We usually only think of our bones when we hurt one, but they are our fundamental structure! They are the literal and entire framework that allows us to move, depending on how well-assembled said frame is - like an interconnected Lego set.
Between 50% and 80% of our bone quality depends on genetics. The remaining percentage, however, has a lot to do with our individual lifestyle (1). That is how we can make things better, or worse. Exercise and nutrition, especially regarding calcium intake, hold the key to giving us the quality of life we want. And it all starts in our bones.
Constant bone regeneration
Throughout our lives we regenerate bone tissue. As the body reabsorbs the old, discarded bone matter, it also forms new bone tissue to replace. This process is permanent and continual and must stay in balance for our bone structure to remain strong (1). However, the alcohol or tobacco consumption, hereditary factors, eating disorders, some medications such as anticonvulsants, anticancer or hormonal drugs, as well as diseases that keep us bedridden for too long or those that cause excessive inflammation in our body, all weaken the bones.
The most common bone deterioration, however, is due to aging, which slows down new bone regeneration the old bone tissue reabsorption in both men and women. For men, it generally occurs due to testosterone reduction. Women are hit hard after menopause, once the ovaries stop producing estrogen – a crucial hormone for bone firmness. Therefore, it is very common for either sex to experience the following in older age:
Osteopenia, which is when new bone tissue is not made as quickly as it deteriorates.
Arthritis, a joint inflammation disease that affects the bone structure by making the extremities, as well as the hips and fingers, stiffer and painful.
Low bone density and osteoporosis. As the bones weaken, they become fragile and susceptible to fractures. Metabolic bone disease is all too common in postmenopausal women... More so than we would like.
Menopause and bones
When we are young, osteoporosis is not something we may not pay much attention to. Once we reach the razor's edge (menopause), then it becomes a very real threat. There is no doubt that osteoporosis is a disease that can greatly deteriorate a woman’s quality of life, even increasing their risk for mortality. According to statistics, between 30% and 40% of adults aged 60 and over have osteoporosis (1). According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, 1 in 3 women worldwide over 50 years of age and 1 in 5 men suffer from osteoporosis-related fractures (2). The most common fractures are in the hip, wrists, or vertebrae.
One of the most widely used therapies to combat the effects of menopause, starting with bone deterioration, is Hormone Therapy. It loses more fans every day, though, because new studies show there are greater health risks involved. Lower doses of estrogen than previously recommended can be used to protect against osteoporosis (3). The use of hormones must be ordered and supervised by a specialist to ensure the results outweigh any potential risks.
The best options to support bone health and maintain firm, strong, healthy bones include nutrition, physical activity, and adequate supplements. In the latter, calcium is king.
Choose foods rich in calcium
Bone formation requires different substances such as collagen, vitamin D, probiotics, phosphate, and calcium. Calcium is the key, working together with the other supplements to keep bones healthy. Some studies show that increasing calcium intake does not modify bone mineral content too much. However, the slightest improvement it produces greatly decreases the chances of developing osteoporosis and fractures (1). The recommended dosage is generally 1200-1300 mg of calcium per day for women over 65 years of age (4).
Therefore, the major focus for bone protection should be on products containing calcium, which is needed to keep the skeleton well mineralized (5). There are foods that contain greater amounts than others. Among the best options are:
Dairy products because milk calcium is better absorbed. Those who suffer from lactose intolerance can use lactose-free milk or soy products, which are excellent sources of calcium. For women especially, soy contains phytoestrogens, which are plant versions of estrogens and help absorb calcium (6).
Fish such as salmon and sardines. (1)
Sesame seeds, almond butter, chickpeas, black beans, and vegetables like broccoli or Brussels sprouts. (1)
Since most of the population fails to consume the suggested daily amount of calcium required, research has shown that, aside from diet, daily supplementation is needed to maintain adequate levels of calcium that make an actual difference in bone quality. (7)
Calcium + Phosphate: the inseparable duo
Healthy bone mass cannot be achieved without the combination of these two elements working together to keep bones mineralized. They both form bone mineral, which binds to collagen fibers to maintain bone health. Increased phosphate improves calcium reabsorption and balance within the kidney. It is also involved in the maturation of bone cells and in the production of vitamin D, among other processes. The best way to obtain it in the right amounts is by consuming dairy products. (8)
Support calcium absorption with vitamin D
If the body does not get enough vitamin D, calcium cannot be properly absorbed. Calcium does not do much good on its own. Most of our vitamin D intake should come from the sun. Since this is not always possible, supplementation (between 500 and 900 IU daily) is often necessary. (4)
Prebiotics and their support for calcium
Studies have shown a surprising increase in calcium absorption in postmenopausal women who consume prebiotics. This opens huge avenues of study for the possible impact of prebiotics on calcium regulation and bone loss (9). Check out our blog on prebiotics to learn how to take them.
We must not forget that an important part of calcium absorption and maintenance lies in keeping all the body’s gears healthy and strong. This includes bones, muscles, joints, and tendons. Thirty minutes of daily exercise is essential for keeping osteoporosis at bay, and to maintain a good quality of life (10) – what we all want!
Together, we are healthier!
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