Boning Up on Bone Health!

Just because you are not yet thirty, don’t think this doesn’t apply to you!

Women who continuously follow severely low-calorie, “fad” or Vegan diets often have the bone health of someone twice their age.

It was very disturbing to hear that Gwyneth Paltrow’s ultra-strict macrobiotic diet may have caused the osteopenia she developed in her mid-thirties! A diet that is lacking in bone-fortifying vitamins and minerals robs the body of necessary calcium. Studies show that more 20-somethings are cutting down on dairy then ever before and that 68% of women don’t get enough calcium from their foods. It’s not only celebrities who risk their bone health in their quest to stay super-slender. Anyone losing too much body fat can grind bone renewal to a halt.

Even something like exercise, that should be good for you, can cause problems if you overdo it. Overtraining can be murder on your bones! When a young woman loses too much body fat (indicated by a BMI  lower than 18), her ovaries stop producing estrogen, which stops bone renewal dead in its tracks. Studies show that some workouts are worse for your skeleton than others. Overdoing it in the pool, on the bike or elliptical machine for example may actually cause you to lose bone density. Scientists think that moderate pounding on your bones—the kind that comes from impact exercises like walking, running, or weight training—is key to triggering your skeleton to lay down more minerals.

For those of us that are stretched thin with little time to rest and relax, we need to be on high bone alert! Even if you are popping the recommended 1,000-1,500 milligrams of calcium a day, excessive amounts of alcohol, caffeine or salt can interfere with the body’s ability to retain the mineral. Plus certain medications, including antidepressants and contraceptives can also deplete your calcium supply.

What you need to think about is that bones are not solid, they are actually living tissue, made up of myriad layers of collagen, protein and minerals. It’s all so tightly packed together that bones—an inner thighbone for instance—can take up to 1,200 pounds of pressure without snapping. In fact your skeletal frame is always renewing itself as bone constantly breaks down and rebuilds itself giving you a new skeleton every decade. Although, once you hit thirty, you start to lose more bone mass than you make, so stocking up on calcium is essential. Calcium is your bones favorite food and even if you are eating calcium rich foods each day it never hurts to have a little insurance from a good calcium supplement. The goal is to get around 1,000-1,500 milligrams of calcium a day (1,000 under 30 and 1,500 if you are over 30). If you are taking a calcium supplement, you also need to be taking 1,000 IU of vitamin D to ensure that the calcium is absorbed. Calcium without vitamin D is practically useless. According to experts, most of us are only getting 300-400 milligrams of calcium from our foods.

Feeding Your Bones:

• Consume 3-4 servings of dairy a day of milk, yogurt or cheese—dairy products also provide essential proteins, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium as well as calcium and vitamin D, which all work synergistically to help build and protect bones

• Fortified foods such as soy milk, orange juice of tofu also need to be consumed three or four times a day

• If you are vegan you will need seven or more cups of kale a day to get adequate amounts of calcium

Choosing the right calcium supplement is critical. There are more than six different types of calcium and only two are proven to have bone health benefits when taken in a tablet form.

• Calcium Carbonate: Usually the lesser expensive calcium option, does require stomach acid for absorption, so should be taken with meals or a glass of orange juice which will stimulate stomach acid secretion. It can cause some side effects like constipation or bloating. Take your calcium supplement 3 times a day to ensure better absorption.

• Calcium Citrate: It does not require stomach acid to break it down and it generally has less side effects. It may cost a little more but in the long run you may take it more regularly.

• Vegan option: look for vegan supplements made from sea vegetables

According to a National Osteoporosis Foundation survey, 94% of women don’t worry about bone health. Well, it’s not surprising, you can’t see your skeleton and you only think about it when there’s a problem or an injury. But with one in five women under thirty being diagnosed with osteopenia or low bone density, it’s only a matter of time before that turns into osteoporosis. The key to good bone health is to develop optimal bone mass early in life by eating calcium rich foods and taking a daily calcium supplement with vitamin D.

It’s never too early to start building up that “bone bank”, but if you have left it a bit late, at least start now. Remember, your skeleton rebuilds itself every ten years so you need to give it all the help it can get!

Sue Taggart