Osteoporosis: Protect Your Bones – Three Key Nutrients You May Be Missing
October 20th is World Osteoporosis Day. This year, the theme of the campaign is Love Your Bones; Protect Your Future, encouraging all of us to take early action to protect bone health.
From the age of 50, one in every three women and one in five men will suffer a bone fracture as a result of poor bone health. “The progressive bone loss that occurs with osteoporosis may be invisible and painless, but this ‘silent’ disease results in fractures which cause pain, disability, and ultimately loss of independence or premature death,” states Prof. John Kanis, President of the International Osteoporosis Foundation.
Fortunately, taking care to adopt a healthy diet and undertake regular exercise is well-known to help protect bone health in later years. Vitamin and mineral supplements containing key nutrients for bone health – such as calcium, magnesium, vitamins D and K, and boron – can also be a sensible way of providing additional protection.
While many of us are aware of the role of nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D in bone health, it is important to note that healthy bones are dependent on a whole host of nutritional factors. Below are the top three commonly overlooked bone-boosters.
In the past, there has been concern over the link between protein intake and bone loss. It was believed that high protein intake might result in loss of bone mass by causing calcium to be leeched from bones.
However, more recent research has found that, provided calcium intake is sufficient, adults with the highest protein intakes have the lowest rates of bone loss (1). Protein makes up about 50% of bone, and so bone requires a constant intake of protein to maintain its mass.
Ensuring a good intake of foods high in both calcium and protein is essential, especially for older people whose protein intake tends to be lower. For those who drink protein shakes, try adding in some calcium-rich kale, Greek yoghurt or a spoon of tahini or almond butter. Aside from dairy, good sources of both calcium and protein are canned salmon (with bones), tofu, almonds, white beans and sesame seeds. The top choice however, is tinned sardines which are cheap, easily available and also provide another little-known bone builder, omega-3.
Osteoporosis has strong links with inflammation, because inflammatory compounds have a direct effect on the cells that form and break down bone.
It is widely understood that omega-3 fats have an anti-inflammatory effect. While larger studies are needed to confirm this benefit, research to date is promising. For example, combining exercise with omega-3 supplements has been shown to improve bone density better than exercise alone (2). In a second study, a test diet with a higher amount of omega-3 fats was found to reduce bone breakdown, when compared with a typical Western diet (3).
Taking care to include sources of omega-3 in the diet is recommended to fight chronic inflammation. Omega-3 fats are abundant in oily fish, and are also present in leafy greens, chia and flaxseed.
Oxidative stress is damage that occurs when free radicals attack our body. This can include damage to bone, by reducing bone formation and increasing bone resorption.
Women with osteoporosis have been found to have lower levels of antioxidant nutrients in their blood than women with healthy bones (4). Fortunately, antioxidants in both whole foods and supplements have been found to protect bone health (5,6).
Including antioxidant-rich foods would therefore appear to be a sensible way to help keep bones healthy. While some might choose an antioxidant supplement, key antioxidants are also easy to include in our daily diet. For example, blueberries and green tea supply flavonoids, tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene and red grapes provide resveratrol.
1. Thorpe et al (2008) Effects of meat consumption and vegetarian diet on risk of wrist fracture over 25 years in cohort of peri- and postmenopausal women. Public Health Nutr. 11(6):564-572
2. Tartibian et al (2011) Long-term aerobic exercise and omega-3 supplementation modulate osteoporosis through inflammatory mechanisms in post-menopausal women: a randomized, repeated measures study.” Nutr & Met 8:71
3. Griel et al (2007) An increase in dietary n-3 fatty acids decreases a marker of bone resorption in humans. Nutr J.16;6:2.
4. Maggio et al. (2003). Marked decrease in plasma antioxidants in aged osteoporotic women: Results of a cross-sectional study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 88(4), 1523-1527.
5. Peters, B. S., & Martini, L. A. (2010). Nutritional aspects of the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Arq Bras Endocrinol Metab, 54(2), 179-185.
6. Rao et al (2007). Lycopene consumption decreases oxidative stress and bone resorption markers in postmenopausal women. Osteoporos Int, 18(1), 109-115.