In her series on women’s health, Dr. Doni discusses the importance of taking care of your bones at any age and offers some advice on what you can do now.
As I’ve emphasized throughout this series of articles about women’s health, there are many factors that influence your health and well-being. Your day-to-day food and activity choices play a major role, as do the natural changes in estrogen and progesterone levels that women experience throughout their lives.
It is well known that the hormonal changes that happen around menopause – the reduction in estrogen and progesterone – have a big effect on bone health, reducing bone density and increasing a woman’s risk of osteoporosis. However, I encourage everyone to be thinking about their bone health throughout their life, not just women but men, too.
There are three key moments in a woman’s life when her bones are particularly vulnerable:
- The Teen Years – the bones you form as a teenager will set the stage of your bone health for the rest of your life. Growing strong bones is crucial at this age so, if you have a teenager, I encourage you to use this bone health information (below) for them as well.
- Motherhood – bone health comes into the spotlight again during pregnancy and breastfeeding because your body will be providing the calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and other bone nutrients necessary for the development of your baby’s bones. If you don’t take in enough bone nutrients, your body will pull them from your bones and give them to your baby.
- Menopause – research shows that women tend to lose the most bone density (an average of 10%) the one year before and 2 years after menopause (when the menstrual cycle stops) as both estrogen and progesterone levels decrease. So peri-menopause is an important time to, once again, ensure you are taking in enough nutrients for your bones.
You will want to take other approaches to support your bone health, including choosing foods that are good for your health and exercising four days per week. I have more about what to do for your bone health below. First we need to take steps to evaluate your bone health such as a bone density scan (DEXA) so you know where you’re starting and then you can work to stay ahead of bone loss. It is also helpful to have blood work to assess the following: 25 OH Vitamin D, CTX (collagen peptides that indicate bone loss), calcium, and RBC magnesium.
The good news is that your bones are ever-changing. The bone cells are constantly breaking down and rebuilding bone throughout your life. This means that you can do something about your bone health besides taking prescription medications, such as Fosamax, which has actually been shown to increase fracture risk (the exact opposite of what you’d want it to do). Even if you do find on a bone density scan that you have decreased bone density – referred to as osteopenia when it is mild or osteoporosis when it is more severe – there are things we can do to improve your bone health. Bones are not “set in stone.”
When we think about supplements for our bones the one we hear most about is calcium. Now, calcium is certainly important, but it’s not the only nutrient our bones need. In fact, it would be dangerous to only take calcium. Over the past decade, research showed that taking too much calcium, and without vitamin K, can lead to calcium being deposited in blood vessels (also known as atherosclerosis) instead of your bones, increasing heart disease risk. Balance is important: You certainly need to take calcium but in conjunction with other nutrients.*
Start by checking to be sure that you are taking the most important nutrients; they are:
- Calcium (citrate or MCHA) – makes up bone matrix
- Magnesium (citrate or glycinate) – supports bone formation
- Vitamin D – assists calcium absorption and bone growth
- Vitamin K (specifically K2 in the form of MK7) – makes it possible for calcium to attach to bones
- Boron – supports estrogen, which helps bones (avoid if you have a history of estrogen-sensitive cancer)
- Silica – used in collagen formation, which strengthens bones
- Omega 3 fats – decrease inflammation, which helps your bones
- B vitamins (including methylfolate and methylcobalamin) – decrease fracture risk
If you want to start with a simple all-in-one product for bone health, I suggest taking a product with at least the first four nutrients I listed above, such as Bone Nutrients (click here to read about it and purchase it at DrDoniStore if you desire). Or for a product with more nutrients in one, I suggest Bone Support Formula here.
If you’d like more help reviewing the vitamins you are taking and evaluating your nutrient levels, be sure to check with a healthcare provider who is trained in this information, such as a naturopathic doctor or MD who has learned naturopathic approaches (functional medicine).
Beyond Bone Nutrients
Here again I want to emphasize that it’s important to look beyond your bones! We need to be thinking about inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which greatly influence the health of your bones.
If you have been eating a lot of gluten and sugar, or if you have been exposed to toxins via pesticides, traffic exhaust, off-gassing from fabricated furniture, or exposure to cigarette smoke, to name a few common examples, then you very likely have high inflammation and low anti-oxidants in your body. This not only increases your risk of diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease, but also osteoporosis.
That means that any steps you take to improve your bone health will likely also benefit your overall health as well. It is never too late to start. And for many patients, I find it is only after they experience a bone fracture that they feel motivated to save their bones. While it is easy to put them on the “back burner” – if you put YOU on the front burner, you’ll be taking care of your bones at the same time.
A great place to start is with the following C.A.R.E. activities:
C: Clean Eating
Foods that tend to increase inflammation in the body – such as gluten, sugar, dairy products, and processed foods – are known to cause bone loss. Stay away from these foods and you’ll be helping your bones out. Also keep in mind that certain beverages that are considered diuretics – coffee, tea, soda – deplete the water and minerals in your system, and this in turn weakens your bones. Decrease your consumption of these drinks to help your bones.
A: Adequate Sleep
Sleep, beautiful sleep! That’s right, while you sleep, your body is actually doing lots of good things, including repairing and supporting your bones. Take steps to ensure that you get at least 7.5 hours of sleep every night. If sleep is a challenge for you, here are my blog posts about sleep.
R: Reduce Stress
Stress – including both emotional and physical stresses – increases production of both the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, causing decreased digestion of food, decreased absorption of nutrients, imbalanced hormones (estrogen, progesterone, thyroid, insulin, to name just a few), disrupted bacteria in your gut, increased likelihood of gaining weight, disrupted sleep, and decreased energy to exercise – all of which could affect your bone health. The single best thing you could do to improve your bone health is to give your body the support it needs to be able to deal with the stress it’s exposed to. To read my blog posts about ways to reduce stress, click here.
Weight bearing exercise – such as walking, running, pilates, yoga- all give your bones a workout as well as your muscles. All these forms of exercise use gravity to put pressure on your bones, sending signals to increase bone growth and encourage bone strength. Exercise also helps build muscles to maintain balance, which helps prevent falls that could lead to bone fractures.
What Can You Do to Get Started?
If you are feeling overwhelmed about where to begin when it comes to implementing CARE, then you might consider doing the 7-day or 21-day Stress Remedy Program, which supports you to make these changes little by little, guiding you all along the way. You can start the Stress Remedy at any time – learn more here.
Although many conventionally-trained practitioners will tell you that the only option is to take a prescription medication, I simply do not find that to be the case. I have worked with patients for over 17 years who have turned osteoporosis into healthy bones simply by following my suggestions. You can do it too.
If you are worried about your bones, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider(s). For natural solutions to bone health, be sure to ask your naturopathic doctor, or a functional medicine practitioner trained in naturopathic approaches. To find out about scheduling an appointment with me, click here.
To continue learning about how you can take steps to improve your health, sign up for my weekly newsletter here, and with it I’ll send you a free ebook about recovery from stress: A Guide to Adrenal Recovery. Good health is possible with the right support!
20th December 2016
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.