The skeleton and related bones, as the brain, are constantly evolving and remodelling in response to internal biochemical factors and external triggers. The process of growth and repair is possible thanks to four types of bone cells responsible for shaping, growing, and maintaining bone mass.
Although the maximum bone density is reached between the ages of 25 and 30, we can adopt a variety of lifestyle adjustments to promote the bones’ remodelling and healing throughout adulthood.
Let’s start with what to avoid…
Maintaining a normal weight is desirable for the health of the entire body, all the internal organs, and our lives in general. When it comes to the bones, caloric excess (and consequently being overweight) or deficit (therefore, being underweight) can both lead to the development of osteoporosis.
Another risk factor is smoking, which not only causes heart and lung diseases but also decreases bone density, making them brittle and prone to fractures.
Alcohol consumption is an additional detrimental habit that interferes with the absorption of calcium and vitamin D, two essential components of bone mass.
Talking about nutrients…
Calcium is one of the most significant minerals in the body and the primary component of bones. In fact, these use up to 99% of the body’s entire calcium. This mineral is crucial for our bones’ hardness and overall strength.
Most adults require 700 grams per day, and this is readily met with a diversified, balanced diet.
[Teenagers, breastfeeding, and menopausal women, as well as individuals already experiencing osteoporosis require a higher dose.]
Some of the foods containing calcium:
- Seeds (poppy, chia, sesame seeds)
- Green leafy vegetables (such as kale, collard greens. broccoli, and cabbage)
- Dried fruit
- Beans and pulses (including edamame or soybeans and tofu)
Interestingly, while cow’s milk contains calcium, it also contains high levels of phosphorus (meant for the growth of calves). This combines with calcium, and the body neutralises it (as a toxin) via urination by releasing calcium from the bones. That’s the reason why populations with a high consumption of dairy products experience higher rates of osteoporosis (namely, the calcium paradox) 1
Personally, I’ve experienced this in my bones, having had osteopenia (severe low bone density) at the age of 20, when I was a heavy dairy eater. Ditching dairy products altogether and embracing a healthier lifestyle in terms of nutrition and fitness has helped my clients and myself to overcome this health issue (among others) and regain maximum bone health.
Vitamin D is a hormone produced by our kidneys in reaction to skin exposure to sunlight. It’s responsible for the concentration of calcium in our bones and the activity of bone cells.
It also strengthens our immune system, preventing respiratory infections, alleviates cramping, relaxes nerves, and facilitates sleep.
People require 25 to 50 micrograms (μg) of vitamin D3 per day beginning at a very young age. This is typically represented in terms of 1000-2000 International Units (UI).
Low vitamin D levels have been associated with the progression of chronic illnesses (such as, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, and multiple sclerosis), whereas higher dosages have been proven to delay the course of the diseases with encouraging MRI scans.
We should be able to achieve optimal vitamin D levels when exposing our upper bodies to sunlight for 30-40 minutes per day (without sunscreen). This is possible when living in sunny countries. For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, working indoors, and/or constantly covering our bodies from head to toe, daily supplementation might be recommended by a physician.
Foods containing vitamin D:
- Breakfast cereals (fortified with vitamin D)
- Plant-based drinks (like soy drink, fortified with vitamin D)
- Milled white and brown flour products (fortified with vitamin D in the UK by law).
- Mushrooms produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight radiation (not the ones sold in shops as they’re grown in darkness).
It is crucial to emphasise that insulin resistance, sugar and sugary product consumption, and refined carbohydrates all reduce vitamin D absorption.
Other important nutrients are:
Omega-3 fatty acids enhance bone mineralization and prevent bone decay.
Zinc boosts bone growth and helps prevent bone deterioration. More information regarding the nutrients zinc and omega-3 as well as the foods containing them can be found in the previous post.
Magnesium promotes vitamin D activation, which facilitates calcium absorption into the bones. As a result, it aids in boosting bone density and preventing osteoporosis from occurring.
Foods rich in magnesium:
- Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax, hemp, and chia seeds)
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts)
- Spinach and broccoli
- 70-80% dark chocolate
Exercise is the most vital external trigger to maintain a robust and healthy bone skeleton. Indeed, our bones greatly respond to physical exercise by increasing their strength, mineral density, and mass.
Physical activity has remarkable effects on bone remodelling by positively influencing all the different bone cells. Certainly, my clients and I have experienced the benefits of weight bearing (walking, dancing or running) and/or resistance physical exercises (squats, push-ups or weight lifting), mainly shown as:
- Reduced inflammation
- Increased bone density
- Reduced bone loss
There might be various reasons why an individual is unable to exercise regularly, has difficulties controlling weight, and, therefore, experiences weaker bones. However, we must eliminate the aforementioned harmful habits and embrace a healthier lifestyle (to the best of our ability) to reinforce those triggers that strengthen our bones.
Signing off now.
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1 Mahdi, A.A., Brown, R.B. & Razzaque, M.S. Osteoporosis in Populations with High Calcium Intake: Does Phosphate Toxicity Explain the Paradox?. Ind J Clin Biochem 30, 365–367 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12291-015-0524-y