Calcium, calcium, calcium! Television ads, cafeteria posters, and billboards are constantly harassing us to down another glass of milk, because dairy equals calcium which equals healthy bones. America’s sitting at number three for global milk consumption, so we obviously have these bone matters under control, right? Well, truth be told, the campaign against bone disease hasn’t come close to the success of all those Got Milk ads. America has 10 million people coping with osteoporosis, and another 50 million teetering on the edge of bone disease. Our parents and grandparents were told that dairy was the answer, but it’s clear that bone health takes more than an extra cup of yogurt. Here’s a guide to bone health for today’s generation.
The Bone Down: Why Should You Care?
We have all kinds of advanced tests and technologies around these days, but they don’t mean much when it comes discovering bone loss. Our blood requires a constant supply of calcium to take care of muscular function, clotting, balancing pH, and so on. When our diet falls short of our calcium needs, our cells make up the difference by pulling it out of our bones. Years and years of this leads to low mass and density, which makes for weak and brittle bones.
Osteoporosis, a degeneration and weakening of bones, is a health problem that millions are at risk for. Women should pay extra attention as it’s projected that half of females over 50 will suffer a broken bone from osteoporosis. Men have it a little easier, but a quarter of males 50 and over are at the same risk, so prevention is something we all need to think about.
Embed this on your site
This comes as no surprise, but diet plays a HUGE role in bone health. Foods like meat, dairy, and sugar can wreak havoc on our bodies because they’re acid-forming foods that threaten our extra-sensitive pH balance. Fortunately for us, calcium is able to maintain equilibrium with its alkaline nature, but that means making trips to the bone bank for a calcium withdrawal. Long story short, all meat and no veggies makes Johnny a calcium-depleted boy.
We all know dairy can get us a quick dose of calcium, but there are other options worthy of our kitchen. Collards, Broccoli Rabe, Bok Choy, Sardines, and even figs and oranges will give you a hearty (or should I say bony) dose of calcium. The National Academy of Sciences recommends that adults ages 19-50 hit 1,000mg a day, so take a few days to monitor your calcium intake. Once you have an idea of what a bone healthy diet looks like, you can find ways to easily meet those daily needs.
Getting your sweat on does more than strengthen and tone your muscle. It develops your bones too! When you move your body against the forces of gravity, you’re putting strain on your body. Our bones respond to this subtle strain by building density. That’s great news when it comes to bone health because higher density makes for stronger bones that are more resistant to breakage.
Get to work strength-training those bones! Everything from light walking to heavy weight-lifting will firm up your calcified tissues. The more weight you bear the more bones will densify, so put that fancy equipment to use or get creative with fun and easy weight alternatives.
Healthy bones take more than just calcium. When it comes to maintaining calcium levels, Vitamin D is the boss. This bad boy boasts a list of health benefits, but it’s especially important for bones because it helps our bodies with calcium absorption.
Sad as it is, you really can’t hit your daily needs with diet. You can always pick up a good Vitamin D supplement (which may actually be a necessity if you’re deficient or living up North), but this essential nutrient is available for free. All it takes is some sunlight!
The general rule of thumb is to get 15-20 minutes of sunshine a day, but that figure will vary depending on skin color, time of day, season, and location. Supplements, sunlight, or both, aim your daily target for 800-2,0oo IU.
Omega-3 fatty acids can actually help rebuild bones. Studies have shown that Omega-3’s can maintain bone mass, and perhaps even increase it. Calcium seems to be more easily absorbed with the help of Omega-3’s, and bone strength and growth boosted. There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA, and DHA (the most important). The notable Dr. Weil recommends aiming for a daily intake of 700-1,000 mg of EPA and 200-500 mg of DHA.
Just about everyone knows that fatty fish = fatty acids, but you can get your daily dose of EPA and DHA without stinking up your kitchen. There’s plenty of plant-based sources shining in fatty acidness. Hemp, chia, flax and sesame seeds are some of the highest sources, and they can be added to everything from oatmeal to desserts. Try tossing them into your next smoothie or protein shake for a quick and easy omega fix.
This vitamin is popular for its role in blood clotting, but science is showing that Vitamin K is an important cofactor in strong bones. Studies suggest that Vitamin K aids in regulating calcium as well as forming bones, and research in Japan has shown that it can even reverse bone loss and boost bone mass.
Dark leafy greens are the answer to your Vitamin K needs. Kale, Spinach, and Collards are loaded with K, with honorable mentions going out to fellow greens like Broccoli and Brussel Sprouts. Our daily target sits at 90 micrograms for women and 120 micrograms for men.
Make It Happen
Bone disease may be a problem for millions, but a healthy lifestyle can make all the difference for us. And it can be so easy! What do you do to make bone health a simple part of your lifestyle?