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Dietary Strategies for Healthier Bones

Dietary Strategies for Healthier Bones
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Bone is a living tissue that naturally and continuously breaks down (osteoclastic activity) and is replaced (osteoblastic activity). Peak bone mass is achieved at around age 30 with breakdown accelerating thereafter. If sufficient bone mass and microstructure is lost, an individual may be diagnosed with a condition known as osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can affect both men and women; however, the condition is significantly more common in women, particularly following menopause in response to hormonal shifting. There is presently no cure for osteoporosis, rather the current treatment approach is to slow the disease process. One such approach involves dietary strategies.

The current literature suggests the following types of food should be avoided in individuals with or at risk for osteoporosis: high-sodium foods like bread/rolls, sandwiches, pizza, soups, lunch meat, burritos, tacos, chicken, cheese, eggs, chips, and pretzels; red and processed meat (especially with high levels of saturated fat and omega-6 fatty acids) like beef, hamburger, hot dogs, sausage, and bacon; ultra-processed food products; sugary, caffeinated, and/or alcoholic beverages; oxalate-rich foods like leafy greens and legumes (soaking or boiling can remove oxalates); and wheat bran. Each of these food and beverage choices may have one or more of the following effects on bone health: increased calcium excretion in urine, increased bone resorption, increased inflammation, reduced calcium absorption, and calcium leaching from bone. Unfortunately, these types of food and drink are characteristic of the typical Western diet.

On the other hand, an eating pattern like the Mediterranean diet that focuses on fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish, olive oil, and whole grains while avoiding red and processed meats, dairy, saturated fats, and refined sugars may benefit bone health. It’s been observed that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with less bone loss in the hip, higher bone mineral density in the lumbar spine, and a lower risk for developing osteoporosis. It’s suspected these benefits are linked to reduced bone resorption, reduced oxidative stress and inflammation, and improved calcium absorption. Studies also support the use of vitamin D and calcium supplements for healthier bones.

Ultimately, dietary changes alone may not be enough for individuals with or at risk for osteoporosis to reduce their risk for serious bone fractures.  Additional lifestyle choices include not smoking, spending more time outdoors in parks and nature, engaging in weightbearing exercises, lifting weights, and getting sufficient quality sleep each night. If you’re fortunate enough to be reading this at a young age, be sure to exercise during adolescence, including participating in high-impact sports, which may provide life-long bone health benefits.

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