Not long ago, I spoke with Dr. Steven Masley, whose book The Better Brain Solution I found fascinating. I couldn’t help but notice, when I read the book, that his solution to maintaining longevity and healthy brain function sounded awfully familiar to me!
Stronger bones, stronger mind
Looking at over 100 clinical markers of aging, ranging from brain speed to arterial plaque growth to bone density, in concert with lifestyle factors such as diet, fitness, toxin exposure, and stress management in more that 1000 patients, Steven has found that many of the same things we use to help prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures can also reduce the risk of long-term memory loss. “We’ve been able to show which things help your memory, which things improve your brain, and it turns out many of these things are also good for your heart and your bones,” he says.
The part that may be new to my readers is that this research finds blood sugar to be one of the key elements of maintaining both healthy brain and heart. “We know that probably the number one factor that contributes to memory loss is elevated blood sugar and insulin resistance,” he told me. “When brain cells become insulin resistant, they literally shut down — they’re not able to use glucose as energy. And over time, it leads to brain cell death and literally the brain starts shrinking.”
5 steps for improving brain health
His five-step solution to this problem is where the conversation went toward familiar topics:
- Healthy foods: A diet rich in green, leafy vegetables makes your brain, on average, 11 years younger, says Steven, who also recommends eating oily fish and nuts to provide omega-3 fatty acids and lists nearly a dozen other foods that are also part of an alkaline diet.
- Exercise: “Just like for bones,” Steven says, “we see a benefit… the fitter you are, the better your brain function.”
- Specific nutrients: Vitamin D, magnesium, and B vitamins — all important in bone health — are also key brain health.
- Stress reduction: “If you don’t manage [stress], your cortisol rises, your blood sugar goes up, and it literally shrinks your brain,” he says.
- Probiotics: “I really like the idea of a probiotic for a healthy gut” as a way to support brain health, he adds.
I named my bone health program “Better Bones, Better Body” because I understood that what was good for the bones would benefit the rest of the body as well—and it’s nice to get still more scientific confirmation that the approach works. But Steven’s research also underscores the sheer number of people who need to learn the value of this approach. “The #1 most expensive disease in America today is memory loss,” Steven told me. “It’s supposed to double in just the next 12 years. It’s skyrocketing.” He points to the fact that “50% of all Baby Boomers, and 30% of all adults, have insulin resistance… they’re high risk for memory loss, heart disease, diabetes, and probably bone loss, too!”
If you want to hear what else Dr. Steven Masley had to say, watch our video interview.
How many of you recognize the root cellar depicted below? That cold-weather storage area actually looks just like the well-used root cellar in my parents’ house.
As our ancestors knew in the days before refrigeration, hardy, storable root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and so forth make for delicious, warming, winter foods — and as an added bonus, they have tremendous value for bone health. They are highly alkalizing and packed with important bone-building nutrients, and as an extra benefit, root veggies can satisfy our sweet tooth if cooked at length.
Root vegetables: plentiful and versatile
At a time of year when field-fresh, organic vegetables may be harder to find in cold northern latitudes, you can almost always count on roots being readily available.
In our Better Bones Better Body Program, we suggest everyone consume at least one root vegetable daily in summer and perhaps two in winter. Root vegetables can easily substitute for bread, pasta, and grains in supplying carbohydrates for energy, yet their high potassium content means they help alkalize the body, unlike acid-forming grains.
I enjoy most root crops, but my favorite is the potato — maybe because of my Irish grandmother, who ate her own “home fried” potatoes every morning, or perhaps because one large baked potato eaten with skin offers a whopping 1626 grams of potassium!
Winter root crops pack a lot of bone-building nutrients
Potassium isn’t all roots have to offer. The table below details the amount of various key bone-building nutrients found in popular root crops. We have standardized these to 100 g of each of vegetable (just so you know, a large baked potato weighs about 229 g).
An easy root vegetable recipe to savor
While I love baked potatoes all year around, one of my favorite winter recipes is roasted root vegetables. I use a number of different roots together with onion, some olive oil, and seasoning. Maybe you want to try out the recipe below; I’d love to hear of your personal warming winter root vegetable recipes.
Roasted Root Vegetables
This dish is so versatile that I have actually eaten it for breakfast alongside cooked quinoa and a poached egg. It is a great addition to almost any meal.
6 large cloves of garlic, whole
5 medium-sized parsnips, diced into 1-inch cubes
4 medium-sized potatoes, unpeeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
2 large sweet potatoes, unpeeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
2 large onions, sliced lengthwise
1 medium-size butternut squash, diced into 1-inch cubes
¼ cup light olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
Optional herbs: parsley, oregano, or rosemary
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly coat two 9 × 13 inch baking dishes with vegetable oil and set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine garlic, parsnips, potatoes, onions, squash, and olive oil. Toss well.
- Add sea salt (and any herbs you desire) to the vegetables and toss again.
- Transfer the vegetables to the prepared baking dishes, spreading them out in a single layer.
- Roast the vegetables for 35 minutes or until lightly browned and fork tender, and serve.
Yields 8 servings.
Timesaver tip: The first time you make this dish, cut up more than you need of everything except the onions and freeze the extra in a gallon-size freezer bag. Then the next time you want it, all you have to do is thaw it, cut the onions, season, and bake!
Low-trauma fracture, rather than low bone density, is what indicates bone weakness — so if you’ve had a fracture, it’s a sign you need to take substantial, comprehensive steps to support your bones. Even a simple fracture of the wrist after stumbling tells a story — and what’s been shown over and over by research is that a person who’s had a previous fracture is at higher risk of future fractures (Johansson et al. 2017; Ferrari 2017; Gehlbach et al 2012).
Many international osteoporosis organizations have also reached this conclusion and have begun to recommend intervention after the first low-trauma fracture. The International Osteoporosis Foundation has developed the Europe-wide “Capture the Fracture” promotion, and Osteoporosis Canada a few years ago identified a significant post-fracture care gap. Both agencies, unfortunately, focus on moving fracture patients into a system of bone drug treatment.
5 steps to prevent a second fracture
At the Center for Better Bones, our approach to bone fracture prevention is fundamentally different. We view fractures that occur without high impact as very serious warning signs that are worthy of further investigation. We go about the goal of preventing a second fracture in a systematic fashion:
Step 1: Asses bone health
We guide individuals into assessing health and lifestyle factors that might be weakening their bones. A good way to begin this assessment is with our Bone Health Profile.
Step 2. Uncover causes of bone fragility
We encourage everyone who has fractured to ask their doctor for selected medical tests that help uncover hidden medical causes of bone fragility via a comprehensive osteoporosis work-up. The work-up offers direct data on possible health and lifestyle issues that may be contributing to your fracture risk.
Step 3. Address hidden medical issues
We review the results from your doctor’s medical testing, and if any hidden medical causes of bone weakening are uncovered, we help you understand them while your doctor treats these medical concerns.
Step 4. Reduce or eliminate fracture risk factors
We work with the client on the lifestyle and nutrition assessments to identify areas of lifestyle, diet, and emotional makeup that could be improved, with the goal of either eliminating these fracture risk factors or reducing their effects on your bones.
Step 5. Create a personalized plan for stronger bones
Based on our full assessment of the individual case and total load of fracture risk factors, we develop a personalized Better Bones, Better Body program to help modify lifestyle and nutritional factors and develop a strong nutrient supplement regimen to support stronger bones and reduce your future fracture risk.
Your bones are as unique as you are
In my experience, carefully evaluating each case and working with the body’s natural processes to regain optimal bone health offers far greater long-term benefits to health and longevity than any quick fix using bone drugs. This natural approach, however, requires a substantial level of commitment and a willingness to change one’s diet, lifestyle, and daily habits. As the old Chinese saying puts it: “If you keep going in the same direction, you will end up right where you are headed.”
There are undoubtedly extreme and severe case where bone drugs are deemed appropriate by both physician and patient, and in these cases, for optimum results we incorporate the complete Better Bones Better Body Program along with the bone drug.
So if you or someone you know has recently had a fracture, take heart — and take action! — to make this first fracture your only fracture.
Ferrari SL. Prevention of fractures in patients with osteoporosis. Lancet 2017; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(17)32167-0 (published online November 9, 2017).
Gehlbach S, Saag KG, Adachi JD, et al. Previous fractures at multiple sites increase the risk for subsequent fractures: The Global Longitudinal Study of Osteoporosis in Women. J Bone Miner Res. 2012;27(3):645–653. doi:10.1002/jbmr.1476.
Johansson H, Siggeirsdóttir K, Harvey NC, et al. Imminent risk of fracture after fracture. Osteoporos Int. 2017;28(3):775–780. doi:10.1007/s00198-016-3868-0.