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Our bones hold us together, essentially the structural framework of the whole body. Bones are light, yet strong, mineralised tissues, forming part of a sophisticated system of levers, allowing us to move around with ease.
Bone consists of 70% minerals, such as calcium, and 30% collagen. The collagen and mineral components are responsible for the major functional characteristics of bone. Collagen is often overlooked as a vital organic aspect of bone, which gives it flexible strength, whereas the mineral components ensure bones are rigid, ensuring weight-bearing strength. It’s when there is a lack of collagen and essential minerals our bones can become overly flexible, and brittle.
So what causes this change and dysfunction of our bones?
The mineral content of our bones is measured as Bone Mineral Density (BMD). Lower levels leave the bone more vulnerable to fractures and bone conditions such as osteopenia, which can then develop to osteoporosis.1 The collagen content directly affects BMD, so when it is reduced, the mechanisms and structural strength of the bone are affected. The synthesis process of collagen can be impaired however, by exposure to toxins, through our environment, smoking, infection, poor diet, high levels of stress or lack of exercise.
The Calcium Conundrum:
We know calcium as one of the most important nutrients for healthy bones. However, balance is key as you can have too much as well as too little calcium. Our body works hard to regulate calcium for this reason. Levels that are too high can cause the body to then compensate by increasing the urinary output to bring the calcium levels back down. When calcium levels are too low, perhaps due to poor diet or taking calcium depleting medications, the body may leach calcium already present within the bones to help increase and maintain calcium levels.
Risk factors of lower bone mineral density include:
So how can we support our bones?
It is important that we have sufficient intake of all the co-factors we need for healthy bones, such as the raw materials mentioned previously, including calcium, magnesium, boron, silicon (e.g. present in the herb, horsetail), vitamin K and D. The best place to start is with a healthy diet. Despite the widespread misconceptions, dairy products can be a good source of bone supporting nutrients. 15,16 However, it is important that it is good quality and organic, and not consumed in excess. If you’re avoiding dairy/lactose due to an allergy/intolerance or vegan diet, there are plenty of other good, if not better sources of calcium: sardines, sesame seeds, collard greens, spinach, kale, swiss chard, broccoli and tofu. Ensuring that you’re having enough protein in your diet is another essential factor for collagen especially. High quality meat, nuts, seeds, wholefood protein powders, pulses and vegetables are all excellent sources.
Reduce stress! Working on healthy work-life balance, taking up hobbies, yoga, meditation or deep breathing exercises can all be supportive. Making sure you are getting enough sleep can also reduce stress and help to balance our blood sugar levels, which has a direct impact on bone mineral density.17 Gentle regular exercise is also important for stress relief and for healthy bone density. Resistance exercise in particular is useful such as using ankle weights during the day for constant gentle exercise, or using a trampoline once a day are easy and excellent ways to put gentle pressure on your bones.
Healthy digestion, healthy bones! Including gut loving foods in your diet is really useful. Prebiotic foods e.g. leeks, onions and garlic or probiotic foods e.g sauerkraut and kefir, can help to keep your gut in check. Last but not least, organic bone broth is excellent for a source of proteins, collagen and minerals to support your bones.
Finally, supplementation can be a good way to ensure sufficient levels of bone and collagen supporting nutrients. We suggest the following top tips:
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3 Sato Y et al. Vitamin K deficiency and osteopenia in disuse-affected limbs of vitamin D-deficient elderly stroke patients. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 1999;78(4):317-22.
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