Osteoporosis is a silent disease, often not apparent until you fall and break a bone. Eight out of ten osteoporosis patients are women, and we are at the greatest risk after menopause, when our ovaries stop producing estrogen, a hormone that protects us against bone loss.
Bone is a living tissue, constantly growing, breaking down, and being replaced by new bone tissue. Our bone density peaks when we are 25 to 30 years old, at which point our bone tissue begins breaking down faster than it is replaced. Not getting enough calcium and Vitamin D during the teen years can contribute to less than optimal bone development and leave us more susceptible to osteoporosis, with brittle bones that fracture easily as we age.
Many research studies tell us that adequate amounts of Vitamin D and calcium are vital for bone health, but many other nutrients are potentially beneficial for our bone health as well.
The building block of the human body, protein builds tissue, helps fractures to heal, and gives our immune system a boost. Getting enough protein is especially important for older people. Studies show that elderly people who get adequate protein in their diet are more likely to have a good medical outcome if they suffer a broken hip bone. Complete proteins contain all the amino acids the body needs to create new proteins, and can be found in meat, poultry, and dairy products. Incomplete proteins are missing one or more amino acids, and are found in legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. By eating a variety of incomplete proteins, even those on a vegetarian diet can get an adequate amount.
The body doesn’t store amino acids the way it does fats and carbohydrates so it is necessary to have an adequate daily intake of protein-rich foods. A long-term, high-protein diet of more than a few weeks can have adverse effects on bone health, however. The acids released by the body when digesting proteins are buffered by calcium, which may be pulled from bone tissue. Those on a low carb diet need to make sure that they get plenty of calcium in their diet.
This nutrient is a component of every cell in our body and supports the growth of bone and other tissue. Eggs, yogurt, milk, cheese, and ice cream are rich in phosphorus. Too much phosphorus may interfere with calcium absorption. Cola drinks and processed foods also contain phosphorus, so consumption of these products should be kept to a minimum. Many children drink sodas with their meals, instead of milk products, which can hinder strong bone development and set the stage for future bone disease.
Many toothpastes and other dental products are advertised as a way to keep our teeth strong and healthy, but fluoride is necessary for skeletal development as well. In addition to using fluoridated dental products and drinking fluoridated water, adding ocean fish (such as salmon and tuna) to our diet will help insure that we consume an adequate amount.
This plant-made estrogen supplements the estrogen produced naturally by our own bodies. Phytoestrogens may play a role in maintaining bone density of post-menopausal women, although the studies are conflicting. Legumes, soybeans, and other soy products contain isoflavones.
Adequate amounts of iron in our diet helps enzymes function properly to develop optimal bone structure. Foods rich in iron include red meat and poultry, fruits, beans, lentils, leaf vegetables, and fortified bread and grain products.
As with iron, copper helps enzymes function properly to promote bone development. Organ meats, seafood, nuts and seeds, whole grains and cocoa products can provide us with adequate amounts of copper.
This nutrient reduces the amount of calcium our body excretes and aids in the metabolism of estrogen and Vitamin D. All plant foods contain boron.
Not getting enough magnesium in your diet may interfere with the body’s ability to process calcium. Although magnesium deficiency is uncommon, be assured you’re getting enough by adding leafy green vegetables and whole grains to your diet.
Excess levels of sodium in our bodies will increase the amount of calcium lost in urine and perspiration. Most processed foods and snacks contain high levels of sodium, so indulge in them sparingly.
By eating a well-balanced diet from an early age, and replacing sodas and snacks with healthier choices, we can have stronger bones that are less likely to become brittle and break. A good diet will also reap benefits in many other healthy ways, and we can enjoy a better quality of life in our golden years