'Unbreakable' Part 2: Empowering Strong Bones with Proactive Strategies
Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH
After reading Part 1 of the 'Unbreakable' series, we hope you have your DEXA scan results in hand. That way, you are proactive and not caught off guard with osteoporosis – the silent disease. The goal is to make sure you are ‘Unbreakable,’ so your bones are strong and able to withstand daily tasks, sports injuries, and accidental trips and falls.
Even if your DEXA scan looks good, it is important to follow the 'Unbreakable' strategies to prevent the inevitable and mostly irreversible bone density decline over the coming years. Bones are continually “at work” by either building up optimal levels of bone-strengthening nutrients – or dissolving slowly over time. The choice is yours on how well you apply the ‘Unbreakable’ strategies.
Our bones consist of minerals surrounding protein. The minerals within the bone are primarily calcium and phosphorus, which work together to maintain the hard bones. The proteins connect together to create a network of collagen, which is essential for adding necessary pliability to the bone.
Bone density is highest in the ages between the mid-twenties and thirties and then starts to decline – especially if a person isn’t getting enough bone-building nutrients through the foods they eat. Other causes of bone density deterioration can be family history, smoking, excess alcohol, and/or lack of weight-bearing exercise. Poor gut health can cause inadequate absorption of calcium and other necessary nutrients.
Association with Brain Health
Strong bones are a vital part of our daily physical lifestyle. But did you know that bone health is tied to brain health? A recent study published in the March 22, 2023, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology showed people who have low bone density may have an increased risk of developing dementia compared to people who have higher bone density. The study took place in the Netherlands over a ten-year period with more than 3,600 participants. The researchers found that people with the lowest total body bone density were 42% more likely to develop dementia than people in the highest group. This finding adjusted for factors such as age, sex, education, other illnesses and medication use, and a family history of dementia. https://n.neurology.org/content/100/20/e2125
Association with Gut Health:
The term' gut biome,' or 'gut microbiome,' refers to the trillions of complex and diverse microorganisms, or microbes, that live in our digestive tracts, creating the 'gut flora.' The beneficial 'good' microorganisms are crucial in the digestive process, nutrient absorption, and in overall health. Some microbes can be 'bad,' generally a result of a nutrient-deficient and/or highly processed and chemical-laden diet, antibiotics and other medications, and/or exposure to toxins primarily from pesticides within the foods we eat.
Two mechanisms associating gut health to bone health include:
Digestion: the 'good' microbes are essential in producing enzymes needed for digestion and in releasing nutrients to travel throughout the body
Nutrient Absorption: gut health is very important in the efficient absorption of essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, and vitamin K – all of which are critical for bone health; the "good" microbes can enhance absorption while the "bad" can block the absorption
Emerging new research is showing the gut microbiome influences bone health in various ways. Prebiotics in the gut impact both short- and long-term effects that beneficially affect bone regeneration. Prebiotics are undigestible fiber sources, called oligosaccharides, that support and encourage a wide diversity of beneficial gut flora. Prebiotics are like a healthy food source for the 'good' microbes, enabling them to grow and multiply. So, the more, the better when we are talking about the beneficial microbes!
Foods high in prebiotics – and thus good for bone health – include:
onions (raw or cooked)
As far as the "bad" microbes – these generally grow in excess, cause gut inflammation, and may block nutrient absorption. A recent study found people with osteoporosis had a significantly higher composition of harmful gut bacteria compared to healthy individuals. Another clinical research study comparing healthy individuals, people with osteopenia, and patients with osteoporosis, showed that the severity of bone loss was correlated to the diversity of the harmful bacteria within the gut.
Further strengthening the tie to gut health is the research showing osteoporosis is common in those with Gastrointestinal diseases, particularly those associated with malabsorption and maldigestion (celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and chronic liver disease.
In Part 3 of the 'Unbreakable' series, you'll find a checklist of 10 'Unbreakable' Strategies to empower you to take good care of your bones. Additionally, you will see exactly how to use MyMenu Concierge to understand and calculate whether you are eating the optimal levels of bone-building nutrients. Until then:
Read Part 1
Try these bone-building recipes by the Bone Coach Dietitian: