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Sharp Health News

Foods that help strengthen your bones

Aug. 1, 2022

Salmon dinner dish

By 2040, osteoporosis is predicted to cause 3.2 million fractures in the U.S. each year, up from 1.9 million in 2018. That’s a 68% increase. If you could ensure you would not be a part of that statistic, wouldn’t you want to know how? Changes to your diet may be the answer.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), osteoporosis develops when bone mineral density and bone mass decrease, leading to loss of bone strength. This can result in fractures and broken bones.

There are a variety of factors that increase your risk for osteoporosis:

  • Sex. Women are more likely than men to develop osteoporosis.
  • Age. Bone loss increases as we age, increasing the risk for osteoporosis.
  • Body size. Slender people are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Race. White and Asian women are at highest risk of osteoporosis.
  • Family history. Your risk of developing osteoporosis increases if one of your parents has a history of the disease.
  • Changes to hormones. Low estrogen levels in women after menopause and in premenopausal women due to hormone disorders or extreme levels of physical activity, and low levels of testosterone in men increase the risk for osteoporosis.
  • Diet. A diet low in calcium, vitamin D or protein and excessive dieting can increase your risk for osteoporosis.
  • Other medical conditions. Some medical conditions, such as hormonal and gastrointestinal diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, certain types of cancer and anorexia nervosa increase the risk for osteoporosis.
  • Medications. Long-term use of certain medications may make you more likely to develop osteoporosis.
  • Lifestyle. Low levels of physical activity, chronic alcohol use and smoking can all increase your risk of osteoporosis.

However, there are a variety of changes you can make to reduce your personal risk of osteoporosis. From staying physically active and avoiding alcohol and tobacco misuse, to taking medications as prescribed and eating a nutritious diet, you can improve and maintain your bone health.

Foods that strengthen your bones
According to the NIH, eating a balanced diet is an excellent first step to take to improve bone health. A well-balanced diet should include:

  • Plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • An appropriate amount of calories for your age, height, weight and activity level
  • Foods and drinks that include calcium, vitamin D and protein

If there is not enough calcium in your diet, your body pulls the calcium it needs from your bones, leaving them weak and thin. Vitamin D is necessary for your body to be able to absorb calcium from the intestine.

Sources of calcium include:

  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Sardines and salmon
  • Calcium-fortified foods, such as soymilk, tofu, orange juice, cereals and breads

Vitamin D can be processed in the skin through sun exposure, and can be added to your diet by consuming:

  • Fatty fish
  • Fish oils
  • Egg yolks
  • Liver
  • Vitamin D-fortified foods, such as milk and cereals

“As Hippocrates said, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,’” says Sharon Murnane, RN, HNB-BC, a board-certified holistic nurse at the Cushman Wellness Center at the Sharp Memorial Outpatient Pavilion. “Work on incorporating the Mediterranean diet with a focus on having most of your plate plant-based and a consideration of how much protein you need for your body.”

According to Murnane, an average adult needs about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram — or per 2.2 pounds — of body weight per day. For example, a 140-pound person would need about 50 grams of protein each day. However, studies have found protein needs increase when people are very physically active or age 70 and older.

“If you have too much protein in your body, it may create a very acidic environment,” Murnane says. “And when your body is more on the acidic side, it's going to pull the calcium out of the bones. A plate filled with 70% vegetables will help create a better balance of nutrients to maintain and preserve bone health.”

Additionally, Murnane says there are several other minerals and vitamins needed to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. These include magnesium, zinc, boron, vitamin K, vitamin C and some of the B vitamins. “All of these are working together to create healthy bones,” she says.

Seeking care for osteoporosis
Talk with your doctor or a registered dietician nutritionist to determine if you are meeting the recommended daily allowance of each nutrient. Sometimes, a therapeutic dose, rather than a recommended daily allowance, may be given through supplements and changes to your diet to address a deficiency.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends routine bone health screening for women over age 65, women who have suffered a bone fracture and women with an increased risk of fractures. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 55% of people age 50 and older are at significant risk for osteoporosis.

“We need to be proactive in the diagnosis and treatment of osteopenia, when a person has lower bone density than normal, before it becomes osteoporosis,” Murnane says. She encourages you to talk with your doctor about when bone-density screening is appropriate for you.

The most common screening method is the dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan. If your test results show that you have osteoporosis or are at risk for fractures, your doctor can discuss lifestyle changes and may recommend medications to improve your bone health.

“Bone is living tissue that changes with diet and exercise,” Murnane says. “Bone loss can be prevented or controlled when it is identified early with bone density scanning, providing time to make positive health changes that directly influence bone health.”

Learn more about osteoporosis treatment at Sharp.

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