grandmother protecting children's bone health

Are we setting kids up for osteoporosis?

Recent studies point to a worrisome trend: children and young adults, especially girls, have become a great deal more sedentary in recent years, and it’s affecting their health. And while most of these studies talk about the short-term impacts this has — rising obesity and increased depression and anxiety being among them — I wonder about the impact of this lifestyle on children’s bone health and risk for osteoporosis as they grow older.

Sedentary lifestyles among kids and teens becoming the norm, especially for girls

Researchers from the U.S. National Institute on Aging in collaboration with Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health and North Carolina State University, looked at activity levels in 12,589 participants grouped by age: children (6–11 years); adolescents (12–19 years); young adults (20–29 years); adults at midlife (ages 31–59); and older adults (60–84 years). Slightly more than half (51%) of the participants were female.

The findings that were most startling—and concerning—were that among children, more than 25% of boys and 50% of girls age 6–11 had not met the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation that children age 5–17 get at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day. This is a much higher level of sedentary behavior than was previously thought to exist in children. And it’s even worse among adolescents: more than 50% of male and 75% of female adolescents age 12–19 did not meet WHO activity level recommendations.

What will happen to children’s bone health when they become adults?

Well, we know that the peak time for building bone happens in adolescence and young adulthood. And we also know that bone (and muscle) are a “use it or lose it” system — no exercise means muscle doesn’t move, and non-moving muscle means bone isn’t stimulated to turn over and strengthen. So if children, and especially adolescents, are sedentary, it means they are not maximizing their bone building during the crucial peak bone-building period of their lives. And that means that later in life, when losing bone is common, they won’t have as much to spare, putting them at risk of osteoporosis.

It’s especially problematic for the girls and young women in the study, because as we know, when women reach midlife, it is often the case that they lose bone during menopause. This menopausal bone loss isn’t necessarily a major problem — unless the woman did not build adequate bone reserves during adolescence and young adulthood. And this study suggests that the majority of girls in the study were particularly prone to being sedentary — which can have devastating long-term consequences.

 It is estimated that a 10% increase in children’s peak bone mass would delay the development of osteoporosis by 13 years. 

children's bone health chart

So what can we do to protect children’s bone health?

I have some thoughts:

  • Let’s all be aware that our daughters and granddaughters need to be more active. Start the habit of exercise early. We have this picture of little girls in our society as delicate flowers — but girls can be just as rough-and-tumble as boys if allowed to be! But whether it’s ballet classes or the soccer field, getting them involved in physical activities can only benefit them, short term AND long term.
  • And let’s also remember that when it comes to activity, it doesn’t necessarily have to be vigorous. Whether it’s a child or an adult, even low to moderate levels of physical activity can be beneficial (and they’re certainly more beneficial than sitting!)
  • If the children and adolescents in your life have sedentary habits, model a different lifestyle for them. I guarantee that no adolescent wants their mother or grandmother outdoing them on the hiking trail — so if you set the pace, they’ll keep up!

You can also help them by ensuring they get adequate nutrients for bone building in the teen years — via a healthful diet if you can manage it, but picky eaters may need nutritional supplements.

Reference

Verma VR, Dey D, Leroux A, et al. Re-evaluating the effect of age on physical activity over the lifespan. Prev Med 2017;101:102–108.

woman looking at her T score and Z score

The infamous T score and neglected Z score

I bet most of the Better Bones community have heard of the infamous bone density T score. But I suspect that few understand what the T score means, and even fewer know about the hidden value of the Z score. Contrary to popular (mis)understanding, the T score does not measure fracture risk or indicate that you need bone drugs.  So what then does the T score indicate?

Putting the T score in perspective

The T score measures how closely your bone density compares to that of an average 30-year-old of the same sex. This comparison is expressed in terms of the “standard deviation,” or SD, which you may recognize from a statistics class as being the amount that represents the typical distance above or below the mean for individual measurements. So, if your bone density differs from the average 30-year-old’s (which it probably will!), that difference will be characterized as “–1.5” if your bones are 1.5 SD below the mean, or “+1.2” if they’re 1.2 SD above the mean.

As the chart shows, a T score of –1.0 is described as osteopenia, and –2.5 is described as osteoporosis — even though bone density bears little relationship to fracture risk (but that’s <a href = “https://www.betterbones.com/testing/bone-density-tests-arent-enough/”>another story</a>).

The T score measures how closely your bone density compares to that of an average 30-year-old of the same sex. This comparison is expressed in terms of the “standard deviation,” or SD, which you may recognize from a statistics class as being the amount that represents the typical distance above or below the mean for individual measurements. So, if your bone density differs from the average 30-year-old’s (which it probably will!), that difference will be characterized as “–1.5” if your bones are 1.5 SD below the mean, or “+1.2” if they’re 1.2 SD above the mean.

As the chart above shows, a T score of –1.0 is described as osteopenia, and –2.5 is described as osteoporosis — even though bone density bears little relationship to fracture risk (but that’s another story).

In this second chart (below), 68%, or around two-thirds, of the population falls within 1 SD of the mean, either lower or higher than the average, and another 32% (the remaining third) of the population falls more than 1 SD beyond the mean. Keep in mind that, starting in her mid-30s, the average woman will lose 35% of her cortical bone mass and 50% of her trabecular bone mass over her lifetime (assuming she doesn’t take steps to limit bone loss). So it is totally reasonable to expect that an older woman is not going to have the bone density of a 30-year-old woman, and that her T score will be a negative rather than a positive number.

The overlooked Z score

Elsewhere in your testing results, you will find out your Z score. The Z score compares an individual to others their own age and sex — which makes it a much more realistic assessment of how your bones are faring in their lifelong journey. Where an active, healthy 80-year-old woman, compared to a 30-year-old, might have a T score of –2.0, when compared to other 80-year-old women, she could very well have a Z score of +1.0 or even +2.0!

 

It’s a pity that the Z score, which “compares apples to apples,” gets so much less attention than the T score. It hardly seems realistic to be worried about having lower bone density that a 30-year-old — but there’s good reason to pay attention when your bone density is much lower than people your own age. For instance, if your Z score is –2.0 or more, it means that very few people your age have a bone density that low, and it signals the need for a complete medical workup looking for all possible cause of excessive bone loss.

Unraveling the mysteries of bone density test results

Now that you know the story of the infamous T score and the neglected Z score, hopefully it will encourage you to learn more from your bone density test. If you want to do just that, look into our new online class: A worried woman’s micro-course on understanding bone density tests.  This class includes a live group Q&A with Dr. Brown where you can ask your questions about the course material. Details coming soon!

Reference:
Hunter, D, and Sambrook, PN. Bone loss: Epidemiology of bone loss. Arthritis Res. 2000:2(6):441-445.

My Better Bones Builder

Why I created Better Bones Better Body® and the Better Bones Builder

As an anthropologist I could see that osteoporosis was not something that occurred to aging women and men all over the world. Even more, it was obvious that conventional medicine did not hold the answer to lifelong bone health.

As I came to fully understand the nature and causes of osteoporosis, I developed a burning desire to help solve the growing epidemic of poor bone health.

My goal became to develop a nutritional and lifestyle program which would allow all motivated individuals to enjoy life-long bone health. And, after two decades of research and clinical practice, I reached that goal when I developed the Better Bones Better Body® Program.

To provide motivated individuals with the optimum bone health supplement, I realized I had to create it — so I did just that.

See the video of Dr. Brown’s Grandma at 102 years old with Osteoporosis & Rickets which inspired Dr.Brown to make this her life’s work. 

Filling the gap with the best bone supplement for women

Early in my career, I uncovered a huge problem when it came to bone health supplements. No supplement existed that had all the nutrients in the dosage and forms I knew women really needed. Thousands of hours of research made this shortcoming very clear to me. Sure, there was calcium, but hundreds of research reports made it obvious that getting more calcium alone won’t do much for the health of your bones.

In one way of another all the bone supplements women could buy over the counter were incomplete and doomed to be ineffective.

Here’s why other supplements didn’t work:

  • None of the available bone supplements contained all the 20+ key nutrients I knew to be essential for optimum skeletal health
  • None offered the best form and proper dosage of the included nutrients,
  • None were designed to alkalize.

And even more, I formulated this product to be not only the optimum bone builder, but also to serve as your “all in one” comprehensive multivitamin/mineral. The unique supplement is known as Better Bones Builder.

Additionally, the good news is that more and more there is strong research coming out on bone health. And I keep evolving the Better Bones Builder formula, based on new clinical practice evidence and the best research about how nutrients can prevent bone loss.

Would you like to learn more about a specific nutrient? All you have to do is click on each nutrient’s name to study a selection of the research studies and articles about it: 20 key bone-building nutrients — an overview.

Why I choose to sell my supplements online

Occasionally I am taken to task by a blog subscriber who asks why I design and sell supplements…Why don’t I just write about my solutions of the poor bone health epidemic? My response is simple, after decades of research and clinical practice I know a safe and effective way to help everyone develop Better Bones and a Better Body and I am happy and proud to offer this solution to as many people as possible.

By the way, I give kudos to my readers for being so diligent about health information and products! It always is important to ask questions and take a look at sources and references for information. I invite you to do so for every Better Bones blog, article and product.

Finally, I hope you’ll make the investment in yourself by using the Better Bones Builder. But if not, you can still get my weekly insights about current bone health research and how to incorporate it into your everyday life. I’ll keep sorting the fact from fiction when it comes to bone health so that you can continue to get all of the benefits of the natural approach.

I send each of you my very best wishes for Better Bones and a Better Body!

 

why bone talk is important to you

Your bones listen and talk…really!

Our skeleton might seem like a silent partner that quietly provides us with a solid framework, a place for muscles to attach, an incubator for red blood cells and a gigantic storehouse for alkaline mineral compounds. In reality, however, our bones are anything but silent. Like text messages pinging back and forth on a smart phone, our bones and our bodies are in constant conversation.

What are they talking about?

Bones are the body’s “great communicator”

When your body talks to your bones, it does so through chemical messengers you’re likely familiar with: hormones like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, growth factors, thyroid and parathyroid hormones, and vitamin D, among others.  This larger endocrine system regulates the development, maintenance and renewal of bone. Your amazing skeleton listens to these silent chemical messages very carefully — but it not only receives messages, it also sends them out to every other tissue in the body, creating a complex network of information flowing out of the bones.

Here’s a simplified overview of how our skeleton “talks” through the hormones it produces:

Osteocalcin: This osteoblast-derived hormone helps regulate whole-body energy metabolism and blood sugar control by stimulating the production of insulin. It also stimulates the brain to impact memory and mood. In men, osteocalcin encourages the testicles to produce testosterone.

Lipocalcin 2: A hormone dispatched by bone to help fight bacterial infections, manage fat as an important fuel source, and talk to the brain about appetite control.

Sclerostin: A bone-derived hormone known to control bone growth. Sclerostin is also dispatched by bone to manage fat as an important fuel source. In mice this hormone helps convert “bad” white fat to energy-burning beige or brown fat.

Leptin and adiponectin: These two hormones are produced by the bone marrow and white adipose (fat) tissue. Leptin is a key regulator of energy homeostasis and acts as an indicator of the body’s long-term energy reserves.  This hormone signals the hypothalamus to regulate satiety, energy balance, fertility and immune function.  Without leptin, you have insatiable hunger and obesity develops.

Adiponectin: This is a protein produced by bone marrow fat cells (adipocytes). Decreased circulating adiponectin is an established biomarker for increased risk of cardiometabolic diseases.

Fibroblast growth factor 23 (FGF 23): Bones use this messenger to tell the kidneys to rid the body of extra phosphates that build up in certain genetic disorders.

Why “bone talk” is important to you

Our skeleton is a very complex and intelligent organ directing system-wide essential functions. Much of this bone-derived chat is aimed at regulating whole-body energy metabolism, glucose control and appetite control—areas where bones benefit from being in the driver’s seat because our skeleton needs a great deal of energy to maintain and renew itself on a constant basis. Caring for our bones, we literally help care for the entire body.

Modern science is only beginning to understand the vast field of information and intelligence we identify as our body, and it’s on the brink of linking bone health to the development of diseases like diabetes and obesity. Bringing your awareness to the “wonders of you” enlivens that intelligence and enhances your well-being.

 

What else do your bones do?

6 Secret Wonders of Your Skeleton

Our skeletons are composed of hard tissue that provide us with a sound infrastructure allowing for upright posture, complex movements and amazing dexterity. While many people look upon their skeletons as little more than scaffolding — hard structures that hold us up and give shape to our bodies — many don’t realize that this is but one of the many ways our skeletons serve us.

For a fun analogy to help illustrate this point, consider this: our skeletons are not like a small store selling one kind of widget — they are more like a mini-mall offering us multiple goods and services. Your amazing skeleton offers:

  • “Parking” in the form of support for softer tissues and attachment points for skeletal muscle to assist in movement.
  • “Security” in the form of mechanical protection of internal organs.
  • A “supermarket” where the body can shop for “groceries” such as key minerals that play essential roles in cardiovascular function and overall health. This includes calcium (97.9% of which is in the skeleton), magnesium (50%), sodium (35%), and phosphorus (85%), as well as “specialty foods” — alkalizing compounds like citrate and carbonate, which attach to the minerals in bone and provide for the essential maintenance of minute-to-minute blood pH balance.
  • A “hardware store” in the form of bone marrow that offers blood cells (for moving nutrients and oxygen), platelets (for fixing leaks and patching holes), and “batteries” (reserve energy in the form of fatty acids).
  • A “locker room” for toxic metals, keeping these hazardous substances out of circulation.
  • And there’s even a “courier service” in the form of hormones that send messages to the tissues about glucose control, energy metabolism, body mineral balance, and body fat (Martin 2017).

 

6 functions of the skeleton

Our skeletons are a wonder, and with so much to offer, it’s no surprise most of us are satisfied customers!

Secrets of Your Skeleton

 

References

Martin C. Bones make hormones that communicate with the brain and other organs. Science News 2017;191(13):12.

What's wrong with proton pump inhibitor antacids?

PPI antacids increase fracture risk

Are the medications you’re taking for heartburn and acid reflux increasing your fracture risk?

Proton pump inhibitor antacids (PPIs) like omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid), esomeprazole (Nexium) and others can seriously increase your risk of fracture  30 to 50% — and even up to 200% according to one study. In fact, the risk is so great the FDA issued a warning about it.

What’s more, this class of medications is among the most overprescribed drugs (as well as being available over the counter), and it is estimated that up to 70% of people taking them don’t really need them.

What’s the problem with proton pump inhibitor antacids?

One likely reason for the problems with the PPIs is that inhibition of stomach acid means less nutrient absorption and therefore reduced bone strength. The effects of PPIs on nutrient absorption is well-documented and affects calcium, iron, magnesium, B12, and other key bone nutrients.

Nutrient depletion in turn leads to lower trabecular bone density and susceptibility to low-impact fracture.

Recent research shows other serious damaging effects

  • 50% increase in risk of chronic kidney disease
  • 58% increase in risk of heart attack
  • 44% increased risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s in people age 75 and older
  • A significant increase in serious gastrointestinal infections such as difficile.

Symptom suppression often leads to dysregulation of the entire body; that’s why the Better Bones, Better Body approach takes the perspective that identifying and correcting the root cause of a symptom is a more life-supporting approach.

PS: In the attached video, I interview my colleague, nutritionist Martie Whittekin, CCN, author of Natural Alternatives to Nexium, Maalox, Tagamet, Prilosec, and Other Acid Blockers.  While this is a serious topic, the interview is fun and informative and well worth watching.

 

References:

Andersen BN, Johansen PB, Abrahamsen B. Proton pump inhibitors and osteoporosis. Curr. Opin. Rheumatol. 28(4):420–425, 2016.

Forgacs I, Loganayagam A. Overprescribing proton pump inhibitors. BMJ, 336(7634):2–3, 2008.

Gomm W, von Holt K, Thomé F, et al. Association of proton pump inhibitors with risk of dementia: A pharmacoepidemiological claims database analysis. JAMA Neurol. 73(4): 410–416, 2016.

Ito T, Jensen RT. Association of long-term proton pump inhibitor therapy with bone fractures and effects on absorption of calcium, vitamin B12, iron and magnesium. Curr. Gastroenterol.Rep. 12(6):448–457, 2010.

Wei L, Ratnayake L, Phillips G, et al. Acid suppression medications and bacterial gastroenteritis: a population-based study cohort. Br. J. Clin. Pharmacol., 2016 DOI: 10.1111/bcp.13205.

Maggio M, Lauretani F, Ceda GP, et al. Use of proton pump inhibitors is associated with lower trabecular bone density in older individuals. Bone, 57(2):437–442, 2013.

Moberg LM, Nilsson PM, Samsioe G, Borgfeldt C. Use of proton pump inhibitors (PPI) and history of earlier fracture are independent risk factors for the fracture in postmenopausal women. The WHILA study. Maturitas, 78(4): 310–315, 2014.

Schoenfeld AJ, Grady D. Adverse effects associated with proton pump inhibitors. JAMA Intern. Med., 176(2):172–174, 2016.

Shih CJ, Chen YT, Ou DM, et al. Proton pump inhibitor use represents an independent risk factor for myocardial infarction. Int. Cardiol., 177(1):292–297, 2014.

Whittekin M.  Natural Alternatives to Nexium, Maalox, Tagamet, Prilosec and other Acid Blockers. Square One Publishers, Garden City Park, New York, 2012.

Zhou B, Huang Y, Li H, Sun W, Liu J. Proton pump inhibitors and risk of fracture; an update meta-analysis. Osteoporosis Int., 27(1):339–347, 2016.

 

 

 

4 tips for restorative sleep

New research on sleep and bones

Bet you feel healthier after a good night’s sleep — well, so do your bones. Here’s what the scientists have found in their latest research about the connection between sleep and your bones:

  • Reduced sleep duration was associated with lower bone density in middle aged and older women in one Chinese study.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea, with its loss of sleep and oxygen deprivation, weakens bone.  A recent Taiwanese study found the incidence of osteoporosis to be 2.7 times higher among those with sleep apnea.
  • Insomnia was associated with a 52% increased risk of osteoporosis in a recent Norwegian study.
  • In animal models lack of sleep was found to halt new bone formation, cause cell damage,  and produce abnormal bone marrow, all likely to be associated with poor bone repair.

These studies highlight that sleep is essential to give us a time and environment for crucial bone repair and regeneration. Inadequate sleep is a pro-inflammatory stressor that results in “repair deficit” — a deficit that goes bone deep.

How much sleep is enough?

While the amount of sleep needed varies by individual, the scientific evidence suggests 7 hours of sleep per night is needed to help reduce physiological and neurobehavioral deficits. Personally I feel best with 8 hours of sleep in the dark winter months, but do just fine with a bit less in the sunny summer.

Better Bones tips for restorative sleep

  1. Take care with caffeine. Try a few days without this stimulant and note any sleep improvement.
  2. Try a non-electronic quieting down period in the evening. Instead of plugging in, try a hot bath, short meditation or the Yoga Nidra sleep audio.
  3. Melatonin regulates nocturnal circadian rhythms. Using 3 mg before bed helps many women sleep better and also builds bone. There is good data that melatonin enhances bone formation, reduces bone breakdown, and has cancer-protective properties to boot.
  4. Finally, sharing my own story of sleep success. I am no stranger to sleep disruptions, and I suspect it’s due to mental over-activity and a “worry-wart” tendency (as my mother would say). Recently I have found the cortisol-controlling adrenal support formula known as Serinisol from Women’s Health Network to be a godsend. Using the natural product I feel more calm and at ease during the day and sleep happily, solidly through the night. If you give it a try, let me know how it works for you.

 

References:

Chen, Y. L., S. F. Weng, Y. C. Shen, C. W. Chou, C. Y. Yang, J. J. Wang, and K. J. Tien. 2014. Obstructive sleep apnea and risk of osteoporosis: A population-based cohort study in Taiwan. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 99(7):2441–2447.

Everson, C. A., A. E. Folley, and J. M. Toth. 2012. Chronically inadequate sleep results in abnormal bone formation and abnormal bone marrow in rats. Experimental Biology and Medicine 237(9):1101–1109.

Everson, C. A., C. J. Henchen, A. Szabo, and N. Hogg. 2014. Cell injury and repair resulting from sleep loss and sleep recovery in laboratory rats. Sleep 37(12):1929–1940.

Fu, X., X. Zhao, H. Lu, F. Jiang, X. Ma, and S. Zhu. 2011. Association between sleep duration and bone mineral density in Chinese women. Bone 49(5):1062–1066.

Sivertsen, B., T. Lallukka, P. Salo, S. Pallesen, M. Hysing, S. Krokstad, and S. Øverland. 2014. Insomnia as a risk factor for ill health: Results from the large population-based prospective HUNT study in Norway. Journal of Sleep Research 23(2):124–132.

Swanson, C. M., S. A. Shea, K. L. Stone, J. A. Cauley, C. J. Rosen, S. Redline, G. Karsenty, and E. S. Orwoll. 2015. Obstructive sleep apnea and metabolic bone disease: Insights into the relationship between bone and sleep. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 30(2):199–211.

what is the most important thing for bone health

1 minute with Dr. Brown: What is the most important thing for bone health?

Got a minute? Every week I receive dozens of questions from women like you with concerns about their bone health. In my new series, “1 Minute with Dr. Brown,” I will try to answer your most pressing questions. If you have a question, send it in to us at center@betterbones.com
 

Question: What is the single most important thing I can do to take care of my bone health?

Melatonin: Sleeping your way to Better Bones

 

I’ve written before that adequate rest and sleep have been part of our innate healing process for hundreds of thousands of years.

Melatonin, a naturally-occurring hormone that helps you maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, is essential to this process.

Melatonin makes us less alert and more ready for sleep, which benefits bone by reducing the bone-depleting cortisol and pro-inflammatory responses in our body.

You may not realize that as we get older — after the age of 40 — our bodies naturally make less melatonin. For the best sleep, melatonin should increase during the evening before bedtime, remain high during the night and then drop when morning comes. When that doesn’t happen, you may not feel sleepy or struggle to fall asleep when you do go to bed.  Supplementing with melatonin can help improve your ability to sleep by acting on the brain receptors that regulate the body’s circadian clock.

Melatonin and age-related bone loss

Given everything we know about the benefits of melatonin, researchers decided to take a look at how using a melatonin supplement might affect the strength of aging bones. Using animal models — whose age was about 60 in human years — the researchers found a significant increase in bone volume, flexibility and density among those receiving melatonin supplements. Also, preliminary human studies suggest that melatonin may enhance osteoblast differentiation and may restore imbalances in bone remodeling. Of course, further studies need to be done, but I am always excited when studies of a natural therapy look promising!

3 tips for getting to sleep

For help with falling asleep, I like to take about a half hour to relax before bedtime. Your individual relaxing time can be anywhere from as little as 15 minutes to up to an hour, so I suggest you experiment to find out the amount of time that works best for you. I also find these tips helpful:

  1. Set a nightly time limit for technology use. At times, I certainly am guilty of staying plugged in right up until I close my eyes. But when I avoid this overactivity, I notice the difference almost immediately.
  2. Develop a focused, positive intention to sleep through the night, rather than worrying that you won’t be able to fall asleep.  Some women find meditating before bed or deep breathing or listening to a Nidra yoga tape is calming and speeds the transition to sleep.
  3. Boost your body’s natural hormones with a Melatonin supplement. If it helps your sleep, I suspect it is also helping your bones!

I hope you are able to feel rested and renewed!

 

References:

Tresguerres, I, et al., Melatonin dietary supplement as an anti-aging therapy for age-related bone loss.Rejuvenation Research, 2014; 140311120122003 DOI: 10.1089/rej.2013.1542

Witt-Enderby et al., Therapeutic treatments potentially mediated by melatonin receptors: potential clinical uses in the prevention of osteoporosis, cancer and as a adjuvant therapy. Jr. of Pineal Research, Vol 41, #4, Nov. 2006: 297-305

Radio, N M, et al., Melatonin enhances alkaline phosphatase activity in differentiating human adult mesenchymal stem cells grown in osteogenic medium via MT2 melatonin receptors and the MEK/ERK (1/2) signaling cascade. Jr of Pineal Research, Vo. 40, #4, May 2006:332-342

 

6 Signs of Osteoporosis

Nature’s tips on bone loss — 6 signs and symptoms of bone health

How do we know whether our bones are healthy or not? We can’t see them like we can our skin, or listen to them like the heart or lungs. Bone density scans are one way to look inside bone, but we rarely get a bone density test until after menopause and even so, bone mineral density technology has a long way to go in my opinion. As a medical anthropologist, I’m always wondering what Nature can tell us about our health. And it turns out, there are many outward signs and symptoms that may shed light on the health of your bones.

I refer to these signs and symptoms as “tips” from Nature. They certainly aren’t definitive or anything to scare you into thoughts of osteoporosis, but if you’re the type of person who’s planning to be active and strong well into old age like I am, it doesn’t hurt to assess your bones from the outside.

Let’s take a look at some signs and symptoms that may be indicators of early bone loss. Investigating these tips early on may save you from unwanted treatment or therapy down the line and offer you the freedom of strength and movement for the rest of your life.

Do you have signs of early bone loss?

    1. Receding gums. Receding gums are quite common and can be attributed to a variety of factors, one of which is bone loss. Our teeth are connected to the jaw bone and if the jaw is losing bone, gums can recede. In studies of women, jaw bone loss has also been associated with lower bone mineral density in areas such as the vertebral bodies of the lumbar spine. The standard panoramic x-rays during your visits to the dentist can provide a well-informed dentist with an opportunity to screen you for bone loss. So ask your dentist to share any information and insight he or she may glean from your exam and x-rays regarding your bone health.
    2. Decreased grip strength. As we grow older, one of the surest ways to keep the risk of fracture to a minimum is through fall prevention — and for that, good balance, overall muscle strength, and grip strength are fundamental. In a recent study of postmenopausal women, handgrip strength was the most important physical test factor related to overall bone mineral density. And fortunately, improving handgrip strength and overall muscle strength is within your reach, no matter what your age. For more information on increasing muscle strength, see my article on exercise and bone health.
    3. Weak and brittle fingernails. At the Center for Better Bones, I often observe that after women start a program for better bone health, their fingernails grow stronger and healthier right along with their bones. We always consider it a good sign when nail strength improves, and recent science suggests this nail-bone health observation is indeed valid. However, spending time in water, exposed to harsh chemicals, digging in the garden, or other work can be tough on your nails, so take these into consideration as you assess your own nails
    4. Cramps, muscle aches, and bone pain. As we get older, many of us accept aches and pains as a part of life, but these symptoms may indicate that your bones are in need of some support. Muscle and bone pain is an often overlooked, but well-documented symptom of severely inadequate vitamin D — an important bone builder. According to experts, vitamin D deficiency has reached alarming proportions, and researchers worldwide have been evaluating its association with muscle pain. Cramps are another symptom to pay attention to. There can be a number of mechanisms causing leg and foot cramps, but leg cramps that occur at night are often a signal that your calcium, magnesium, and/or potassium blood levels have dropped too low during the night, when you are not consuming food. If this situation were to persist over time, excessive bone loss could occur. At the Center for Better Bones, I recommend that women experiencing nocturnal calf and foot cramps take their calcium–magnesium supplements closer to bedtime.
    5. Height loss. Losing height is very common as we age and there are many precursors to it, including poor posture and vertebral fractures. Poor posture may not mean you have bone loss, but it can indicate weakening of the muscles around your spine, and since bone and muscle work in one unit and typically gain and lose strength in synchrony, it’s likely that a loss in muscle is connected to an eventual loss in bone.
    6. Low overall fitness. Osteoporosis has been linked to overall decline in physical fitness, as measured by aerobic capacity, muscle strength, and even balance. If your general fitness declines, it is likely that bone mass will also decline. Instead of feeling scared or worried by these changes, take the opportunity to put more attention on your personal health and longevity by taking care your bones. Even women who have been sedentary their whole lives can make significant gains, including better physical coordination, when they undertake a moderate, self-paced exercise program designed for their needs. And even people in their 80’s and 90’s have the ability to adapt and respond to both endurance and strength training. For ideas, read my article on exercise and bone health.

Strong bones are your fountain of youth

Call me biased, but I think strong bones are the fountain of youth. If your bones are healthy and strong, it’s likely your muscles are too, and it’s also likely you have a great reserve of minerals tucked away for the future. Strong bones mean you have the ability to be active and even flexible into your older years. You don’t have anything to lose by taking good care of your bones — and you have everything down to the bone to gain.

Do You Think You Are Having Bone Loss? Contact us to see of a consultation with Dr. Brown could help you.