What to Eat to Treat Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis affects the glandular and musculoskeletal immune centers.
Bad bones are bad news. More than 44 million of us over the age of fifty have them in the form of osteoporosis or as the low-bone-mass syndrome (often a precursor to osteoporosis) called osteopenia. Both signal a loss of calcium from the bones, occurring most frequently in postmenopausal women and men over seventy. Symptoms, if there are any, include low back pain, stooped posture, loss of height, and increased risk of fracture.
According to a 2003 study in the British Medical Journal, breaking your leg at age sixty-five or older increases your risk of death twelve times over, and of the 1.5 fractures annually, 50 percent are spinal and 50 percent are hips and wrists. If you are among the vulnerable, the odds of a fracture are one in three—not good odds.
Good Defenses, Good Bones
Conversely, strong bones mean a strong immune system, and the reverse is also true. Chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis are related to a higher osteoporosis risk, and even minor immune system malfunctions can affect bones by increasing the activity of cells that break down bones.
Your knee bone is connected to your anklebone, and your anklebone is connected to your heart muscle, in a sense. Osteoporosis and homocysteine, for example, also go together. Higher levels of this substance, which is linked—like cholesterol and triglycerides—to heart disease, can double your risk of fractures as well, say researchers.
Women Are at Higher Risk
Thinning bones are a bigger red flag than cancer, at least for women. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, a woman’s risk of hip fracture, the most dangerous result of osteoporosis, is equal to the risk of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers combined. While after the age of thirty calcium is no longer busy building bone, dietary calcium is still critical. There are five risk factors you can’t change, including age, gender, and family history, but you can change seven, including smoking (don’t do it), alcohol (be moderate), and diet.
What to Eat
The ten top fruits, vegetables, and grains for getting the vitamins, minerals, and trace elements that partner to keep you tough and tall include whole grains such as oats; fresh fruits such as peaches, citrus, berries, pineapple, and grapes; fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, and broccoli; leafy greens such as collard, kale, mustard, dandelion greens, and parsley; and soy foods.
Tomatoes and Flaxseed: Pair Them for Bone Benefits. According to studies at the University of Toronto in Canada, lycopene, the star antioxidant in tomatoes, stimulates the activity of bone-forming cells, or osteoblasts, while inhibiting mineral resorption. (It also reduces fibroids and helps keep the prostate healthy.) A 2004 study at Oklahoma State University revealed that diets that included a daily dose of flaxseeds or flax caused a decrease in bone resorption and calcium loss.
Check Your Fatty Acid Intake. Bones need essential fatty acids (EFAs) to flourish, especially those EFAs (omega-3 and omega-6 oils) found in oils such as grape seed, olive, flax, hemp, and wheat germ. The omega-3 fatty acids in some of these oils, for example, suppress production of cytokines, compounds that stimulate skeletal breakdown. Some studies indicate that omega-3s (also found in fish oils) are especially useful in preventing osteoporosis of the hip and spine. But don’t overdo that salad dressing or soup drizzle. Excess oils have the opposite effect of inhibiting the uptake of calcium from the gastrointestinal tract.
Get Your Vitamins A and C. Vitamin A and Vitamin C foods are needed to manufacture protein in the bones. You get them both in dark leafy greens, cantaloupe, tomatoes, and peppers. hTis may be as important as calcium for preventing age-related fractures.
Vitamin K. Vitamin K serves as a biological glue that attaches calcium to the bone matrix and helps produce a specific protein found in bone tissue. This process occurs naturally in your intestines, so eat those dark leafy greens and cabbage family vegetables like brussels sprouts and bok choy to get more.
Potassium. You need this mineral to buffer acid in the body. You can get it from Swiss chard, spinach, winter squash, and soybeans.
Vegan Bones. Make bone building easier by becoming a vegan. Because diets rich in animal protein cause the body to lose calcium, by going vegan, you need less calcium to stay in calcium balance. It’s smarter to get your edible calcium from broccoli, beans, nuts, dried fruits, soy and rice milks, sprouts, and vegetables. Did you know that 2 ounces of sea vegetables, such as arame, kelp, and hijiki, contain as much calcium as half a can of sardines—without the ocean pollutants and with a wider range of trace minerals for skeletal well-being?
Put on the Tea. The flavonoid antioxidants in black tea appear to stimulate production of new cells that build bone. In an Australian study of 1,500 older women, regular tea drinkers had higher hip-bone density than those who abstained. If you’re avoiding caffeine, decaf does the trick, too.
Bad for Bones, Especially for Bad Bones
Bread and Bones Often Go Together. Twenty-five percent of people with untreated celiac disease (an inherited intestinal disorder in which the body cannot absorb gluten) have brittle bones. In those suffering from this disease, consumption of gluten damages the lining of the intestine, preventing the uptake of calcium and leaching the bones of alkaline minerals such as calcium and magnesium. A healthy diet causes the diet to be more alkaline than acid and includes vegetables and fruit (such as citrus, which is acid in nature but alkaline-producing in the body. Ditto balsamic vinegar.) But hold the acid-producing meat and dairy.
Get Your D. As many as 60 percent of us are D-deficient. Vitamin D (which is really a hormone) may increase calcium absorption in the gastrointestinal tract by up to 65 percent. Vitamin D also decreases excretion by the kidneys. According to the American Medical Association, it even improves muscle strength in older adults. To trigger its production in your skin, spend fifteen minutes in the sun—without sunblock, which inhibits vitamin D. As a bonus, cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) also helps ward off colon and breast cancer and protects against hypertension.
Get the Right Amount of Protein. Protein builds bones, but too much can cause calcium loss, which in turn can cause bone loss. Are you getting too little or too much? Thirty to forty percent of men and women over age 70 fall below the DV for protein, but the typical midlife American woman eats 50 percent more than she needs, says the Women’s Health Project. Protein should account for only 20 percent of the calories you take in. Does it? Check it out.
Got Milk or Not Milk? Milk (and more calcium) may not be the osteo-building answer, especially if that milkshake is part of a high-protein diet. According to a WHO report, hip fracture rates are higher in countries where dairy consumption is high. The Nurses’ Health Study indicates that neither milk nor calcium reduced fracture rates better than vitamin D intake from foods and supplements did.
Avoid Certain Drugs. Bone remodeling and regeneration continue twenty-four hours a day, creating an entirely new skeleton every eight years. But you can slow that down if you use immunosuppressive drugs like steroids, which cause bone loss. Be careful of SSRI drugs, too. So-called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors put you at a higher risk of hip bone loss, according to a five-year study with more than 2,000 older women with thinning bones. A similar larger study with older men produced similar results.
Calcium Dos and Don’ts List
It is estimated that more than 70,000 hip fractures could be prevented yearly if adults older than age sixty-five who currently don’t take calcium and vitamin D started supplementing. It matters even more as we age, since calcium is also important for the health of the heart, blood pressure, and the menstrual cycle.
- Do take the right form. Calcium is poorly absorbed, so get it from better-absorbed forms such as calcium citrate, lactate, or an aspartate form. But avoid carbonate, which can cause digestive upsets if the stomach acid level is low. Take it in divided doses to improve absorption. If you take the bone-building mineral supplement strontium citrate, another natural bone builder, take it apart from calcium on an empty stomach.
- Fiber supplements can interfere with calcium absorption, so take them a few hours apart. This also applies to antibiotics, steroids, and thyroid medications.
- Take calcium separately from caffeine, alcohol, fructose, and animal protein when possible.
- Don’t use antacids as calcium supplements. Stomach acid is critical to the absorption of this mineral.