Bone is a living tissue that constantly repairs itself by absorbing and replacing cells. Osteoporosis, aka “brittle bones,” develops when the removal or absorption of old bone happens at a greater pace than the body’s ability to create new bone. As a result, bones become brittle and weak. A person might break or fracture a bone simply by sneezing, bending down, or taking a slight fall. There is now talk that the fracture occurs first, which causes the fall. Challenging what we have learned- that the fall causes the bone fracture, which may be the case in some instances of osteoporosis, but not all.
Osteoporosis happens as we age, but certain factors accelerate the process. The foods we eat can leach calcium from our bones such as high-sugar, high animal protein, refined grains, coffee, sodas, alcohol, high sodium diet and tobacco. Various pharmaceuticals such as steroids and gastrointestinal medication can disrupt our calcium levels as well. A higher risk for osteoporosis exists for women, older adults, people with small frames, a family history of hormone imbalances in the thyroid or adrenals, smokers, coffee drinkers, or those who have a sedentary lifestyle.
In one study, it was found that “eliminating meat from the diet cuts the urinary calcium loss in half. Cutting sodium intake by half can reduce calcium requirements by 160 mg per day.” The more protein that is taken in, the more calcium that is lost.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) reports, “The average calcium intake in Singapore is 389 mg/day, less than half of the recommended daily allowance in the U.S. Yet the fracture rate in Singapore is five times lower than that of the U.S., where the calcium intake is much higher.”
Despite clear scientific proof that calcium is not the answer to osteoporosis, in January 1997, a new advertising campaign promoting milk consumption was launched, sponsored by the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board. The PCRM lodged a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, DC, pointing out that, “Increasing milk consumption is one of the weakest possible strategies for protecting the bones and to suggest otherwise is dangerously misleading.”
Bone density machines can help determine the mineral density of your bones. But, in general, it is a good idea to support your bone health as you age regardless.
Here are 3 ways to help support your bone health:
1. Calcium. Calcium is crucial for strong, healthy bones. Not all calcium supplements are equal and some use forms of calcium not easily absorbed by the body. Instead, try adding in calcium rich foods such as leafy greens- bok choy, broccoli, collards, Chinese cabbage and kale. These have greater bioavailability than the calcium found in milk. Spinach, although high in calcium, is not a good source of calcium because the calcium binds to oxalates and is therefore poorly absorbed. Decrease your risk of osteoporosis by restricting animal protein, salt and smoking, while flooding the body with calcium from vegetable sources, along with the proper enzymes to lodge this calcium in the bones.
According to the vegan society, if protein intake is inadequate, (less than 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight), the body lacks the building blocks for muscle and bone, and growth hormones which stimulate muscle and bone building will decline to undesirable levels. Consuming less than the recommended amount of protein in order to reduce calcium loss is not the correct approach. Individuals with a low calorie intake are particularly at risk of getting insufficient protein.
The choice of protein source can make a great deal of difference. A person trying to increase protein intake using meat or fish will lose 25 mg of calcium from their body for every 100 g eaten. In contrast, a 100 g portion of beans (by dry weight) has an approximately neutral effect on calcium balance while providing the same amount of protein.
2. Trace minerals. Our food supply does not contain the rich mineral content it did 50 years ago. Modern agricultural practices have stripped the soil of its nutrients, leaving the foods we eat in a less nutritious state. Trace minerals provide a broad spectrum of minerals that we need to maintain optimal health.
3. Essential Fatty Acids. The omega oils help lubricate joints and reduce inflammation in the tissue and muscle surrounding our bones. Eat more wild caught non-farm raised fish, olive and flaxseed oils, nuts, and leafy green vegetables.
4. Exercise. Exercise can help build strong bones and slow down bone loss. It is best to have a consistent exercise regimen throughout your life, rather than exercising in small bursts. Alternate strength training with resistance exercise. Always check in with your doctor before beginning an exercise routine.
5. Vitamin D. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for bone health. Because of our modern lifestyles, we do not get the proper amounts of vitamin D from our environment. Twenty minutes of sun exposure will give you the boost you need, however, when sun exposure is not possible, talk to your Naturopathic Doctor about ways to supplement Vitamin D in your diet.
Pizzorno, Joseph E., and Michael T. Murray. 1999. Textbook of Natural Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone. Gerson, Charlotte; Bishop, Beata. Healing the Gerson Way. 2007. California: Gerson Health Media.
Vegan Society. Diet and Bone Health. Stephen Walsh, PhD.
1. Broccoli, steamed (1 cup = 180 mg Ca)
2. Collard greens, steamed (1 cup = 357 mg Ca)
3. Turnip greens, steamed (1 cup = 250 mg Ca)
4. Dandelion greens, steamed (1 cup = 294 mg Ca)
5. Swiss chard (1 cup = 139 mg Ca)
6. Kale, raw (1 cup = 90 mg Ca)
7. Blackstrap molasses (2 tbsp = 274 mg Ca)
8. Orange (1 medium sized = 52 mg Ca)
9. Figs, dried (1/2 cup = 120 mg Ca)
10. Almonds (1/4 cup = 92 mg Ca)
11. Tahini (2 tbsp = 42 mg Ca)
12. Garbanzo beans, cooked (1 cup = 80 mg Ca)
13. White beans, cooked (1 cup = 100 mg Ca)
Marz. Russell B. 2002. Medical Nutrition From Marz 2nd Edition. Portland: Omni Press Publishing.
A calcium packed veggie bowl with over 400 mg of calcium per serving!
- 1/2 cup dry quinoa, rinsed and drained
- 3/4-1 cup filtered water, to cook quinoa (you could also cook in vegetable broth for more flavor)
- 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
- 1/4-1/2 cup chopped red or yellow onion (to preference)
- 2 cloves garlic, grated into pan
- 1/3 cup vegetable broth
- 2 cups broccoli, cut into florets
- 1 cup kale, leaves removed from stems, and broken into bite size pieces
- 1 cup collard greens, stem removed and cut in thin strands
- salt and pepper to taste
- lemon juice, if desired
- nutritional yeast (optional for cheesy flavor)
Cook the quinoa in a medium pot to package directions, until tender and liquid is absorbed. In a saute pan, heat the grapeseed oil over medium high heat and add the chopped onion. Cook for a couple minutes until translucent (don’t let burn), and add the garlic grating it straight into the pan. Stir for a minute, not allowing to burn, and add in the vegetable broth. Rinse off the broccoli, kale, collard greens and add them to the pan with onions, garlic and broth. Reduce heat slightly and cover. Let cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the broccoli is tender, kale and collard greens have shrunk. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon if desired. Add quinoa and veggie mix to a serving bowl and mix together. Garnish with nutritional yeast (optional) and eat warm.
When looking for a supplement to address bone health, it is important to know that bone health is most positively affected by a synergistic blend of many types of nutrients. In other words, there isn’t just one supplement that adequately addresses bone health because several kinds of nutrients work together for optimal effectiveness. For example, three very important nutrients that need to be present in a bone health supplement are calcium, Vitamin D, and boron. Although the best way to obtain calcium is through your diet by eating loads of leafy greens, several studies have shown the effectiveness of calcium supplementation to reduce bone loss. Calcium should be in the form of calcium citrate or calcium carbonate for a higher absorption rate than calcium hydroxyapatite. Vitamin D is another essential nutrient for bone health. In fact, adding Vitamin D to calcium improves bone density to a greater extent than calcium by itself. Boron is a trace mineral that helps protect against the development of osteoporosis. These three nutrients work together along with other nutrients essential to bone health such as: Vitamin K, magnesium, the B vitamins, and silicon. To get the best bone health supplement for your individual needs, talk with your Naturopathic Doctor.
Pizzorno, Joseph E., and Michael T. Murray. 1999. Textbook of Natural Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
Recent studies have shown the great promise of Horsetail to help with bone loss. It is a rich source of bioavailable calcium and silicon, as well as the synergistic blend of other phytonutrients that make the plant highly effective. Silicon is an essential nutrient for both collagen and bone regeneration. Prolonged use of horsetail is not advised. When using this herb orally, levels of vitamin B1 (thiamin) can drop and so it is important to take a quality multivitamin or at least a B complex supplement at the same time.
As with most herbs, it is important to speak with your Naturopathic Doctor before adding in Horsetail to your diet. While it is available in most health food stores, it is important to find a high quality source for this herb. Your doctor will also be able to recommend dosage, especially if you are already on a calcium supplement.
Costa-Rodrigues J, et. al. 2012. Inhibition of Human in vitro Osteoclastogenesis by Equisetum arvense. Cell Proliferation 45(6):566-76.
Raczuk J, Biardzka E, Daruk J. 2008. The Content of Ca, Mg, Fe and Cu in Selected Species of Herbs and Herb Infusions, Roczniki Panstwowego Zakladu Higieny 9(1):33-40.
Bessa Pereira C, et. al. 2012. Equisetum arvense Hydromethanolic Extracts in Bone Tissue Regeneration: In vitro Osteoblastic Modulation and Antibacterial Activity. Cell Proliferation 45 (4): 386-96.
“Horsetail.” University of Maryland Medical Center website. (accessed July 24, 2013)
Resistance exercise is using the resistance of an object or environment during exercise. Studies have shown that resistance exercise helps improve bone density. There are several forms of resistance training. Lifting weight helps provide resistance that strengthens both muscle and bone. Make sure to start light and work your way into heavier weight with the help of a trained professional. Resistance tubes can also used. These are much easier than lifting weights because the resistance is provided by a small stretchy tube of rubber. It is easy to carry with you and because you aren’t straining the muscles by lifting anything heavy, there is less risk of injury. And finally, exercise like water walking and swimming is also excellent because the water provides a gentle and consistent resistance.
“Exercises for Osteoporosis.” Web MD Website. (accessed July 1, 2013).