These days we have so many health concerns to think about that many women who haven’t suffered from a bone fracture or been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia are of the mind that, if it isn’t broken, why fix it?
Well, one good reason to stay on top of bone health is that osteoporosis is one of those serious health concerns that you can actually prevent — and in some cases even reverse. This may seem surprising given the marketing campaigns of drug manufacturers that say you can only prevent bone fractures by using their products. But the truth is, a natural approach to bone health that combines good nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle changes can strengthen bone and reverse bone loss — even in a person diagnosed with osteoporosis.
But beyond osteoporosis and fracture risk, bone plays a central role in the body’s health, and nurturing your bones at any age will benefit your body on several levels. Many women don’t know that bone is crucial in helping maintain a balance of blood nutrients. For example, calcium is quickly drawn out of bone if blood calcium levels drop to a threatening level. Bone acts as a repository for other needed minerals and nutrients too, and manages the crucial acid-base balance in your blood, all the while producing your blood cells.
The rest of the body depends on this vital, active tissue for survival. And one of the amazing aspects of bone is that it always puts the rest of your body before itself, giving of itself not only to support us, but also giving of its own nutrients and resources to maintain chemical balances in the body. This is why I refer to bone as “the great giver.” Let’s take a closer look at how integral bones are to a healthy body and how you can support your bones at any age.
It’s true — without bones, we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on
Bone is a pretty amazing tissue, a clever creation of nature that gives more than structure to the body. Our bones, all 206 of them, are the hardest of all our tissues. They give form and rigidity to our bodies, allowing us to sit, stand straight, and walk. Bone also serves to protect our vital organs and soft tissue from damage by the outside world. The ribs, for example, are a sort of armor that protects the heart and lungs from blows and injury, just as the skull acts as a bony box protecting the fragile brain. So bone gives the body form, rigidity, protection, and locomotion.
We wouldn’t be able to stand without our bones. This is true in the literal and figurative sense. Everything we do, from our beating hearts to simply being able to walk down the street, is connected to bone. For many women, it might seem as if holding us up and getting us from point A to point B are the most important roles for bone. These roles are certainly important, but there is much more to our bones than meets the eye.
Percentage of nutrients stored in bones
- Calcium (in bones & teeth) 99% +
- Phosphorus 85%
- Magnesium 53%
- Zinc (in bone and muscle) 90%
- Copper 30%
- Strontium (in bones & teeth) 99%
An incubator for blood cells
Each second, our bodies produce some 2.4 million red blood cells. These red blood cells are produced inside bone, in the nine ounces of bone marrow our bodies contain. Bone is an active manufacturing plant requiring a constant supply of nutrients to produce this extraordinary number of red blood cells. Nutrients flow in and out of bone ceaselessly and in return the body receives the oxygen it needs through red blood cells.
Our white blood cells, which are central to the immune system, are also produced in bone marrow, among other places in the body. In fact, the monocytes and granulocytes produced in our bones have the unique ability to seek out and clear foreign substances in our bodies. So we see how healthy bone is needed for the operations of our immune systems, not to mention for oxygenating every organ and tissue in the body!
Bone provides the gift of mineral reserves
In addition to blood cells, bone holds onto many of your minerals. Like a generous bank, your bones store large amounts of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and copper, and release these minerals when the body needs them. It makes sense that your mineral stores would reside within the bone because crystal compounds — made up of these minerals — provide our bones with the strength and rigidity we depend on. But the body has also created mechanisms for releasing specific minerals into the blood as the body needs them.
The level of blood calcium for example, must be kept within a very precise range for the heart to beat, for nerve transmission to occur, for the blood to clot, and in order to activate enzymes. Even a small drop in blood calcium causes the nerves and muscles to go into autonomic discharge, producing involuntary muscles spasms. Calcium, in fact, is reported to be the most fundamental regulator of intracellular processes, and its role in the blood always takes precedence over its role inside bone. Our bodies have evolved so that when calcium levels drop in the blood, a series of reactions lead to drawing calcium out of the bone for compensation.
Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral found in our bones. It serves all cells in the body by carrying out phosphorylation, which is particularly important in energy production. Phosphorus is also required for the body to activate certain enzymes, hormones, and for cell signaling. Magnesium also stored in bone, helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, while aiding in blood sugar and blood pressure regulation. In fact, magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in our bodies, and over half of it is found in our bones.
Like those minerals mentioned above, zinc and copper are also essential for the body to function. Zinc is present in all organs, tissues, fluids, and secretions of the body. Zinc is the most abundant intracellular trace element, and functions as an essential cofactor in more than 200 critical enzymatic reactions. Copper, also a trace mineral, serves as a cofactor facilitating critical enzymatic reactions. Copper is essential for the development of healthy blood cells and critical for collagen formation.
If our bones didn’t keep a reserve of these minerals, we would have to eat an exact amount of each mineral daily — or even hourly — to make sure our cells could carry out their necessary reactions. We would also have difficult time maintaining the proper pH in our blood.
Bone and your acid-base balance
Just as the body requires balanced levels of calcium in the blood, we must also maintain a slightly basic (or alkaline) pH in the blood in order to carry out cellular functions. Unfortunately, our modern American diet sets many of us up for chronic low-grade acidosis, meaning the blood is slightly more acidic than it should be. This happens largely because of the acid-forming foods we consume on a regular basis, such as meat, white flour, sugar, and dairy products. And this imbalance increases risks for osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and more.
The four corners of bone health
- Eat a balanced diet. Eating a balanced diet full of fresh vegetables, fruits and quality sources of protein, and fat is the first step to bone health.
- Supplement with all the essential nutrients. Supplements that include all the essential bone nutrients, like those we offer in the Better Bones Package are a great way to start supporting and repairing your bones. This will not only keep the living protein matrix of your bones flexible and strong, but it will also provide an abundant store of minerals so that your bones won’t suffer if they have to give away resources to the rest of the body.
- Eat an alkaline diet. An alkaline diet can lessen the burden on your bones — and your body — by helping to keep the blood at the slightly alkaline level at which it functions best.
- Exercise. Weight bearing exercise is another way to build your bone. The impact we experience during exercise can stimulate osteoblasts, our bone building cells, to make more bone.
The amazing thing is that bone can balance the pH of the blood by moving minerals into blood and alkalizing compounds attached to the minerals. When the blood tilts away from its ideal slightly alkaline state, due to acid-forming foods or otherwise, a message is sent to bone to release alkalizing compounds and re-establish pH balance in the blood.
Bone will always give to help other systems at its own expense. This is why I call bone a “great giver!” Unfortunately, problems arise when too much of the bone is depleted to compensate for other inadequacies in the body. When bone is regularly drawn upon it eventually weakens, and the rest of the body suffers. Needless, low trauma fractures are an obvious outcome of low mineral reserves. But unfortunately there are further implications. As I mentioned above, our bone health influences just about every system in the body, and when the bones remain healthy, the rest of the body often follows suit.
Optimal bones, optimal health
The benefits of improving your diet and lifestyle are not limited to bone health and preventing osteoporosis. Natural approaches to building bone will benefit your entire body in remarkable ways. Healthy bones provide you with more energy, strength, flexibility and vitality. And natural measures taken to support strong bones are linked with better health overall. For example, by optimizing your vitamin D status you will help protect yourself from a broad range of diseases, including 15 types of cancer, auto-immune disease, diabetes, heart disease and depression.
Exercise is another bone-building element that benefits your entire body. For example, a Finnish study of twins found that if one twin exercised regularly by taking at least two brisk 30-minute walks per week, that twin was 44% less likely to die during the 17-year study period than his or her more sedentary sibling. Even more impressive, Penn State researchers studying the effects of strength training were able to make 95-year-olds as strong as 55 year olds and a 65-year-old as physically fit as a healthy 30-year-old with strength training.
Eating an alkaline or “basic” diet can improve health on several levels as well. An alkaline diet preserves not only bone, but also muscle, and sets the milieu for overall optimum biochemical functioning, renewed and lasting energy, and overall enhanced wellness. I’ve seen it again and again and we now have research to prove it.
Work with your bones for lasting health
Paying attention to the needs of our bones can have far-reaching health benefits. After years of research and working with patients, I now know that the best way to build bone health is by working with and maximizing nature’s intelligence, rather than by trying to override or improve upon it. And you don’t need to take bone density medications or hormone replacement therapy — improving your bone health is something you can do, yourself, today, simply by making a commitment to give your bones what they need.
There is an established connection between healthy bone and balanced nutrition — including adequate amounts of the 20 key bone-building nutrients — an alkaline diet, and exercise. Your bones are living tissue and like other living tissues, they function best if nourished and supported. It makes sense to start caring for your bones as early as possible, but you will see benefits at any age. Even nursing home residents are able to build bone with simple exercises and simple nutrient supplementation. If you plan to live a long, active, and productive life, my advice is to support your “great giver” now. Take care of your bones now and they will take care of you later!
1 US Department of Health and Human Services. 2004. Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General. URL: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/osteoporosisandbonehealth/ (accessed 10.14.2008).
2 Guyton, A., & Hall, J. 2006. Textbook of Medical Physiology, 11th ed., 429. Philadelphia: WB Saunders.
3 Shils, M., et al., eds. 2005. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 10th ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
4 Higdon, J. 2003. Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Phosphorus. URL: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/phosphorus/ (accessed 06.23.2008).
5 Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health. 2005. Magnesium. URL: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/magnesium.asp (accessed 06.23.2008).
6 Brown, S. 2006. Bone nutrition. In Scientific Evidence for Musculoskeletal, Bariatric, and Sports Nutrition, ed. I. Kohlstadt. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis.
7 Brown, S., & Trivieri, L. 2006. The Acid–Alkaline Food Guide. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers.
Cannell, J., et al. 2008. Diagnosis and treatment of vitamin D deficiency. Expert Opin. Pharmacother., 9 (1), 107–118. URL (abstract): http://www.informapharmascience.com/doi/abs/10.1517/14656518.104.22.168 (accessed 06.23.2008).
Lappe, J., et al. 2007. Vitamin D and calcium supplementation reduces cancer risk: Results of a randomized trial. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 85 (6), 1586–1591. URL: http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/85/6/1586 (accessed 06.23.2008).
Holick, M. 2004. Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers and cardiovascular disease. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 80 (6 Suppl.), 1678S–1688S. URL: http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/80/6/1678S (accessed 06.23.2008).
Zitterman, A. 2003. Vitamin D in preventive medicine: Are we ignoring the evidence? Br. J. Nutr., 89 (5), 552–572. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12720576 (accessed 06.23.2008).
9 Kujala, U., et al. 1998. Relationship of leisure-time physical activity and mortality: The Finnish Twin Cohort. JAMA, 279 (6), 440–444. URL: http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/279/6/440 (accessed 06.23.2008).
10 Evans, W. 1992. Exercise, nutrition and aging. J. Nutr., 122 (3 Suppl.), 796-801. URL (PDF): http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/reprint/122/3_Suppl/796 (accessed 06.23.2008).
11 New, S. 2003. Intake of fruits and vegetables: Implications for bone health. Proc. Nutr. Soc., 62, 889–899. URL (PDF): http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FPNS%2FPNS62_04%2FS0029665103001162a.pdf&code=37ed3b3767f974e715bc15f69c7fae16 (accessed 06.23.2008).
Sebastian, A., et al. 1994. Improved mineral balance and skeletal metabolism in postmenopausal women treated with potassium bicarbonate. NEJM, 330 (25), 1776–1781. URL: http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/abstract/330/25/1776 (accessed 06.23.2008).
12 Smith, E., et al. 1981. Physical activity and calcium modalities for bone mineral increases in aged women. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., 13 (1), 60–64. URL (abstract): www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7219137 (accessed 06.23.2008).