The Science of Building Strong Bones5 years ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Did you know that your entire skeleton is replaced about every 10 years?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), what happens is that over the course of your life your body continues to both reabsorb old bone and create new bone.
“Think of bone as a bank account where you ‘deposit’ and ‘withdraw’ bone tissue. During childhood and the teenage years, new bone is added to the skeleton faster than old bone is removed. As a result, bones become larger, heavier, and denser. For most people, bone formation continues at a faster pace than removal until bone mass peaks during the third decade of life,” says the NIH.
(According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), most people will reach their peak bone mass, meaning maximum bone size and strength, between the ages of 25 and 30. By age 40, we slowly begin to lose bone mass).
“As long as your body has a good balance of new and old bone, your bones stay healthy and strong,” reports the NIH.
“Bone loss occurs when more old bone is reabsorbed than new bone is created.”
Reportedly, osteoporosis and low bone mass are currently estimated to be a major public health threat for almost 44 million U.S. women and men aged 50 and older. Worldwide, osteoporosis causes more than 8.9 million fractures annually, resulting in an osteoporotic fracture every 3 seconds.
You may not think much about this if you are in your early twenties or younger, but it is extremely important to maximize the amount of bone you have when you are young, so that when bone loss occurs as you age you are more prepared for it.
“Although peak bone mass is largely determined by our genes, there are lifestyle factors — such as diet and exercise — that can influence whether we reach our full bone mass potential,” according to AAOS.
Interestingly, regarding these two key lifestyle factors - diet and exercise, a recent study conducted by researchers with the University of Michigan found that diet may actually have more of an impact than exercise when it comes to bone mass and strength.
The researchers analyzed exercise and mineral supplementation in mice. The mice underwent eight weeks of exercise training, and within this time period some of the mice were fed a normal diet while some were given a mineral-supplemented diet. The minerals focused on were calcium and phosphorus. One report on the study says that most other studies on the same issue have only focused on calcium and bone health.
(You likely already know that calcium is important for bone health. What you may not know is that phosphorus works hand-in-hand with calcium to help build strong bones. Phosphorus is also the second most abundant mineral in the body, and it’s important to not have too much or too little of this mineral (or any other essential nutrient)).
The results of the study had two key findings:
- Overall, nutrition had a greater impact on bone mass and strength than exercise.
- Even after the exercise training stopped, the mice retained bone strength as long as they ate a mineral-supplemented diet.
“The data suggests the long-term consumption of the mineral-supplemented diet could be beneficial in preventing the loss of bone and strength with age, even if you don’t do exercise training,” said one of the lead researchers.
This is not to say that exercise is not important in regards to bone health. If you are proactive about both diet and exercise, you will likely have better bone health than someone who only practices one or the other.
But what’s particularly noteworthy is that diet may be easier to control as you get older.
This isn’t to suggest that you should run out and buy calcium and phosphorus supplements.
The findings don’t translate directly from mice to humans, but they do give researchers a conceptual place to start.
In order to maintain bone strength, I suggest taking routine nutrient tests. These tests identify whether you have the right balance of bone health-promoting minerals, like calcium and phosphorus, as well as other nutrients that may aid in bone health such as magnesium and vitamin D. If you are nutritionally imbalanced, a competent healthcare professional can work with you to adjust your diet and possibly recommend proper supplementation with good quality supplements.
How Else Can You Be Proactive About Bone Health?
- Don’t Smoke.
According to the NIH, several research studies have identified smoking as a risk factor for osteoporosis and bone fractures. This may be because, in general, smokers tend to drink more alcohol (which depletes the body of nutrients) and have poorer diets.
- Get Enough Sleep
A NIH study found that chronic sleep deprivation (CSD) may have a negative impact on bone mass and bone metabolism. And this may be because CSD has been reported to be associated with lower vitamin D concentrations.
- Drink Caffeine in Moderation.
Drinking too much caffeine may interfere with calcium absorption in the body.
- Know how to feed your bones.
Now that you know the vitamins and minerals that are critical to bone health, let’s go over some of the foods that contain these nutrients. Whether you are a meat-eater, vegan or vegetarian there are plenty of bone-building foods out there.
And if you already have osteoporosis, there is credible evidence to suggest that following the Mediterranean diet may reduce bone loss despite having this condition. This diet consists of whole foods and healthy fats, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil and fish.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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