Nutritional therapist and wellbeing writer Eve, explains: “We are all familiar with the condition osteoporosis but do we actually know what it means? Or, that in many instances, it can be largely preventable through good nutrition and better lifestyle choices? And guess what – its not just about calcium!
Typically the disease itself can be characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue that leads to enhanced bone fragility and consequently an increased risk of fracture. Often without any obvious symptoms, these fractures can be debilitating and costly to fix, too. But identifying the condition earlier can reduce these risks by almost half and this is where prevention is key.
As with many chronic conditions in our modern society there is a huge amount attributed to lifestyle choices that can increase your risk of developing this disease. Lack of exercise, sitting for hours on end at desks and poor sleep can all impact on our bone health as much as the nutrients we need to take in to support this.
But let’s talk nutrition first…
Most of us tend to think only about calcium when we think of bone health and whilst that’s undoubtedly the most vital nutrient there are other vitamins and minerals that play essential functions in the formation and maintenance of a strong skeleton. Firstly its not just about eating more calcium although certainly the only way we can get this is through our diet but its really about getting it from an easily absorbed source. Often associated with dairy products such as yogurt, milk and cheese these can provide an easily available excellent source when they are full fat and organic as they contain other bone supportive fat-soluble nutrients.
However, if you are someone who prefers to reduce or eliminate these foods due to allergies, intolerances or political beliefs you need to make sure you are getting enough from other plant based sources. The top of the list when it comes to these foods are the leafy greens such as kale, watercress, broccoli, pak choi, sesame seeds (tahini), almonds and white beans.
However bone health and nutrition is much further reaching than this. We also need vitamins & minerals such as magnesium that provides strength for bones. Magnesium is a critical cofactor responsible for the conversion of vitamin D and mediates hormones that support calcium regulation. Good sources include all the leafy greens – think spinach, kale, chard; nuts & seeds particularly sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds; bananas, avocados and cacao powder (the purest form of chocolate).
And there is also vitamin K that contributes to bone mineralization that can also assist in channeling calcium directly to the bones themselves. Add in plenty of the aforementioned leafy greens as well as the brassicas such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage as well as herbs including parsley, dried sage & thyme.
Then there is the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D! Living in the UK with our less than hot and sunny climate can leave many of us pretty deficient. This vitamin is a vital part of calcium absorption in the intestine and involved directly in bone turnover. Moreover, vitamin D levels naturally decrease greatly with age, which is also when you most need to support bone health, so boosting these levels could be a good idea (always check with your GP before adding in any kind of supplement).
Beyond our plates, certain factors can increase your risk of developing the condition, such as being postmenopausal with associated accelerated bone loss from lack of oestrogen, family history, increased age and low body weight.
But by far one of the most significant factors – and the one we can help deter the most – is those that come from our lifestyle. Things like cigarette smoking, high caffeine intake (that impairs calcium absorption), heavy alcohol consumption and lack of exercise all have a marked impact. Physical weight-bearing exercise and the load of muscles onto the bones gives them the strength they need. That’s not to say you need to go bodybuilding but some weight resistance is essential. Research shows that maintaining physical fitness is as, if not more, important than diet or hormonally related factors. Depending on your fitness level other activities such as dancing, yoga and power walking can also complement resistance training as these also help with coordination of movement.
And to end…this is where a little bit more weight can actually serve you well so intolerances aside try to have an all inclusive whole and real foods approach to your diet. Book a sunshine filled holiday. Oh and move a bit more too!”
Thank you Eve, for your insightful, common-sense approach to reducing the risk of osteoporosis through good nutrition and positive lifestyle choices.