Health & Nutrition with Rosie Shelley, BA, SAC.Dip, ITEC.Dip [email protected]
EACH year October 20th is World Osteoporosis Day, and in 2016 the theme is ‘Love your bones, protect your future.’ Osteoporosis, which means that bones have become thinner and more fragile, is often called the ‘silent disease’ because most people won’t even know that they have an issue until they fall and break something, which can go on to have a serious impact on quality of life.
It’s very prevalent in the over 50s, with around one in two women and one in five men likely to be diagnosed during their lifetime – the male figure may really be higher because tests are based comparatively on the bones of a woman in her twenties, and moreover men are more liable to experience a bad outcome. Given our exponentially ageing population, it’s estimated that the number of fractures in Ireland will increase by 50% by 2026.
The strength of our bones is largely determined at an early age, even from the womb but also as teenagers become more responsible for their own dietary habits – make sure to supply a basic multivitamin and mineral. Around the mid 30s bone mass starts to decrease, and then especially for women after the menopause (before that oestrogen and progesterone keep in check the multiplication of bone-destroying cells called osteoclasts), but there’s a lot we can do to hold on to what we have.
Of course calcium is the number one nutrient where bone health is concerned. Dairy products are the most obvious sources of this mineral, but some experts believe that plant based options are actually preferable, in that dairy has an acidic effect on the body that the body balances by leaching alkaline minerals (namely calcium and magnesium) from the bones. Fizzy drinks and excess caffeine have the same effect. Vegetarians are actually at lower risk of osteoporosis for the simple reason that they eat less acid-forming animal produce and more alkaline, mineral rich plant foods, though vegans should take a vitamin B12 supplement because it’s needed for bone growth and really only found in animal produce. Calcium sources include leafy greens, soya products, seaweeds (which contain all of the relevant nutrients), nuts and seeds, lentils, quinoa and millet, oranges, dried fruit, and oily fish eaten with the bones such as tinned sardines.
Bone health relies on protein, but an excess (as found in low carb high protein diets) actually accelerates calcium loss, as do sugar, soft drinks (especially fizzy drinks), salt, excess caffeine and the action of stress hormones, with cortisol actively breaking down muscle and bone. Elevated blood levels of a compound called homocysteine acts in the same destructive way, and is most easily addressed by taking high strength vitamin B complex. And see your GP if you suspect an underactive (or overactive) thyroid, as both conditions contribute to poor bone health.
Oily fish are also just about the only food source of vitamin D, which the body needs to absorb calcium, (those who are deficient, and many of us are, have a 60% higher risk of osteoporosis) and the best source of omega 3 oils which have a proven relationship with better bone health. And these plant foods provide magnesium, which works in tandem with vitamins D, E and calcium – it’s recently been demonstrated that there’s no benefit from taking calcium alone – as well as vitamin K which channels calcium to the bones, vitamin B6 (a deficiency is associated with osteoporosis), vitamin C for the formation of connective tissue, manganese which helps new bone to be laid down, boron which reduces excretion of calcium and magnesium, activates vitamin D and boosts the action of oestrogen in post-menopausal women, plant chemicals called phytoestrogens that have a mildly oestrogenic effect on the body, and finally plant chemicals that activate sirtuins, which are known to promote the production of osteoblasts, which build new bone cells and boost their survival.
More recent research has shown particular benefits from taking a particular form of vitamin K, K2, which is found in aged cheeses like parmesan, grass fed butter, eggs, dark chicken meat and in natto, a fermented soya product. Soya is the richest source of phytoestrogens, and contains a kind of protein that reduces the re-absorption of bone cells. The beans themselves, and processed forms such as soya milk and tofu actually contain ‘anti-nutrients’, but fermented soya is of proven value. Vitamin K is also manufactured in the gut, providing that it contains the right bacteria, and eating fermented dairy and soya products along with fibre rich foods will help promote those bacteria, while preventing the inflammatory processes that speed up the breakdown of bone. Studies show a 15% reduced risk of fracture for every additional serving of fermented food, while those eating live yoghurt daily demonstrated a 40% lower risk.
Exercise is just as important as diet when it comes to healthy bones; it has to be weight bearing to build up that bone mass, which doesn’t have to mean actual weight lifting, just carrying your own weight as opposed to something like swimming. And it’s never too late: older people who walk for half an hour a day experience significantly fewer fractures than inactive people. And that all important vitamin D comes also from the sun.
• For more information, call the Irish Osteoporosis Society on 01 6774267, or visit the following website:
BEST FOODS for Bones
Oily fish; nuts and seeds; full fat plain live yoghurt, hard aged cheeses, kefir, butter; eggs, organic chicken; kale and all leafy greens, alfalfa sprouts, parsley, red onions, chicory, capers, chillies, celery, avocado, cauliflower, berries, apples, oranges, pineapple, dried fruit; quinoa, millet, barley, rye, buckwheat, oats and oatcakes, sourdough bread; lentils, beans and fermented soya products (natto, miso, tempeh); nettles, seaweeds, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil, turmeric, nettles, herbal teas, green tea, tea, cocoa.