Natural ways to prevent and improve osteoporosis
National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month is observed in May each year. The month is dedicated to raising awareness of bone health and sharing important ways to prevent the disease. In this blog, we explore bone health and osteoporosis including the risk factors and then provide you with natural ways to prevent and improve the condition.
According to Osteoporosis UK, approximately 3.5 million people in the UK have osteoporosis, with a further 12.3 million people estimated to be at risk of developing the condition. Osteoporosis affects women much more than men and one in two women over the age of 50 will break a bone because of it.
According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), osteoporosis is estimated to cost the NHS £2.3 billion per year and falls due to osteoporosis account for over half of all hospital admissions for hip fractures in people over the age of 65. The problem is huge!
What exactly is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a bone disease that develops when bone mineral density and bone mass decreases or when the strength and structure of bone changes or deteriorates, leading to an increased risk of fractures (broken bones). Osteoporosis literally means having ‘porous bones'. Bone is actually an active endocrine organ which means bone is living tissue, constantly being built up and broken down. If the balance of building up and breaking down of bone moves more in favour of break down, bones become weak and brittle and easy to break.
Risk factors for Osteoporosis
Nutrient deficiencies - Insufficient magnesium in the diet is actually a bigger risk factor than low calcium levels. Magnesium has been shown to support and increase bone density because it stimulates a hormone called calcitonin, which helps to preserve bone structure and draws calcium out of the blood and soft tissues back into the bones. Deficiencies in other important nutrients such as boron, Vitamin K2, calcium, manganese, phosphorus and molybdenum also impacts bone health.
Low Vitamin D - Vitamin D is actually a hormone more than it is a ‘vitamin’) is crucial for bone health and deficiency is very common in the UK, especially during the winter. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut and deficiency can result in brittle bones and even rickets. The months of sunshine in the UK each year is likely not enough to support healthy vitamin D levels all year round and so supplementation may be necessary in order to keep levels optimal. Test your levels about every 6 months or so, to inform your ideal daily supplement dose.
Low physical activity and lack of weight bearing exercise - By ‘stressing’ your bones, strength training can increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Sugar and fizzy drinks - Fizzy drinks have been found to block calcium absorption and sugar increases inflammation, which increases bone destruction.
Smoking - Research suggests that tobacco contributes to weaker bones.
Alcohol – Research suggests that two or more alcoholic drinks per day has a negative impact on bone health.
Sex - Women have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis because women have less bone tissue than men. Over 60% of fractures occur in women, usually in the hip, ankle or wrist.
Women with prolonged absence of ovulatory menstrual cycles during their reproductive years - Ovulatory menstrual cycles (where progesterone is made in the second half of the cycle following ovulation) across a woman’s long reproductive lifespan are necessary to prevent osteoporosis and fracture. Each ovulatory cycle is like a deposit into the bank account of long-term health as together, oestrogen and progesterone promote the long-term health of the brain, bones and cardiovascular system. The more exposure to these hormones throughout a woman's reproductive years, the less likely they are to develop osteoporosis as they age.
Menopause – the significant decline in oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone at and post-menopause can lead to bone destruction.
Genetics – those with a family history of the condition are more at risk themselves.
Age - bones become thinner and weaker as you age.
A Functional Medicine Approach to bone health and osteoporosis
A Functional Medicine approach to osteoporosis would focus on the underlying causes of the condition, rather than simply treating the condition itself or the symptoms. This could involve lifestyle modifications such as increasing physical activity, improving nutrition, strategic use of specific supplements (nutraceuticals) and reducing stress. In addition, a functional medicine approach would look at any underlying health issues that may be contributing to the disease and look to address those. This may include factors such as gut health, hormone health including adrenal and thyroid systems, chronic inflammation and nutrient deficiencies. In Functional Medicine, the goal is to restore balance in the body and reduce the risk of further bone loss. As functional medicine experts, this is the approach Junius and this blog takes.
Natural ways to prevent and improve bone health and osteoporosis
1) Eat a nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory diet
Include plenty of omega 3-rich oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, anchovies, trout), plenty of colourful vegetables, berries, herbs and spices and quality, real food sources of protein As well as oily fish (EPA and DHA omega 3 fats), an anti-inflammatory diet consists of beans, lentils, naturally gluten-free whole grains such as oats, buckwheat and quinoa, root vegetables, bright and deeply coloured plants, turmeric, ginger, garlic and all-star extra virgin olive oil used frequently each day! Our mixed box of colour-codes juices and shots provide a daily injection of wonderful anti-inflammatory and protective antioxidants.
2) Take vitamin D and K2
Supplement with a good quality vitamin D alongside about 75 mcg of K2. We like Nutri Advanced D3 and K2 drops. Vitamin K2 supports proper absorption of vitamin D and helps to convert calcium into bone mass rather than allowing it to build up in the arteries (calcification). Test your vitamin D levels twice a year to inform your unique daily vitamin D dose needs.
3) Build muscle!
Nothing is more protective for your bones than having healthy amounts of muscle surrounding them. The more muscle mass you have the less likely you are to break your bones from a fall. Everybody starts to lose 3-5% of their muscle mass every 10 years from age 35, a situation known as sarcopenia. The rate of muscle loss increases with age. Walk daily and strength train 2-4 times per week. Strength training consists of lifting, pushing and pulling (heavy) weights, whatever your age! This can simply be body weight to start off with such as body weight squats, press ups and pull ups. Yoga and pilates are also helpful additions.
4) Increase foods rich in these nutrients:
Calcium - quality cheese such as feta, cottage, manchego and parmesan, natural, full fat yoghurt, tofu and tempeh, sesame seeds and dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, bok choi, kale and broccoli. NOTE: Calcium is best taken in through foods rather than supplementation because taking large amounts of calcium (e.g. through supplementation) without adequate magnesium levels can lead to calcium malabsorption and subsequent deficiency.
Vitamin K2 - eggs (yolks), ghee, dark green leafy vegetables, chicken meat and natto.
Magnesium - dark leafy vegetable, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds
Other important considerations are to reduce alcohol to no more than 1 drink at a time/per day, avoid fizzy drinks, reduce sugar and if you smoke, look into ways to support you to quit.
We hope that you've found this blog informative and helpful and that is has provided you with some practical action steps you can start to put into practice straight away. Start with ONE thing and continue to build on each of the recommendations that apply to you over time. Be in it for the long haul and remember that slow and steady wins the race!