Let’s Talk About Bone Health

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Go beyond milk Milk offers lots of nutrients, but it turns out drinking the calcium-packed stuff isn’t the best way to prevent osteoporosis. In fact, drinking it may actually speed up bone loss. How? Dairy products spike acidity levels in your bloodstream, explains Amy J. Lanou, Ph.D., senior nutrition scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and co-author of Building Bone Vitality (McGraw- Hill). To lower that acidity level, your bones release calcium—an alkaline bone salt. Lanou recommends eating plenty of calcium-rich dark leafy greens, such as kale and chard, which are loaded with calcium and are alkaline—not acidic. And consider adopting a dairy-free vegan diet—at least part of the time.

Don’t rely on calcium supplements According to new research published online in the British Medical Journal, calcium supplements are associated with an increased risk for heart attacks. And, says Lanou, they aren’t that helpful anyway. “When you take a calcium supplement, you absorb about 32 percent of the calcium,” she says. “When you eat kale, you absorb about 64 percent of the calcium.” Whole foods from plant sources are better bets.
Take vitamins D and C “Calcium gets all of the credit for strong bones, but there are many other vitamins and minerals crucial for bone health,” says Lanou. Vitamin C helps build the collagen matrix in bone where calcium is stored; vitamin D helps move the calcium in the food we eat from the gut into the blood so it can then be deposited into the bones. Take 500 milligrams of vitamin C and 800 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily.
Say no to drugs Statins, steroids, anti-inflammatories, heartburn drugs and other long-term medications can negatively affect bone health. The reason differs for each drug: Some inhibit the growth of new bone cells, while others prevent calcium absorption. Check with your doctor about the possible boneweakening side effects of any medications you’re taking regularly, and ask about natural alternatives to the drugs or ways you can counter these potential side effects, suggests Lanou.
Move it (or lose it) “Just like the way to build muscle is to use the muscle, the way to stimulate bone-building cells is to use your bones,” Lanou says. How? You’ve got to put stress on them by making the muscles and ligaments surrounding them work hard enough to pull on the bone. Choose a form of exercise that has you moving in different directions—think yoga, dancing, tennis and other racquet sports. Weightlifting is also great, as are running and rowing. And yes, even gentle physical pursuits—such as gardening and walking—will help.
Cut back on salt When there’s too much sodium in your blood, your kidneys have to work harder to clear the excess, says Lanou. There’s a mechanism in your body known as the “sodium pump” to help with that task—and that pump needs calcium in order to work. So, you guessed it: The calcium needed to make the pump work is leached from your bones if there’s not enough of it in your blood. To keep your sodium intake in check, aim to get no more than 2,300 milligrams a day if you’re healthy; don’t exceed 1,500 milligrams if you have high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes.
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