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Osteoporosis and Nutrition

Article Summary

Renata Trister DO

Osteoporosis is a disease that thins and weakens the bones. Osteoporosis is characterized by fragile bone and an increased risk fractures. Women and men with osteoporosis most often break bones in the hip, spine, and wrist, but any bone can be affected. You can’t “catch” osteoporosis or give it to someone else. In the United States, more than 40 million people either already have osteoporosis or are at high risk due to low bone mass (osteopenia), placing them at risk for more serious bone loss and fractures. . An estimated 1 in 2 women and 1 in 8 men over age 50 will suffer a bone fracture due to osteoporosis in their lifetime. Although osteoporosis can strike at any age, it is most common among older people, especially older women.

Bone is living tissue. Throughout our lives, the body breaks down old bone and replaces it with new bone. But as people age, more bone is broken down than is replaced. The inside of a bone normally looks like a honeycomb, but when a person has osteoporosis, the spaces inside this honeycomb become larger, reflecting the loss of bone density and strength. The outside of long bones — called the cortex — also thins, further weakening the bone. In fact, the word “osteoporosis” means “porous bone.” Osteoporosis is often called “silent” because bone loss occurs without symptoms. People may not know that they have osteoporosis until a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a bone to break. This can result in a trip to the hospital, surgery, and possibly long-term disability. Fortunately, experts agree that this type of suffering may be preventable. Studies show that lifetime maintenance of adequate nutrient intake, including calcium and other nutrients important to bone health, along with regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis.

Are You at Risk?

There are a variety of factors – both controllable and uncontrollable – that put you at risk for developing osteoporosis.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

Being over age 50.
​​Being female.
​​Family history of osteoporosis.
​​Low body weight/being small and thin.
​​Broken bones or height loss.

Controllable Risk Factors

​ ​Not getting enough Calcium, Vitamin D, Magnesium
​​Unhealthy diet, with not enough vegetables.
​​Consuming too much protein, caffeine and sodium.
​​Sedentary lifestyle.
​Prolonged use of some medications (corticosteroids, antacids)

Can Osteoporosis Be Prevented?

There are many steps you can take to help keep your bones healthy. To help keep your bones strong and slow down bone loss, you can:

Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.


Not drink in excess or smoke.

Calcium: What are the Recommendations?

The Reference Daily Intake (RDI) provides recommendations for daily nutrient requirements. The current RDI for calcium is 1,000 mg per day. Unfortunately, about 65% of the U.S. population consumes less than the RDI for calcium.

The ability to absorb calcium declines with age in both men and women. Certain medications, and nutrient deficiencies (e.g., vitamin D, magnesium) can interfere with calcium absorption. Hypochlorhydria, a condition of low gastric acid production, can also impair calcium absorption and is quite common in the elderly. Patients encountering any of these factors may need to make dietary adjustments and be sure they are consuming forms of calcium that are easily absorbed.

Gluten Intolerance and Bone Loss

Chronic gas, nausea, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and brain fog could all be signs of gluten intolerance. Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley. According to statistics from the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, an average of one out of every 133 otherwise healthy people in the United States suffer from celiac disease but previous studies have found this number could be as high as 1 in 33 in at-risk populations.

Those with undiagnosed gluten intolerance often have malabsorption of nutrients due to chronic intestinal damage. This means that your body is unable to optimally take nutrients from food and distribute them throughout your body. The malabsorption of nutrients and the systemic inflammation due to chronic intestinal damage can lead to osteoporosis (and many other conditions, please see the Inflammation article for more on this topic).

If you experience the above-mentioned symptoms, a gluten free diet may be of great benefit.

Foods that Lead to Bone Loss

Processed foods such as potato chips, soda and candy contain very little nutrients; but do contain indigestible fats and dangerous additives (such as high fructose corn syrup, aspartame and preservatives). Cooking with oils such as corn, safflower or soy should be avoided. These oils contain highly processed, damaged omega 6 fats, which contribute to inflammation in your body. Olive oil and coconut oil are great alternatives.

Foods that Prevent Bone Loss

Organic vegetables are the best way to get vitamins and minerals into your body. An easy way to increase the amount of vegetables in your diet is vegetable juicing. It is a highly effective way to obtain the most potent nutrition that is easy for your body to digest and absorb.

Vitamin D and Sunshine Exposure

Vitamin D plays an essential role in maintaining optimal bone mass by acting primarily to assist calcium absorption. Despite what you may have heard, appropriate sunshine exposure is not bad for you. It is healthy and necessary. Just 15 to 20 minutes of sun daily can make a dramatic improvement in your health, and appropriate sun exposure is the ideal way to maintain your vitamin D levels in the optimal range.

An oral vitamin D3 supplement may useful in certain situations. Prior to taking supplements of Vitamin D, it is very important to get your vitamin D levels checked to avoid under- or overdosing.

Omega-3 for Strong and Healthy Bones

Omega 3 is another essential nutrient your body needs in order to prevent both inflammation and osteoporosis. The British Journal of Nutrition recently published a study stating that the Omega fat, DHA appears to constitute marrow and enhance bone mineral content. Omega 3 fats also slow cognitive decline. Plant-based omega-3 fats such as those found in flax seed are highly beneficial, on account of their high alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) content, animal-based omega-3 fats contain two crucial ingredients you are not getting from plants: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Ideally, omega-3 would be obtained from eating seafood. Unfortunately, industrial pollution has changed this; fish are now loaded with mercury, industrial toxins, PCBs and PDEs. The same goes for most of the oil that is made from these fish. There is another source of animal-based omega-3 fats available, namely krill oil. Krill are very tiny shrimp-like creatures that exceed the number of all animals (including humans) in the world. Krill oil contains antioxidants called astaxanthin that protect DHA and EPA fats until they are consumed.

Bone-Supportive Nutrients

Magnesium is required to properly utilize calcium, and calcium intake does not ensure normal bone mass if magnesium levels are low.

Trace Minerals including zinc, manganese, fluoride, boron, and silicon are important for bone health. A 2-year clinical study, postmenopausal women who increased their intake of both calcium and trace minerals experienced an increase in bone mass. While women who only increased calcium or trace minerals alone experienced bone loss. This suggests that a combined nutritional regimen is more effective.