Bone Health: It's More Than Just Calcium

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When most people think bones, they only think calcium.

by Lauren Slayton

We need to think a little more about our bones. One in three women will sustain a bone fracture, due to osteoporosis, in their lifetime. It’s only slightly better for men: one in five. One problem I see when it comes to bone health is the messaging. When most people think bones, they only think calcium — and yet calcium is, at best, a supporting player for your bone health. We need to focus on the leading roles. Second, most people don’t think about their bones until it’s too late. But you should think about our bones, starting at age 30, as that’s around the time most of your bone building stops. If this all freaks you out a little, I get it. It freaks me and my 40-something year old bones out too. Let’s take action.

Be Active

I remember, years ago, going to a talk on bone health. Walter Willett, a doctor and professor at Harvard, got up to speak and said, “Forget the milk, take the cow for a walk.” His message was that activity was more important than dairy. But what kind of activity? I don’t think most people know. Even if you’re savvy enough to know “weight bearing” activity is best, do you know what that even means?

The best types of exercises for your bones involve the most of your body bearing the weight. If we’re strictly talking about healthy bones, walking or running is preferred to biking or swimming, as your body bears the weight. In addition to impact, faster-based activities are better for bones than slower ones. Strength and balance training are important but not enough, on their own for your bones. Exercise nudges bone-forming cells back into action.

Double your D

Without adequate vitamin D, you cannot effectively absorb calcium. We’ve seen many more clients with staggeringly low vitamin D in the past couple of years. Everyone should take a vitamin D3 supplement, you need to consume it with food, specifically with fat. And if you’re taking anywhere between 1000 and 3000 IUS per day, I’d double your dose. I’d also spend some time outside, without sunscreen, 30 minutes or so. I’m not anti-sunscreen at all but you can have both healthy skin and bones. As far as your bloodwork, for optimal health you want D above 60. “Normal” isn’t optimal.

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Consider Collagen

Collagen powder or bone broth will likely improve your bone health. Your bones are made up of about 1/3 collagen. One study tracked the effects of collagen supplementation for 12 months and showed that collagen helped with bone formation and reduced the rate of bone loss. The amount used in most studies is 5-10 grams of collagen per day.

Green a day for vitamin K

Vitamin K works synergistically with vitamin D to protect your bones. Vitamin K reduces fracture rates. You can supplement with vitamin K2 or eat a leafy green daily (green juice, green salad, cooked greens).

Bring on the Brazil Nuts

Brazil nuts are great for bone health as they are one the highest nuts in magnesium and they’re important for thyroid health. Many Foodtrainers clients take a magnesium supplement but it’s important to get minerals via food as well. Untreated hypothyroidism can adversely affect bones, so it’s good to have this checked when your blood is drawn.

The truth is a lot of the foods we eat, to be generally healthy, are also good for your bones. But to really benefit you need to take vitamin D or collagen or eat greens every day. I can’t stress how important this is. You want healthy bones and to avoid osteoporosis medications, which have major side effects.

Lauren Slayton, MS RD is the founder of Foodtrainers and the author of the book The Little Book of Thin (Perigee 2014).

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