There are 208 bones in the human body and 143 joints. If any of these weaken, your body’s mechanics can be thrown out of balance, affecting your overall physical health. For this reason, it is important that you pay as much attention to your bone health as you do to the rest of our health.
Most bone problems are a result of improper joint mechanics. Like a car part that’s not installed correctly, the spine will wear out much faster if all the parts are not properly connected. It’s the same thing with our joints. Unlike a car, we can’t replace our parts!! So, it’s all about prevention, maintaining and achieving optimal function of the spine and joints.
Osteoarthritis is a condition in which low-grade inflammation results in pain in the joints caused by the wear and tear of the cartilage that covers and cushions the joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Basically, it is the wear and tear on the spine and joints and, in most cases caused, by overuse or improper joint mechanics.
Osteoporosis is a generalized disorder of skeletal bones in which the quantity and the quality of the bone tissue is decreased and the bone becomes weak and more susceptible to breaking. Osteoporosis is particularly problematic for women once they start menopause. Post-menopausal women have reduced levels of the hormone estrogen, which accelerates the leaching of calcium from bones. Hormone replacement therapy, which was popular until a few years ago, was shown to indeed reduce bone loss but, unfortunately, it also increased the risks of breast cancer, blood clots, heart attacks and strokes.
In the case of osteoporosis, we’re talking about the density of your bones. As an example, I tell my patients to think about putting a healthy bone, and one with osteoporosis, in a tank of water. The healthy bone would sink to the bottom because it’s dense while the osteoporotic bone would float because it’s less dense (more porous).
Osteopenia is a condition that occurs before osteoporosis and signifies that you’ve had some bone density and strength loss. This is a warning sign that osteoporosis is on the horizon. Proper nutrition, supplementation and exercise starting in childhood are imperative for proper bone growth, but it’s never too late to make a difference in your bone health.
Bone Density measurement
Different tools are used to measure osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Unfortunately both conditions can be present at the same time. Osteoarthritis can be seen on plain film X-rays, or with a CT scan, or via an MRI. Osteoporosis, however, needs to be measured by a Bone Mineral Density (BMD) test. There is a variety of these tests that do everything from measuring your hip, spine, wrist, finger, shin bone and heel, to determine bone mass. These tests will measure your bone mineral density against that of a healthy 30-year-old and you will then be provided with a ‘T-score’.
- A T-Score of -1.0 and above indicates normal bone density.
- A T-score of -1.0 to -2.5 indicates that a person is considered to have low bone mass (osteopenia).
- A score below -2.5 indicates osteoporosis.
Prevention of Bone Diseases
In a nutshell, if you wish to decrease your chances of developing osteoporosis:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Maintain an exercise program including weight bearing exercises (yes ladies – lift those weights!).
- Avoid soft drinks.
- Avoid smoking, excess alcohol and sugar intake.
- Increase your intake of alkaline food and decrease your intake of acidic food.
- Take a good quality multivitamin.
- Supplement your diet with adequate calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D and Vitamin C.
- Take supplements containing other bone-supporting elements.
Treatment of Bone Diseases
Several drugs are approved for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis (biphosphonates) and do indeed help with bone loss, but none are 100 percent effective, and, like all drugs, they come with side effects which can include:
- Upper gastrointestinal pain and erosion
- Skin rash
- Diffuse bone pain
- Osteonecrosis (bone death) of the jaw
- Not preventing further damage on new bone formation
- Making bones more brittle over time
- Decreasing the available calcium in your blood (this can create an acidic/alkaline imbalance)
Before starting on a potentially dangerous drug therapy at the first sign of bone loss, educate yourself on the role of nutrition and exercise to ensure optimal bone health. This is why, when possible, prevention should be started at a young age!
The Role of Calcium
Creating strong bones is not calcium’s only function. Your bones have a very high calcium content but calcium is also essential to many physiological functions and if you don’t have enough of it in other areas of your body, it will take what it needs from your bones to maintain adequate calcium levels. Your body needs calcium for functions such as:
- Blood clotting;
- Regulating heart beat;
- Conducting nerve impulses;
- Stimulating hormone secretions; and
- Muscle contraction.
Calcium also plays a big role in acting as a buffer between your bones and foods or beverages with high acidity levels. When we eat something that is very acidic, our body will leach calcium from our bones to neutralize the acidity.
Great sources of calcium include:
- Mustard greens
- Turnip greens
- Brazil nuts
- Dried beans
- Sardines canned with their soft bones
The body needs approximately 1,000 to 1,500 mg of calcium per day. When taking a calcium supplement, most experts agree that no more than 500 mg of calcium should be taken at one time. The percentage of calcium absorbed decreases as the amount of calcium in the supplement increases. Spreading your doses throughout the day will increase absorption. It may be beneficial to take your calcium supplement in the evening as it has a relaxing effect on the muscles and could even help you sleep better!
As for the best form of calcium to take, there are a lot of opinions and products out there. According to the book, The Bone Building Solution, by Dr. Graci, Dr. Demarco and Dr. Rao, the most clinically proven, soluble and absorbable forms of calcium for human consumption are: calcium bisglycinate, calcium formate and calcium citrate-malate.
The absorption of calcium depends on the level of acidity in the stomach. Insufficient levels of hydrochloric acid (HCL) decrease calcium absorption which can lead to osteoporosis. So be aware that digestive aids (an antacid) promoting their calcium content, not only decrease the amount of gastric acid in your stomach but may make the body unable to absorb the calcium in the tablets.
For optimum absorption, calcium needs to be taken in conjunction with one of the three following vitamins:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
General Tips to Keep in Mind For Good Bone Health
- Proteins are important for the basic framework of the bone.
- Copper, zinc, manganese, silica, boron and selenium are also important co-factors for aiding calcium absorption.
- Vitamins K1, K2 and the presence of “good” intestinal bacteria help maintain your bones.
- Lycopene help bones stay strong and disease-free.
- Fish oil – EPA and DHA – increases calcium absorption and reduces inflammation.
- Weight-bearing exercises that put stress on your bones makes them react and grow stronger.
- Try to achieve an alkaline body – excess acidity promotes bone loss.
- Avoid sodas as they too, promote bone loss.
So what have you done for your bones lately? Would love to hear your comments!