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Blog 2015-01-14 Bone Health

Having heard last week of 2 friends with fractures after a tumble, it got me thinking about bone health.

The image of an old human skeleton hanging in the corner of a science lab can mislead us into thinking that all bones are rigid, dead structures. In fact, when we are alive, our bones are also very much alive too, and are made up of living, growing tissue which is constantly being remodelled; a balance of being broken down and then rebuilt. When the rate of breakdown exceeds that of the rebuild, however, there is a weakening of the bones, a condition known as osteoporosis, which literally means “porous bone”. It has been dubbed the “silent disease” due to its insidious development; its presence usually only being discovered when certain bones become so weak that a fall or even sudden movement or bump, which would normally cause no problem, triggers a fracture.

In our mid 20s, our bones reach their peak density and strength, and as we age, our bones naturally lose density. Post-menopausal women and the elderly are seen as risk groups for osteoporosis, and orthodox advice tends to be to increase calcium as a counter-measure. Dubiously, dairy produce is usually quoted as one of the best sources by doctors and health magazines alike. Interestingly, some countries, for which calcium intake is at its lowest, have some of the fewest incidences of the condition; whereas other countries with a diet high in dairy have some of the highest occurrences. Sadly too, osteoporosis is no longer the preserve of the older generations, as women as young as twenty-something are now falling foul of the condition.

As with any health condition, diet and lifestyle go a long way in preventing it and a holistic approach is best.

Here we just look at a few top tips to keep your bones in good health. Remember that bones are made up of live cells which appreciate just as much TLC as the rest of our cells, so lots of nourishment, hydration and cleansing is the order of the day!

1) Avoid stress as much as possible.

Not only does stress cause acidity (see below) but in order to help with the perceived “emergency”, also leaches calcium out of your bones, which is used as a storehouse for the mineral. Amongst other things, calcium is used to contract muscles, which need to work sixty to the dozen as you run for your life from the sabre-toothed tiger nibbling at your bottom! No sabre-toothed tiger? Tell your cells that. They interpret any stress as a life-and-death situation (historically a tiger) and go into full “fight or flight” mode. Lesson: don’t waste good calcium on stressing over a traffic jam!!           Get my free guide to 80 Stress Busters by popping your name and email in the boxes below. 

2) Nourish all your cells (including bone) on a daily basis with a hydrating, alkalising diet.

If your diet is too acidic, calcium can be drawn from your bones in order to buffer the acidity. Animal proteins (including dairy) tend to be highly acidic; whereas fruit and vegetables are alkaline. A predominantly plant-based diet, rich in lots of vegetables (especially greens) and fruit, is the best diet for bone and other cells alike. Drink plenty of water and avoid stimulants as much as possible (as these cause stress – see (1)). Avoid processed and refined foods, and try to eat organic where possible. Fizzy drinks are a big no-no too as they disturb bone chemistry, leaching calcium. See below for good sources of calcium.

3) Get off your bottom everyday!

If you don’t use it, you lose it. Bones rebuild on demand! By exercising, you are sending the message to those areas which feel the impact most that you need strong bones. Providing you have the ingredients to do so, the structure and density of your bones are adapted accordingly. Brisk walks each day are a good starter, but movement such as running and dancing, as well as weight-bearing exercise also contribute to stronger bones.

4) Hello sunshine! 

Sunshine is the best source of Vitamin D, which helps calcium absorption in the gut. So when the sun makes an appearance, get out there (but don’t daub lots of nasty chemical sunscreen on) and stock up! During the winter it’s a good idea to take a supplement.

5) Don’t go potty on calcium supplements.

If you are worried about weakening bones, it’s only natural to go for a quick fix. Sadly, it’s not as simple as flooding your bones with calcium tablets in the hopes of filling the gaps (literally)!! Weak bones are not so much a problem of calcium deficiency as calcium misplacement.

As we have seen above, calcium can go walkabouts when we are stressed or eat too acidic a diet.

In addition, calcium doesn’t work alone and needs a fair bit of buddy work with the likes of magnesium and other cofactors to go from your plate, via your digestive system, before settling into your bones. Our diets can in fact be quite calcium-rich but magnesium-poor due to deficient soils and processing of foods.

Taking calcium supplements in isolation is not a good idea as the calcium can deposit in tissues such as blood vessels and joints rather than where you intend it.

It’s a good idea to ensure you get plenty of calcium-rich and magnesium-rich plant-based foods in your diet for starters (and as Nature packages things together beautifully, the two can be found a lot of the time together) but if you are still worried, look for a good quality bone health formula which include a range of nutrients.

Some good sources of calcium

Green Leafy Veg (eg. watercress, nettles, parsley, spring greens, kale, broccoli) (Note spinach, chard and beet greens contain oxalic acid which blocks Calcium absorption); Dried fruit (e.g.figs); Nuts (e.g. almonds, brazils); Seeds (e.g. sesame, chia, sunflower, pumpkin); Tahini; Pulses (e.g. lentils, beans); Seaweed; Fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, eat the bones); Olives; Black Strap Molasses; Sprouted pulses/seeds; Quinoa; Chickpeas

Some good sources of magnesium

Green Leafy Veg (e.g. watercress etc); Dried fruit (e.g. apricots, raisins, dates); Brown rice and Millet; Nuts (e.g. cashews, almonds, walnuts, pistachio); Seeds (e.g. sunflower, sesame, chia); Pulses (e.g. lentils, peas and beans); Seaweed (e.g. kelp etc); Banana; Avocado; Quinoa

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