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5 “Must-Know” Facts for Bone Health

The mighty skeletal system: it’s the protector of organs, manufacturer of blood cells, reservoir for mineral stores, provider of structure, and even functioning component of the endocrine system.

Yet, it appears our bone health is getting short shrift.

With osteoporosis affecting 1 out of 10 women over the age of 50, and 20% of hip fracture patients dying within a year of injury, it’s safe to say we need to prioritize our skeletal strength.

Additionally, we need to reassess the assumptions we may have about what supports good bone maintenance. Read on for 5 must-know strategies to support lifelong bone health today.

Get your calcium from a variety of sources.

Many of us have happily sported the milk moustache throughout our childhoods (and possibly adulthoods) in an effort to protect this vital body system. Yet, faithfully drinking the 3 cups of dairy recommended by the USDA may not be cutting it for optimal protection. 

While dairy is undoubtedly the most widely known calcium source, many of us do not tolerate dairy well. For those of us who do, it’s critical to note that other sources can potentially support our body’s overall alkalinity, which some suggest is important for bone health, while providing us with calcium.

Non-dairy foods such as collards, bok choy and spinach offer a respectable dose of calcium. Wild caught salmon and perch as well as sardines also provide calcium without the consumption of potentially inflammatory dairy.

Realize that calcium isn't the whole story.

There are nutrients that are just as vital to the health of your skeleton as calcium, including vitamin D, magnesium and vitamin K. In fact, vitamin D and vitamin K are partners in helping support bone density.

I generally recommend that clients monitor blood values of vitamin D and strive for levels of 60-80 ng/ml, which often requires supplementation due to our relative lack of sun exposure in comparison to our ancestors’ as well as our liberal use of sunscreen.

Leafy greens are a great source of vitamin K, and many varieties of nuts can provide a punch of magnesium. Note that while magnesium is critical for a healthy skeleton, most Americans have lower than optimal levels of this critical nutrient.

Supplementing with up to 500 mg of magnesium (combined with both calcium and vitamin D) in the evening may be beneficial for most people. Carotenoids, compounds found in carrots, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens, appear to also play a protective role in bone mineral density. Focus on veggies, and get out in the sunshine!

Manage stress proactively.

While you may know that chronic stress influences belly fat, food cravings, thyroid disruption and immune system imbalances, outside-of-optimal ranges of the stress hormone cortisol can physiologically weaken your bones.

Getting cortisol levels tested - ideally through a 4-point diurnal salivary test - can provide valuable information to optimize your adrenal function and support your bones and overall health. Those who have performance enhancement fitness goals should be especially cognizant of these risks by staying on top of their assessments.

Enjoy yet another reason to focus on purposeful fitness recovery and stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation and massage.

Use caution with caffeine.

I know I might not win friends with this point, but chronically high caffeine intake may contribute to imbalances in your skeletal system.

While research is conflicting, avoiding excess consumption can potentially provide a benefit for the bones. This risk currently appears to be more of a concern with specific populations, but it’s still reasonable to stick to 1-2 cups of coffee per day while avoiding the artificial rush from caffeinated soda pop and energy drinks.

If you’re relying on these products for the energy you need to get through your day, seek out a registered dietitian to help you explore other reasons for your fatigue.

Consistently strength train.

Resistance (i.e. weight bearing) exercise is one of the single most important practices to incorporate for skeletal health.

Research, in particular, associates a history of weight loss (which results in a decrease in your everyday weight bearing activity) with losses in bone mineral density.

The physical “work” of resistance exercise, however, can stimulate new bone production even as we lose body weight. Research underscores the importance of starting and sticking to a progressive strength training program through and beyond your weight loss goals (as well as focusing on solid nutrition rather than dramatic calorie restriction).

In addition to substantially positive effects on bone health, resistance training increases strength and balance to reduce fall risk as well as increases muscle mass to support the synergy between muscle and bone function. Even if you're an endurance athlete, stay committed to incorporating this critical fitness component into your routine.

With the prevalence of declining bone health in our country, implementing the preventative strategies above can help you reduce your risk in the years ahead. While genetics can factor into bone health, diet, exercise and other lifestyle elements can influence genetic activity or “expression” by upregulating or downregulating certain genes. That’s good news for all of us and encouragement to make the best choices for our health today.

Do you have additional questions or concerns about maintaining bone health? Talk with one of our registered dietitians today. 

Did you learn something new? Please take a moment to share this article through your favorite social media site. Thanks for reading.

In health, Samantha Bielawski, Registered Dietitian

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.



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