By Jenny Ivy
Second only to teeth, bones are your body’s strongest material. And even though they’re solid, bones are dynamic, living tissue, made mostly from collagen and calcium phosphate, a mineral that hardens bone exterior.
But as you age, existing bone density breaks down faster than new bone is made, increasing risk of osteoporosis, a condition that reduces bone density and raises chance of fractures. Stay strong with naturally minded advice from a physical therapist (Marilyn Moffat, PT, New York University, New York), a nutritionist (Ann Gibson, CHHC, founder, AdventureWellness.com, Boulder, Colorado), and a naturopathic doctor (Justin Pollack, ND, co-owner, Mountain-River Naturopathic Clinic, Frisco, Colorado).
Improve Balance and Posture
Tai chi, yoga, or any exercise that strengthens your legs while testing your balance can decrease fall risk and improve posture. Consult a physical therapist to learn which exercises are safe and appropriate for you.
Weight-bearing exercises activate bone cells called osteoblasts, which form new bones. Climb stairs, hike, bike, or run for at least 30 minutes every day. Walking uphill is also a safe alternative if you cannot do high-impact activity. If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, exercise with a physical therapist’s guidance.
Eliminate Excess Calcium
Calcium isn’t the only player in bone density. In fact, many people actually have too much calcium in their bodies; this can contribute to kidney stones, joint pain, and possibly heart disease. Vitamin K2 regulates excess calcium deposits and supports bone integrity. Try 100 mcg vitamin K2 per day.
Consider getting a blood test for celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes food malabsorption by flattening gut villi, tiny fingerlike projections that aid digestion. Also get tested for gluten sensitivity, which causes gut inflammation and is far more common than celiac disease. And eat high calcium, anti-inflammatory foods such as green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, chard, collards, romaine lettuce, and dandelion).
Foods common in poor diets (pizza, white bread, potato chips, sweets) promote an acidic body environment. To achieve and maintain a healthy, neutral blood pH, your body will scavenge important minerals like calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and silica from more alkaline tissues, such as bone, weakening bones in the process. Limit acidic foods like sugar, grains, dairy, caffeine, and alcohol, and increase pH-balancing vegetables like zucchini and cucumber.
Get More Protein
Collagen, a certain type of protein, forms bones’ scaffolding, enabling them to withstand stress. If you’re protein deficient, bones can become brittle, leading to breakage no matter how much calcium they contain. Get 15 percent to 25 percent of your daily calories from various protein sources. Good choices include organic, grass-fed buffalo; free-range eggs; and sprouted legumes, nuts, and seeds.
If you have osteoporosis, strengthen muscles surrounding your bones to better support your structure. An elastic resistance band is a great way to tailor exercises to your ability, and it’s also gentle on joints and tendons. For example, to strengthen biceps, step on one end of the band with your right foot; hold the other end in your right hand and curl your arm upward. Repeat ten times, and then switch arms.
During sleep, your body repairs and replenishes bone cell supply. Boost your sleep quality by reducing stress. Activities that slow your heart rate promote sleep, so read or meditate before bedtime, or practice yoga several times per week.
The hormones parathyroid, estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol all influence bone health. When one hormone is deficient, it causes a domino effect that imbalances other hormones, diminishing calcium absorption and deteriorating bones. If you’re a menopausal woman or a man with unusually low energy levels, work with an endocrinologist to get your hormone levels tested and to develop a comprehensive hormone balance plan.