May is National Osteoporosis Month
I can’t let May and the NOF’s awareness campaign pass without giving a shout out to the best way to prevent bone loss or osteoporosis.
It’s not taking enormous calcium supplement tablets every day or occasionally choking down a couple of chalky TUMS.
It’s a combination of eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods and exercising every day.
Actually, no one can prevent bone loss altogether. That’s like saying you can prevent wrinkles. As we age our bones lose strength and flexibility. But we can slow the process down and prevent it from turning into significant bone loss, or osteoporosis.
I pay a lot of attention to my bones. I know I’m at a higher risk for bone loss because I’m Caucasian and small-boned.
Risk factors other than being female, white and petite are age, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, low exposure to sunshine/low vitamin D level, low dietary calcium, family history, and certain medications such as steroids and antacids.
And men take note! Bone loss isn’t just for women; men can suffer from osteoporosis, as well.
Calcium supplements don’t work
In fact, they might do more harm than good.
The recommendation that taking calcium and vitamin D supplements will strengthen our bones and prevent future fractures was not based on good science.
Current evidence tells us that any benefit from these supplements is questionable, at best. At worst, daily calcium supplements are not only a waste of money, but can contribute to heart disease and kidney stones.
Clinical trials of calcium supplements at doses of 1000 mg/day, however, have reported adverse effects, including cardiovascular events, kidney stones, and hospital admissions for acute gastrointestinal symptoms.
Eat nutrient-rich foods every day
In all fairness, the above study also showed that increasing our dietary calcium might not help prevent fractures, either.
Bones need more than calcium to be strong and flexible, which is another reason why calcium supplements or just calcium-fortified foods alone aren’t enough.
In addition to calcium and vitamin D, bones need other minerals and vitamins, such as magnesium, potassium, iron, vitamin C, vitamin K, and protein. Healthy fats, too, are necessary to help with absorption of all these nutrients.
Related post: Bone broth for bone health?
So it’s not just about getting a lot of calcium in our diets. It’s about including a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods, as well as those that give us calcium.
Examples of nutrient and calcium rich foods are dairy products, fortified orange juice, sardines, broccoli and leafy greens like bok choy and kale.
I don’t try to measure how many milligrams of calcium I get every day. I simply try to make sure I eat 1 serving of the following food types most days:
- whole grain
- dark green vegetable
- red or orange vegetable
- good fat
For more information, the National Osteoporosis Foundation has a good webpage on bone-healthy nutrition.
Get weight-bearing exercise every day
The other way to keep our bones at their healthiest is to stress them out—when bone is stressed through walking, running or lifting, it responds by making more bone.
Some of the best bone-building exercises are weight training, walking, jogging, running, stair climbing, tennis, skiing and jumping rope.
Even routine daily chores such as yard work, housecleaning, laundry and childcare can be considered weight bearing if you’re pushing or lifting objects.
Swimming, cycling, and elliptical machines are good for cardiovascular health, but not so good for your bones.
Just like diet, aim for a variety of exercise methods.
Keeping our bones strong and healthy goes hand-in-hand with keeping our bodies healthy. And it works best if we start when we’re younger, before age has already started to thin our bones.
If you have kids, model a healthy lifestyle and teach them healthy habits. They will thank you when they’re older!
More resources for bone health: