Bone Health 101

February 10, 2017

You’ve heard it before – but taking care of your bones is critical; and while we all know the bone strengthening benefits from consuming lots of dark leafy greens as well as other vegetables, fruits and dairy, there is a lot more you should know.

Bone, like other tissue, is in a constant state of turnover, or remodeling. Bones respond to exercise and a healthy diet by becoming stronger; and are one of the most important things in our bodies as they provide structure, support and protect our vital organs.

Bones act as storehouses for minerals that we obtain through our diets and release them in response to signals in our blood. Cells in our bones called osteoblasts form new bone while osteoclasts break down and clear out the old bone. It's a delicate but perfect balance that occurs throughout the life cycle. The activity of osteoclasts begins to outpace that of the osteoblasts around our mid-thirties; which over time, results in weaker, more fragile bones. There are various things we can do to help delay bone loss and continue to maintain and even build bone density.

According to the American College of Physicians, osteoporosis currently affects over 40 million Americans. Osteoporosis is characterized as a loss in bone mass and increased fragility. It's most common in older women, but about 7 percent of white men and 5 percent of black men are affected.

Here are some things to consider:

Diets that are significantly high in protein can lead to loss of calcium in the body. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that vegetable protein helps to retain more calcium in the bones than animal protein. While fish and reduced fat dairy products don’t seem to be a problem, other animal protein should be limited if you are concerned about your bone health.

The European Journal of Nutrition found that two glasses of soymilk a day was protective in preventing bone loss. This is thought to occur because the phytoestrogen compounds in soy known as isoflavones prevent the loss of bone. Soy of course can be obtained from other soy foods such as tempeh, edamame, tofu, and soy nuts.

Moderate consumption of alcohol has also been shown to increase bone density, although drinking too much leads to lower than normal bone density and fractures. High alcohol intake can inhibit your ability to absorb calcium. Moderation is key, which means no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

Caffeine should also be consumed in moderation if you are concerned about bone density. The consumption of more than 400 mg of caffeine (the equivalent of four 6-ounce cups of coffee) has been linked to lower bone density in women and a higher fracture risk. This may be caused by caffeine blocking calcium absorption. A good alternative is tea, because it has less caffeine and may actually increase your bone density. Tea (black, green, or oolong) may strengthen bones because of flavonoids and fluoride that naturally occur in tea.

And for those heavy soda drinkers – here’s a warning – many studies report that carbonated soft drinks also increase the loss of bone.

Vitamin D’s is important for bone health as it aids in the absorption and regulation of calcium, and thus deficiency can result in a variety of bone disorders. (Rickets and osteomalacia result in bone softening which are the most extreme). Few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel and fish liver oils are the best sources, and vitamin D can be found in small amounts in beef liver, cheese, egg yolks and some mushrooms. Other foods have been fortified with vitamin D, and include milk, some brands of orange juice, margarine, and yogurt. Breakfast cereals often contain around 10 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin D as well. The Food and Drug Administration recommends consuming at least 400 IU of vitamin D daily.

Another vitamin important for bone health is Vitamin K. There are two natural forms of vitamin K: vitamin K1, from plants and K2 from animal sources. Plant sources are key in building and maintaining healthy bones, as K1 activates a protein that anchors calcium to the bone. Great sources of K1 include, parsley, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, celery, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, soy beans and avocado among others. The plant sources mentioned are also great sources of other bone-building nutrients like calcium, boron and magnesium. Vitamin K2 can be found in egg yolk, butter, certain cheeses, meat and the fermented soy product natto.