Let’s skip the frightening statistics about hip fractures and disability. How can you prevent osteoporosis and incorporate bone health into your wellness lifestyle? Typical advice is to take calcium (like antacid tablets with calcium carbonate) and vitamin D, and measure your bone density. But what is missing in from this recommendation? The March 2011 issue of American Legion Magazine has it right: relying only on bone mineral density (BMD) tests is an incomplete solution. The author notes that BMD “does not accurately reflect” fracture risk, and that flexibility should also be considered.
BMD tests measure the hardness of bone, which comes from the minerals calcium and magnesium. Bone flexibility comes from collagen protein, which makes up 33% of our bone mass. With sufficient collagen, your bones are less brittle and can absorb sudden impact without breaking. One vitamin essential for building collagen is vitamin K, which is found in leafy green vegetables, eggs, beef liver, and butter. Specific plant sources of vitamin K are kale, spinach, broccoli, collard greens, asparagus, cabbage, lettuce, and green tea. What body part makes collagen? The liver, which is also our filtration and detoxification center. If the liver is overloaded with chemicals from our air, water, food, and drugs, it has a harder time making the protein our bones need.
Antacids and proton pump inhibitors act against the body’s need to build bone. If we suppress our stomach acid, we can’t chemically change calcium into its ionized form so it can be absorbed. If you or a loved one controls heartburn, acid reflux, and indigestion with OTC “purple pills,” read the instructions on the box. These drugs should not be taken for more than 2 weeks at a time. Most of the time, heartburn comes from weak stomach acid. You eat food, it sits in your stomach and rots, and you burp up the acids produced by your rotting meal. A healthier alternative to support digestion includes supplements with digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid.
And, of course, exercise helps to build bones. We are all subject to Wolff’s law, which makes no exceptions for anyone. Wolff’s law states that where there is stress on a bone, the body will remodel bone structure to accommodate the stress. Weight-bearing exercise is most efficient at challenging bone structure enough to keep it strong. Activities involving walking, running, and jumping are the best bone-builders for people who want to keep their spines and hip bones in good working order. For the upper body, choose weight lifting, resistance training, and body-weight exercises like pushups or power yoga.
Now that we’ve discussed the “why” behind the “what,” here is your checklist for healthy bones:
- Calcium in an easily absorbable form (citrate, malate, lactate, gluconate, but not carbonate or phosphate).
- Vitamin D from sunlight on sunscreen-free skin, or from supplements of cholecalciferol. Vitamin D brings calcium from food into our bloodstream.
- Vitamin K from leafy greens, eggs, beef liver, butter, and green tea. In addition to building collagen, vitamin K helps us transfer calcium from blood into bone.
- Fat intake with vitamins D and K, so we can absorb them from our gut into our blood.
- A low-toxicity lifestyle and healthy liver to help us make bone-building collagen.
- Strong digestion with adequate stomach acid to break down foods and ionize calcium.
- Weight-bearing exercise to encourage our bodies to strengthen our bones.