Bone density: Seven ways to preserve and build it

Worried about weakening bones? Go beyond calcium to maintain optimal health and defend against osteoporosis.

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While many people are aware of the importance of taking calcium and magnesium to reduce our risk of osteoporosis, these two nutrients alone are by no means enough to maintain optimal bone health.

Our best line of defense against bone loss should also take these seven recommendations into account:

1. Load up on vitamin K
Vitamin K is a little known gem for bone health. It’s linked to a calcium-binding protein created by your bone-building cells. It also works with vitamin D to regulate the cells that remove old bone so that new bone can be deposited in its place.

Take action: Green leafy vegetables, brussels sprouts, green beans, asparagus, and broccoli are all great sources of vitamin K. In addition to vitamin K2, you should also look for a few (or all) of the following nutrients in your bone support supplement: calcium, phosphorus, boron, magnesium and vitamin D3.

2. Lower your homocysteine levels
Homocysteine is an inflammatory protein that, if elevated in the blood, is a proven independent risk factor for osteoporosis as well as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and strokes. Homocysteine has been found to increase with insulin resistance so be sure to get your levels tested.

Take action: If your results are above 6.3, I recommend including a complex of vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folic acid in your daily vitamin regimen for at least three months, or until your next physical exam, to reduce elevated levels.

3. Top-up your hormones
With age comes the decline of your sex hormones — estrogen, progesterone and testosterone — which accelerates bone loss. There are two important cell types in bone tissue, osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Osteoblasts produce new bone tissue while osteoclasts remove existing bone tissue. Without enough estrogen, osteoclast activity speeds up and bones lose their density. Progesterone and testosterone have been shown to stimulate osteoblast activity meaning they have the potential to aid in new bone growth.

Take action: Consider bioidentical hormone replacement if any, or all three, are low. Look for an anti-aging doctor or a naturopathic doctor that specializes in hormone balancing.

4. Consider natural antidepressants
One major downside of antidepressants is that they are linked to osteoporosis. Two new studies suggest older men and women taking SSRIs, a class of antidepressants that includes Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft, are prone to increased bone loss.

Take action: Getting plenty of sunlight, a healthy diet rich in protein, minerals and vitamins, regular exercise and good sleep support serotonin production. You can also consider natural alternatives like high dose fish oil (1 tbsp twice daily with food), vitamin D (4,000-5,000 IU daily) and 150 mg capsule at bedtime and 75 mg at breakfast of 5-hydroxytryptophan (HTP).

5. Go greener with veggies and good fats
Research has shown that the incidence of osteoporosis is lower in the Mediterranean compared to other European countries. Part of this reason may lie in the traditional Mediterranean diet which is rich in fruits, vegetables, and olive oil.

One study revealed that consumption of a Mediterranean diet enriched with olive oil (compared to a low fat diet) for two years is associated increase in bone formation markers suggesting a protective effect on bone.

Take action: Add a tablespoon of high quality olive oil to your meals twice daily.

6. Stick in some strength training
What you do, and don’t do, at the gym has a lot to do with bone density. Bone is a tissue that’s always changing due to hormonal changes and physical activity, or lack thereof. Regular strength training helps to deposit more minerals in the bones, especially those in the legs, hips and spine. The opposite is also true – lack of regular exercise will accelerate bone loss. A study to be published in October suggests that physical activity for premenopausal women is very effective in reducing a known inhibitor of bone formation.

Take action:
The study found that women who had more than two hours of physical activity per week had significantly higher bone formation markers and higher levels of the youthful and regenerating growth hormone IGF-1 than those women who had fewer than two hours of physical activity per week.

7. Keep your weight (and insulin) in check
If you’re prone to osteoporosis, you may be shocked to discover that all the calcium in the world isn’t going to help you maintain your bones if your insulin levels are high. In fact, most of that calcium will be eliminated through your urine, or even worse, form calcifications in your arteries.

Insulin signals osteoblasts to activate a hormone that promotes glucose metabolism which increases your chances or breaking or fracturing a bone. Recent research also revealed that one of the body’s obesity-related hormones, adiponectin, is linked to osteoporosis, an increased risk of fractures, and reduced muscle strength and lower muscle mass.

Take action: In addition to a diet that keeps your insulin levels low, such as the meal plan in The Carb Sensitivity Program, I recommend adding a conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) to your supplement arsenal twice daily with food. CLA has been shown to help preserve lean muscle as well as maintain bone density and muscle mass, improve insulin.

Do you struggle with maintaining bone density?

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.