By David Blyweiss, M.D.
Do you know someone who’s broken a wrist or, even worse, a hip? Blame osteoporosis, a loss of bone that leads to debilitating fractures.
The disease is a major health threat for women as they get older. In fact 1 in 3 women over 50 get fractures as a result of osteoporosis.
Here’s what happens: Bone isn’t just a solid hunk of calcium. It’s living, growing tissue with a soft core and a hard framework of calcium phosphate.
This inner core produces our blood cells. And bones (along with teeth) act as a storage tank for more than 99% of the body’s calcium.
Because bone is alive, it’s constantly breaking down its old framework and replacing it with new material. Until you’re about 30, you make bone faster than it’s destroyed. But after that, the process slowly reverses, causing a net bone loss.
As the loss becomes severe, bones lose density, becoming more porous and fragile. When bone becomes porous enough it becomes more vulnerable to fractures, even under the normal stresses of everyday living.
Fortunately, you can help prevent this fate—and it’s never too early to get started!
Here are the best ways I’ve found to protect your bones for a lifetime:
• Eat for better bones. Bulk up on foods high in calcium.1 Organic dairy products, non-GMO tofu, sardines, salmon, turnips and leafy greens like spinach and kale are all high in calcium.
• Watch what you drink. Coffee and tea rob your body of calcium. In fact, each cup you drink leaches 30 to 50 mg of calcium from your bones. Soda pop may be even worse since the phosphoric acid it contains has to be buffered so it doesn’t damage your tissues. What does your body use as a buffering agent? The calcium that’s stored in your bones.
• Take bone-building supplements. If you can’t get enough calcium from your food, take a daily supplement that includes 1,000 mg of calcium citrate. Calcium citrate is much more absorbable than calcium carbonate so it’s easier for the body to utilize. But don’t take it all at once: The body can only absorb 500 mg of calcium at a time.
Even through calcium is the major bone builder, it needs vitamin D to do its job. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium that would otherwise flush out in our urine or wind up in our arteries. For prevention, take 2,000 IU daily.
And don’t forget magnesium. Magnesium balances the calcium in both our bones and our bodies. Unfortunately, this is something the osteoporosis industry neglects to tell women. Make sure you’re taking a supplement that provides 400 mg of magnesium citrate every day.2
• Exercise. Just like muscles, bones need exercise to stay healthy. Weight-bearing exercises (such as walking, jogging and dancing) help to prevent or slow the progression of osteoporosis by putting stress on the bones. This keeps them strong.
Strength-training with weights or resistance bands is also beneficial since it increases the tug of muscles on the bones. As a bonus, pumping a little iron will also add definition to your body and help counteract at least some of the effects of gravity.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, it’s a good idea to try and protect yourself from falls. Remove slippery area rugs indoors and salt icy pathways outside. You may also want to try wearing snow and ice traction cleats on your shoes (buy them online or at sporting stores).
It’s also smart to strengthen your core. Core strength refers to the muscles of your abdominals and back and their ability to support your spine and keep your body stable and balanced so you’re not as likely to take a spill.
Any exercise that uses the trunk of your body without support counts as a core exercise. Abdominal crunches are a classic core exercise. Try lying on your back and placing your feet on a wall so your knees and hips are bent at 90-degree angles. Tighten your abdominal muscles, then raise your head and shoulders off the floor. Do this for a total of 10 crunches at least once a day.
Classic push-ups count, too. You can also do push-ups on your knees or standing up against a wall. Not only will these exercises help prevent falls, they’ll also strengthen your back to keep back pain at bay.
- Tenta R. Calcium and vitamin D supplementation through fortified dairy products counterbalances seasonal variations of bone metabolism indices: the Postmenopausal Health Study. European Journal of Nutrition. 2010 Dec 14. [Epub ahead of print]
- Matsuzaki H. Dietary magnesium supplementation suppresses bone resorption via inhibition of parathyroid hormone secretion in rats fed a high-phosphorus diet. Magnesium Research. 2010;23:126-130.
- Marques EA. Multicomponent Training Program with Weight-Bearing Exercises Elicits Favorable Bone Density, Muscle Strength, and Balance Adaptations in Older Women. Calcified Tissue International. 2010 Nov 27. [Epub ahead of print]