Eating for strong bones!

Busy week for me! Starting to get more hours at work now that my leg is starting to feel better- feels good to be so productive again! I’ve been doing lots of cooking also; I’ve successfully made breaded oyster mushrooms, pad Thai, pizza (my boyfriend did all of the work on that one Smile with tongue out) and tom yum soup… stay tuned for when I start posting up recipes! I’m feeling quite a bit stronger climbing lately and am feeling more and more confident with one legged climbing and training. It will be interesting to see how all of this arms mostly climbing with one leg will translate after my cast comes off. Probably my biggest news is that I’m finally approaching the date that my cast comes off, this coming Thursday!! Although I may just be promoted to a walking cast, it will be amazing to be able to take showers without a bag, sleep comfortably,have my hands while I’m walking (I’ll finally be able to carry my cup of coffee to the next room over!), navigate the ice easier, drive a vehicle AND exfoliate all of that dead skin that I’m sure will be abundant after 6 weeks in a cast! I foresee a serious life improvement in 4 days time- CANNOT WAIT!!

Here’s another picture of me climbing in Kentucky back in November Smile

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As many of you may know, I had a bit of an accident at the beginning of February and found myself with a broken leg and torn ligaments. While my recovery has had its ups and downs, I’m now on the mend and am looking at switching out of my current cast this coming Thursday. During this phase of bone rebuilding, I thought it would be fitting to write an article on how we can use our diet to support strong bones. Enjoy!

Bone is a dynamic organ, constantly being renewed and remodelled by degradation and formation. It plays many roles in the body, including structure, mobility and calcium storage. While there are many influences on bone density, for example strength training, smoking and overall activity level, what we eat plays a significant role on our bone health. Furthermore, how much bone mass we are able to establish before about age 30, at about our peak bone mass, determines our likelihood of osteoporosis as we age. When we think about bone building foods, we tend to think about calcium rich foods (1000-1200 mg daily is the current recommendations), which is not only rich in many dairy products (Questionable bone effects, but let’s leave that for another post), it is widely present in the foods we eat and rarely lacking in our diet. Instead of focussing on getting more calcium for stronger bones, nutrients that allow us to better absorb and utilize this mineral could be a better route. With that said, how can we eat to support our overall bone health?

1) Eat more fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds!

Fruit, vegetable, nut and seed consumption enhance bone health in a number of ways and have been consistently associated with greater bone density. They are rich in antioxidants (e.g. vitamin A, vitamin E, Vitamin C, carotenoids, etc.) and help protect our bones against reactive oxygen species, which directly contributes to bone loss. Phytochemicals (e.g. flavonoids), which often act as antioxidants, are chemicals in plants that have biological significance. In the case of bone health, they have been demonstrated to both indirectly and directly reduce bone degradation and support bone growth and are associated with a greater bone density. Another bone building component of plant-based foods, particularly in leafy greens, nuts, seeds and bananas, is magnesium, a vital nutrient in calcium homeostasis. In fact, about 60% of the magnesium present in the human body lies within our bones. In order for calcium to be assimilated to our bones, a balance of both vitamin D and magnesium is essential and when either is missing, calcium intake (especially in the supplemental form) can actually result in some pretty severe health risks. For example, aside from a higher risk of osteoporosis, calcium without vitamin D (or with too much) and magnesium can result in a calcification of our blood vessels, putting us at a higher risk of heart disease. In conjunction with daily vitamin D3, we should be aiming for approximately 400mg of magnesium daily (RDA is 420mg/day in men and 320mg/day for women), which is an easy feat with more fruit, veggie, nut and seed consumption. Plant based foods also contain a wide spectrum of water soluble B vitamins, which have been reported to have skeletal benefits via their action on homocysteine. Low serum B vitamin concentrations, particularly folate, have been demonstrated to be a risk factor for decreased bone health. Aside from vitamin B12 (typically derived from animal products but can also be found in certain yeasts and fortified foods), B vitamins are also widely available in diets rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

2) Eat foods rich in vitamin K!

Vitamin K is best known for its function in the blood coagulation pathway, but it also plays a role in bone metabolism and has been associated with greater bone densities. The major forms of this fat soluble vitamin are phylloquinone (vitamin K1), found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and menaquinone (vitamin K2), produced by bacteria and found in fermented foods such as yoghurt and natto (fermented soy). Vitamin K allows our bones to integrate calcium, in turn preventing vessel calcification (a factor for chronic disease), reduces bone degradation and may support collagen production. The AI for vitamin K1 is 120mg/day for men and 90mg/day for women, which can be achieved by incorporating more leafy greens. While K2 may be more biologically active, there is currently not enough data to provide a dietary recommendation. Either way, incorporating more fermented foods into your diet would be a good way of getting more K2. One last note; since vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin, consuming vitamin K rich foods with a bit of fat may optimize their absorption. Take home point; eat more fermented foods and leafy greens and consume them with healthy fats (e.g. fat from fish, nuts, coconut oil, olive oil, etc.).

3) Drink less cola!

Cola consumption has been associated with lower bone density, particularly in women. While these bone influences could be derived from a number of factors, including their caffeine and sugar content or maybe even acidity, some evidence has pointed the finger at phosphoric acid. Phosphorus itself is an important bone mineral and plays a pivotal role in energy metabolism. Problems typically arise when we get too much compared to calcium via an interference with calcium absorption and excretion. In order to maintain blood calcium, tightly regulated because of to its importance in things like nerve function and muscle contraction, calcium will be stolen from our bone to keep blood levels in check, resulting in bone loss. For example, in a recent study of Brazilian men and women, an increase in phosphorus intake was related to higher fracture rates (9 % increase in fracture per 100 mg intake of phosphorus in the diet). Researchers at Tufts University, found that women who regularly drank cola-based sodas (3 drinks daily) had almost 4% lower bone mineral density in the hip, even with controlled levels of calcium and vitamin D intake (not found in non-cola soft drinkers). The darker the soda, the higher the phosphorous composition, with approximately 41mg in 240mL of coca-cola, helping achieve that tangy cola taste. Something to consider is that cola phosphorus composition is quite low compared to dairy and meats (e.g. milk has roughly 200mg in 240 mL), adding some confusion to the phosphorous hypothesis. In any case, avoiding soda, particularly cola’s, would be a good and easy step to help maintain healthy bones.

4) Catch some rays!

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in calcium metabolism. While it can be found in two forms, D2 (ergocalceiferol) from plants and D3 (cholecalciferol) from animals, vitamin D3 is the only form used in the human body. While we can get some vitamin D from our diets, in fortified foods, dairy, mushrooms and some meat products, sunshine is our most reliable source to prevent deficiencies. Vitamin D can be produced by our skin following sun exposure and ultimately, like vitamin D derived from our diet, produce calcitriol, a metabolite that acts like a hormone to regulate blood calcium and phosphate, promoting bone growth, calcium absorption in our intestines, and sufficient blood calcium. Adequate vitamin D can be achieved in the summer by spending about 8 minutes outside with exposed skin. This time frame can increase to up to 50 minutes during the winter time, particularly in the northern hemisphere. Since time in the cold with bare skin would be uncomfortable to say the least, supplementation with about 1000 IU/day through winter months would be a good option to ensure adequate intakes. In a recent study in a Boston hospital, about 42% of the adolescent patients that were examined had a deficiency and an estimated 1 billion people world-wide aren’t getting enough, highlighting the importance of supplementation throughout the winter time.

Bone health is an important part of our wellbeing, especially as we age. It’s never too late to start eating to support strong and healthy bones!

Calvo M, Uribarri J. (2013) Public health impact of dietary phosphorus excess on bone and cardiovascular health in the general population. Am J Clin Nutr.98(1):6-15.

Hamidi M et. Al. (2013) Vitamin K and Bone Health. J Clinl Densi 16 (4):413.

Hanley D, Whiting S (2013) Does a High Dietary Acid Content Cause Bone Loss, and Can Bone Loss Be Prevented With an Alkaline Diet? J Clin Dens 16(4):425.

Nieves J. (2013) Skeletal effects of nutrients and nutraceuticals, beyond calcium and vitamin D. Osteoporos Int 24:771–786.

Shen C et. Al. (2012) Fruits and dietary phytochemicals in bone protection. Nutr Research 32:897-910.

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9 comments on “Eating for strong bones!

  1. Take care and bet you can’t wait for the cast to come off! I broke my collar bone last year (my first ever broken anything and hospital stay) and it certainly made me appreciate all the things you take for granted such as scratching!

  2. Pat(ricia) says:

    I’m new to your site, but I am truly impressed. Not only do you present well written and versed and researched articles, but they are easily readable and accessible. And the fact that you also share your life makes it all the more interesting. I sincerely hope “cast removal” day is wonderful and that you reap the benefits of being set free ;)

  3. Great info on your blog about bone health, really useful. My partner suffers from osteoporosis and it will be a big help for him, thank you for visiting strawberriesinthedesert and enjoy your freedom when that cast comes off! best wishes Deb

  4. MissFit says:

    Brilliant as always!
    ANd yes, those first moments of exfoliation are actually blissful. truly. I had a cast on my hand and arm a few years ago and I can confirm first-hand you will enjoy every second of it

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