be presented as options to slow the rate of bone loss, especially if you have had certain medications or treatments that increase osteoporosis risk. Unfortunately, their potential benefit needs to be weighed carefully against their side effects of digestive upset, lowered mineral status, and increased risk of femur fracture due to bone rigidity. I have found some patients stop taking these medications because they are hard on the stomach.
So, this is what you're here for: How do you support healthy bones, to hopefully prevent a fracture later on?
1. Eating anti-inflammatory, alkaline, and high anti-oxidant foods helps to keep pH balanced and provide good nutrition
- generally think of non-processed whole foods with one ingredient (e.g. lettuce, blueberries)
- reduce caffeine, pop, sugar, refined carbs, alcohol, and smoking
- consider your protein intake, many aren't getting enough (or aren't digesting it well, especially if you take antiacids)
2. Consume calcium and magnesium-rich foods, and get lots of minerals
- it's easy to find great lists online, but no, you don't need dairy to get adequate calcium
3. Don't be frail, find ways to move that keep you strong while maintaining balance
- exercise and movement routines will change at different times in your life
- the earlier you work on balance and muscle strength the better
- it can be fun: dance, mini trampoline ... even just stand on one foot at the kitchen counter
4. Consider alignment
- posture and treatments (like chiropractic, osteopathy, orthotics, desk ergonomics etc.) that prevent wear & tear
5. Manage stress
- high cortisol depletes bone
6. Vitamin D
- testing reveals that most of us are deficient in the winter months without supplementation
- I have written about Vitamin D a lot ... find ways to get some sunlight :)
- bone density declines in perimenopause, and also after menopause (you can do the other things to mitigate the impact!)
- early menopause or surgical removal of the ovaries may warrant investigating hormone replacement options
8. Consider managing digestive concerns, like heartburn, without long term medications that interfere with mineral and nutrient absorption
- my preference is for a hydroxyapatite formula rather than calcium on its own, for optimal benefit
- there are several great comprehensive products that include hydroxyapatite with magnesium, vitamin D3, vitamin K2, boron, sometimes strontium and other trace minerals
- calcium supplementation on its own is not found to significantly prevent fracture risk, and if the calcium doesn't make it to the bones it can potentially stiffen the arteries
- there are some great herbs and homeopathics that can help direct the formation and strengthening of bones that I like to use as well
- adrenal support is often indicated, since we know stress impacts literally everything...
10. Test for heavy metals
- there are a few options for this, best to chat with me about it
You may be encouraged to learn that I have experience with successfully guiding people towards maintaining and even strengthening their bones. As always, let me know if you would like support or feel free to pass this along to a friend :) Often we aren't even aware of alternative options for treatment, but most of all I would love for you to understand why these changes are happening in your body in the first place.
Take good care,
This article is intended for information purposes only and does not replace medical advice.