Poor bone density can be caused by a variety of factors – genetic predisposition, hormonal status (like menopause), nutrient deficiencies, health conditions (like coeliac disease), diet and lifestyle factors. Oftentimes the only sign you have of Osteopenia (increased bone fragility) or Osteoporosis (advanced brittle bones) is an unexpected broken bone, or drop in height. Osteoporosis affects men as well!
There is a lot you can do to prevent bone loss or limit the progression of osteopenia/osteoporosis with several dietary and lifestyle strategies outlined below and as it take years to develop it’s better to be proactive and address it as early as possible.
Risk factors include a sedentary lifestyle, poor dietary intake of calcium, family history of osteoporosis, undiagnosed coeliac disease, early onset of menopause and variations in the Vitamin D receptor genes (VDR)
- Increase weight-bearing exercise, particularly types which stress the large muscles. This has the potential to improve bone mass. Resistance exercise includes weights, Pilates, Yoga, and exercise that make use of bodyweight e.g., walking, push ups, dips and lunges. Regular exercise is important
- Reduce Coffee, alcohol, soft drinks & smoking. These induce a negative calcium balance and are associated with an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.
- Measure blood levels and ensure healthy vitamin D status (at least 75 nmol/l; ideally >100 nmol/l). Healthy sunshine exposure stimulates the production of vitamin D, necessary for calcium absorption and bone integrity, but supplements may be necessary during winter or with inadequate exposure.
- Manage stress, as excess amount of cortisol may increase bone loss.
- Pharmaceutical medications like some steroids and synthetic hormones may cause disruption to hormone and mineral levels. Check with your GP if there are alternative treatment options. Aluminium-based antacids should be avoided if possible. There are natural ways to address heartburn that can eliminate or reduce need for reflux medications
Diet is the cornerstone of treatment and will facilitate not only greater bone strength and density but overall health.
- Ensure you are getting adequate calcium. Aim for 1200 mg daily in post-menopausal women (refer to calcium fact sheet below).
- Limit calcium inhibitors: These including e.g. Alcohol, coffee (caffeine), soft drinks (high in phosphorus) that competes with calcium, wheat bran, Diuretics, laxatives & smoking and excessive meat protein (also high in phosphorus)
- Avoid excessively sweet foods such as honey, sugar, rice malt.
- Include spirulina, chlorophyll, micro-algae, seaweed and plenty of green vegetables in your meals.
- Avoid excessive amounts of red meat, pork, chicken and processed meats like salami and smoked foods. These are difficult to digest and lead to a more ‘pro-acidic’ physiology.
- Increase consumption of small, preferably fresh fish (not deep fried or battered varieties) like sardines, herring & mackerel.
- Consider including some soy foods (tofu, tempeh – both fermented soy products – great in a curry or stir fry) and phytoestrogens like fennel, legumes and flax meal.
- If dairy products are tolerated, the fermented kinds are more easily digested and assimilated. These include yoghurt, cottage cheese and kefir.
- Legumes and beans must be soaked before cooking. This neutralises the mineral-binding phytic acid.
- Thoroughly chew food to assist digestion or take a digestive enzyme supplement if needed.
- Consider supplements which contain a good ratio of supporting nutrients including Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, vitamin D and C, Silica, Manganese, Boron, Iodine, Copper, Chromium, and other trace elements.
- Vitamin K2 is a calcium redistributor – ensuring calcium goes into to the bones (where it should) and away from the blood vessels (which it shouldn’t) Recommended dose of K2 is 180 ug daily for optimal bone health
- Consider a bone supportive supplement containing K2, Vitamin D, broccoli sprout extract (to make your body better respond to vitamin D) and a standardised form of the herb Withania that helps support stress and adrenal production of DHEA, a hormone involved in bone health.
- Measure homocysteine and consume homocysteine lowering foods (leafy greens) or supplements. Elevated homocysteine is frequently seen in osteoporosis and is considered a precursor to bone loss.
Calcium – Essential for bones
It is essential to maintain bone density to prevent osteoporosis by continuing a high calcium intake before, during and after menopause. The following table gives quantities of foods to be eaten to obtain 300 mg of calcium. Post-menopausal women should consume around 1200mg of calcium daily.
High calcium, low kilojoule foods that contain 300mg Calcium (mg)
1 ¼ cups cooked spinach or other greens
2 cups cooked broccoli
2/3 cup plain low-fat yoghurt
1 cup buttermilk
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
50g Swiss or Cheddar cheese
1 ½ cups full cream milk
1 ¼ cups plain yoghurt
1 standard tin sardines
300g can salmon
2 cups low-fat cottage cheese
Magnesium is also essential for good bone health, as well as many other important functions. Magnesium rich foods include nuts and seeds, leafy greens and whole grains like almonds, cashews, spinach, avocado and brown rice.
For more information about Magnesium and to see if you deficient and questionnaire see my blog: http://www.holistichealth.com.au/magnificent-magnesium-quiz-are-you-deficient/
If you would like an individualised assessment of how we can improve your bone health, please email me email@example.com
- Know you Vitamin levels, Inflammation markers and fasting homocysteine.
- Have DEXA scan (this may be rebatable through Medicare if you have been diagnosed with low bone mass)
- Consider checking for markers of bone breakdown (not Medicare rebatable) called N-telopeptides via your health practitioner.
Want specific tailored advice?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0412 965 325 or Book online for a complimentary chat to discuss your concerns:https://holistic-health-pty-ltd.au1.cliniko.com/bookings
Doreen Schwegler is a Naturopath and Medical Scientist with over 32 years of experience helping clients optimise their health.