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.

 

 

 

Better bones, better body for National Women’s Health Week

 

As a healthcare practitioner, I’m always talking with women about the importance of their health.  But I realize that many women are short on time.  That’s why one of the things I emphasize is that with a natural, life-supporting bone-building program, you can easily create multiple benefits for your entire body.  Here are just a few examples.

As you build your bones, you can also….

1) Control your weight and belly fat
Hormonal signals sent between bones and other organs regulate sugar metabolism and prevent diabetes, reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, and limit “belly fat.” My natural Better Bones program will enhance the production of osteocalcin, which is the hormone-like molecule that actually signals the body to reduce unwanted fat.

2) Build muscle
If we’re building bone, we’re building muscle, and vice versa. Exercise studies show that women in early post-menopause can not only maintain, but gain an average of 1.5% in bone mineral density in as little as nine months with rigorous strength-training regimes. This is compared to the 2% of lost bone that might otherwise occur. Wearing a weighted vest is a time saving way to build both muscle and bone.

3) Promote healthy teeth and gums
There are direct links between poor oral health and poor overall health as well; periodontal disease is linked not only to osteoporosis, but also to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and respiratory illnesses such as COPD or pneumonia. Receding gums are often an early sign of body-wide bone loss.  Our teeth can be thought of as the “strongest bone.” Over and over again I see the teeth, gums and the jaw bone benefit from the Better Bones Program.

4) Get optimal blood pressure
Many nutrients key to bone health, including the calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin D, are key to regulating healthy blood pressure.  We consider potassium to be especially powerful for both heart and bones, as it helps maintain healthy blood pressure, electrolyte balance, calcium levels, and bone-crucial acid-base balance.

5) Give yourself a healthy heart
In a natural Better Bones program, everything you do for bone will also help your heart. For example, vitamin K — particularly K2 as MK-7 — improves arterial flexibility and helps reduce the risk of arterial calcification.

Plus…new connections for skin and nails
Finally, bone is high in protein collagen, and new research connects the health of our bone to that of our skin and nails, which are also collagen-abundant tissues.  Better Bones plus less wrinkles, and stronger nails — sounds good to me.

 

Am I Losing Bone Right Now? The NTx Test

 

Every day women are worried because they’ve been told that a DEXA test shows their bone density is that of an 80-year-old, or that they “must” take bone drugs.

But what worries me is that most of these women have NOT been told whether or not their bone loss is ongoing or if it occurred in the past. Knowing if your bone loss is still taking place is critical when it comes to your risk of excessive bone loss, osteoporosis and fracture.

The NTx test measures current bone loss

I recommend anyone worried about bone loss get an NTx (N-telopeptide) test. Unlike bone density tests which only provide a static snapshot of your bones, an NTx test tells you if your bones are currently breaking down. It does this by measuring molecules from bone excreted in the urine.

Get a video download about the NTx

You can get a video download that features my explanation of the NTx test, how to get one and how to understand the results. This 9 ½-minute video download also includes a transcript for those who prefer the read the information. You can also help educate your physician about the use of the NTx test and why you would like her/him to order this test for you. Get the video now.

 

What your weight tells you about your bones

BMIIs being overweight protective for bone health? Does being underweight jeopardize bone? What happens to bone when you lose weight?

While these might seem like simple questions, the weight-bone link is far from straight-forward.  Hundreds of papers have been written on the topic, with contradictory findings.  Nonetheless I did promise to address this weighty issue, so here’s my synthesis of what we know.

  • Being significantly underweight increases the risk for fracture. Numerous studies suggest that being thin is associated with an increased risk of hip fracture compared to people of normal weight. Thin women with low bone density and little muscle mass are especially at risk.
  • Being slightly overweight may have a small protective effect on hip fractures. Weight-bearing hip fractures may be a bit less in slightly overweight women as compared to women of normal weight However, being even slightly overweight seems to be associated with a somewhat greater risk for fractures of the upper arm.
  • Being significantly overweight doesn’t protect against fractures. Even though weight-bearing bones may become stronger to carry extra weight, this doesn’t appear to ward off fractures.  Abdominal fat likely produces inflammatory compounds detrimental to bone. Being overweight is often associated with metabolic diseases like diabetes which increase fracture risk.
  • Lean body mass is important. Whatever your weight, the amount of muscle mass or lean body mass is very important. Lean body mass protects against fracture— which is why a thin person with good muscle mass will be at a lower risk than a heavy person with a lower percentage of muscle mass. Muscle mass is associated with bone mineral density, and a higher bone density associated with lower fracture risk.
  • Weight loss is associated with bone loss. Simply said, when you lose weight you lose bone.  This is especially true as we grow older, as bone loss from weight loss in post menopause isn’t regained easily.  In fact, losing weight as we age after menopause is considered a risk factor for fracture.
  • Weight cycling increases fracture risk. Weight cycling — or the losing and then gaining back of weight— is associated with increased rates of both spinal and hip fractures fracture. A stable weight, if bit above normal, is more favorable to bone.

If you’d like, in a subsequent blog I can discuss what this all might mean for you.  For now let me suggest that for women of normal or low weight, gaining a few pounds as we age is not a bad thing at all.  Read more about your possible bone health risk factors here.

 

A new way to live each day

Capturing the innate healing process

In a perfect world, the bones can manage wear and tear quite efficiently but when they are bombarded daily by large concentrations of toxins, chemicals, or even prescription drugs, it becomes impossible to maintain homeostasis. The bones literally can’t keep up with the demand placed on them and the orderly ebb and flow between bone breakdown and rebuilding goes haywire.

Over the course of studying bones, their structure, and function, I’ve learned that, if we would just listen, our bones will tell us how to keep them healthy. When we understand and respect the complex and dynamic nature of osteoporosis, we are given the tools to naturally improve the condition of our bones. We can put the magical nature of our bones to work for us by using methods which are logical and easy to comprehend. Harnessing this innate intuition for healing and protection is one of the “secrets” of healthy bones and it is within our grasp to do.

A note about prescription drugs for osteoporosis:

Today, medications known as bisphosphonates are commonly prescribed for women who are at risk for or diagnosed with osteoporosis. Bone mineral density may increase after taking these drugs, but this change alone is not enough to recover bone health or structural integrity. In addition, new evidence suggests that long-term use of bisphosphonates may harm the bone, with some women even reporting strange fractures. I don’t recommend these drugs and instead advocate the safer, more effective approach of using nutrition and environmental management to return your bones to a healthy state.

The weight of our world

Just what sorts of things could jeopardize the health of our bones to such a great extent that osteoporosis has become so common in American women? In a word: lifestyle. Inadequate nutrition, dieting, smoking, hormonal imbalance, lack of exercise, and a long list of other factors, have a negative impact on the state of our bones. Ideally, there is a balance between the processes of bone depletion and bone regeneration. This equilibrium is maintained through proper nutrition and other factors, but it is quickly reordered when the bones do not get what they need. Bones require certain elements to stay healthy: the right nutrients in steady supply, appropriate exercise, protection from toxins and poisons, etc., and when these elements are delivered regularly, the bones respond by growing stronger and more resilient.

While our bones might be able to tolerate the effects of a few damaging practices, the hazard grows exponentially in relation to the total number of the “burdens” we might be carrying. One look at our overloaded camel will give you an idea of how easy it is for our bones to collapse under the weight of the typical American lifestyle. Adding to or taking away just one or two burdens can have a significant effect on your bone health, one way or the other. The journey towards healthier bones starts by taking one step away from your own personal tipping point.

Total load model of bone-depleting factors ©2009.
Please click here for a printable version.

How heavy is your burden?

If you are living a hectic lifestyle, you may feel as if you have no control over anything that happens to you or your body during your day. But the fact is, only 20 percent of our total burden is beyond our reach — things like gender, genetic makeup, and age. In actuality, we have a tremendous amount of power over the elements which affect bone health. Some of us may indulge in addictive habits, or eat too much sugar, or not get enough sleep. Many women allow stress to balloon out of control for days or weeks until they get so used to having chronic stress that it becomes “normal.” But all of these issues — and more — can be reduced or eliminated and that can dramatically lighten our overall burden.

The American way of life often exposes us to a wide spectrum of environmental toxins which accelerate the process of bone loss, usually without us even knowing. The body has several means for naturally ridding itself of poisons, but it can only handle so many “emergency calls.” Removing or neutralizing the effects of toxins is possible using a variety of natural methods for detoxification.

Suggestions include:

  • Drinking purified or filtered water, or teas, to help dilute toxins and move them out of the body
  • Eating natural, organic foods which are nutrient-rich and free of antibiotics and hormones
  • Washing fruits and vegetables to remove pesticides and contaminants

Inflammation and stress

Reducing the burden that inflammation places on our bodies is absolutely critical to maintaining optimal bone health. An overactive inflammation response can push the bone breakdown mechanism into overdrive and cause actual bone loss. If you have certain chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or fibromyalgia, these are signposts that inflammation could be a particular problem for your individual bone health.

De-stressing our lives and learning to relax is as important to our bones as it is to overall wellness. Stress, negative emotions, and depression can all figure prominently in the deterioration of bone health. If we are in stressful states for long periods, it can end up harming the bones through the effects that “stress chemicals” such as cortisol and adrenaline have on the metabolism. So take this as another reminder to focus on finding ways to remove some of the emotional stressors from your life and invite more relaxation in.

It’s never too late to turn your attention to improving bone health. Even long-term patterns and habits can be changed or moderated so you can reduce the weight of your personal burdens and restore the internal balance required for good bone health.

A new way to live each day

Recovering bone health starts with a new understanding of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis in itself is not something that has gone wrong. Instead, osteoporosis is a natural process of bone breakdown and regeneration that is intended to be used as a short-term measure. For many women, though, it has become an enduring pattern that damages the bones and has an unhealthy impact on general wellness. For so long, American women have been taught to ignore what their bodies tell them about how to live well and stay healthy. Finding an appreciation for the natural processes which allow us to function, and listening to the messages our bodies send, helps us get in touch with the instinctive intelligence we all have within.

So often, the treatment methods women encounter in traditional medicine, especially those for osteoporosis, actually work against the body’s normal biology and upset the balance even more. Knowing — and accepting — how your particular lifestyle is affecting your bone health makes it even easier to adopt a healthier new lifestyle which harmonizes with the natural way your body works. The Women’s Health Network Better Bones Package is a comprehensive plan for attaining bone health which helps guide you away from the heavy burdens of a harmful lifestyle, and offers you a wholesome new blueprint to follow. When you incorporate the natural components of our Program into your daily life, you can prevent, halt, or even reverse, the effects of osteoporosis.

It’s not too late — so don’t wait

The sneaky thing about osteoporosis is that you won’t notice any symptoms and probably won’t have any outward indication that your bone health is at risk. That’s why it’s important to take action now so your bones can stay healthy and strong for life. And because of the magical healing nature of our bones, it genuinely doesn’t matter how old you are, you just need to make the commitment. When you make that pledge, it sends a signal to your body to prepare for the positive changes you are about to embrace. so your new behaviors become part of a fresh, healthy lifestyle.

Teenagers’ bone health

Additional bone health topics for other ages can be found here:

During the teen years (ages 13-19)

While it is not as easy to build bone during the teen years as during early adolescence, this stage still offers substantial opportunity. Nearly a quarter of all bone is formed during the years of the adolescent growth spurt, and half of the bone mass you will build during your life is laid down from puberty through the teen years. This is the time for exercise and good nutrition.

A wholesome diet, strenuous and regular exercise, and the avoidance of toxins are all especially important. Unfortunately, at this time more than ever, young people’s diets tend to deteriorate; exercise, especially among girls, drops; and dieting increases, along with anorexia, menstrual irregularities, and tobacco and recreational drug use.

While teens would benefit from supernutrition, minimal nutrition is more the standard. Teenage girls consume on average only 68% of the RDA for calcium, making it unlikely that many will reach their full genetic potential for bone mass development. While teenage boys consume more calcium, many still underconsume a variety of essential bone-building nutrients. For example, 30% of all adolescents consume less than two-thirds the RDA for magnesium. Teenage girls consume inadequate amounts of manganese, and average male intake is rather marginal.

To reverse this trend, teens can be encouraged to:

  • Consume at least the RDA of all essential nutrients. Use supplements as necessary to achieve this goal.
  • Strive to consume two cups of vegetables for lunch and dinner, and four servings of fruit a day.
  • Avoid smoking, recreational drugs, and excessive dieting.
  • Seek and address the underlying causes of conditions requiring steroid medications or chronic antibiotic use.
  • Participate daily in outdoor physical activity.

Please click here for information on bone health at any age.

Children’s bone health

Additional bone health topics for other ages can be found here:

Building bone in infancy (ages 0-3)

Infancy is the period of most rapid skeletal growth, and even at this early stage, environmental influences can make a difference. Inadequate prenatal nutrition can lead to low birthweight infants born with low bone mass. Studies also show that infants breastfed three or more months have greater bone mineral density than those not breastfed or breastfed for less than three months. Even early exposure to secondhand smoke can leave children with a tendency to later experience decreased peak bone mass.

To give their babies’ bones a good start, pregnant women and mothers can:

  • Eat well during pregnancy and, if of normal weight, gain 25-35 pounds (e.g., mothers with better vitamin D and calcium status give birth to infants with stronger bones).
  • Avoid toxins and distress during pregnancy, especially cigarette smoking.
  • Breastfeed their infants as long as possible.

Building bone in childhood and early adolescence (ages 4-12)

Children who are physically active and exposed to sunlight have stronger bones and build higher peak bone mass. Early childhood is accompanied by a slowing in the bone growth rate, which reverses with the well-recognized adolescent growth spurt, when about half of peak adult bone mass is accumulated. During the period immediately before and after puberty, known as peri-puberty, bones are particularly responsive to mechanical loading. Thus, if children are physically active, the skeleton adapts by growing stronger and denser. Even just a few years later, improvements in bone-mineral density are much more difficult to achieve. Taking advantage of this peri-puberty window of opportunity can make the difference between lifelong healthy bones and crippling osteoporosis in later life.

A child’s body is also especially responsive to the benefits of supernutrition — and vulnerable to penalties of undernutrition. Bone mineral density in children and young teens is directly related to their intake of the key bone-building nutrients like calcium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C and D. Adolescents who consume the RDA of calcium have better bone mineral density than those who consume less, while those consuming a few hundred milligrams more than the RDA for calcium exhibit even greater bone-mineral density. Given these facts, experts now recommend that children consume higher than RDA levels of calcium. Today, however, only 10% of girls and 25% of boys in the US meet even the lower RDA for calcium.

Parents and caregivers can help children build strong bones by:

  • Encouraging rigorous outdoor exercise each day.
  • Introducing fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts in abundance.
  • Delaying and limiting exposure to sugar and processed foods.
  • In early adolescence, considering the use of a multivitamin/mineral and additional calcium and magnesium as needed.

Please click here for information on bone health at any age.

Bone building and maintenance in adulthood

Additional bone health topics for other ages can be found here:

There are certain general trends for both sexes, but men and women also have distinct concerns about bone health. The general trends are listed below; but we also have additional information on special concerns for women, and facts about men and osteoporosis.

What are your special concerns?

  • In your 20s . . .Even into your late 20’s, you can add to your peak bone mass through exercise and nutrition supplementation.
  • In your 30s . . .In the third decade many women and some men begin to lose bone mass. Receding gums are a sign of bone loss and are often seen in the mid 30’s. In women, estrogen and progesterone deficiency during the fertile years will lead to bone loss; thus missing periods are associated with bone loss.
  • In your 40s . . .Perimenopause often begins in the mid-40’s. This time period is often associated with increased bone mineral loss as the body adjusts to lower hormone levels.
  • In your 50s and 60s . . .For both men and women, the more bone density you have built up in your teens, 20s, 30s, and 40s, the less likely it is that this normal bone loss will lead to osteoporosis. In women, the three to five years after menopause are also a time of hormonal adaptation and are often associated with increased bone loss. This is a normal adaptation and does not necessarily imply the development of severe bone weakening.
  • Age 76 and beyond). . .Within the next 50 years, 25% of the US population will be aged 65 and above. Osteoporotic fractures tend to occur as we age into the 70s and 80s. Spinal fractures occur earlier, while the average age of hip fractures is in the 80s.

As we age…

There is a common tendency to lose muscle mass as well as bone mass as we age. Indicative of our true regenerative potential, however, William Evans, MD, working with his team at Tufts University, found that through strength-building exercises, they could make a 95-year-old as strong as a 50-year-old and a 65-year-old as physically fit as a healthy 30-year-old. Furthermore, osteoporosis can be stopped, even if one has already fractured a bone. Women with an average age of 84 gained hip density (2.7%) and reduced their hip fracture rate by 43% on 1200 mg tricalcium phosphate and 800 IU vitamin D daily. Similar control patients lost 4.6% hip density and had 67% more fractures.

Nutrient needs change as we age, and with the advancing years, nutrient deficiency becomes very common. For example, while young people often consume too much protein, the elderly generally consume too little. Most notably, the need for vitamin D increases with age. Bone-weakening vitamin D deficiency is prevalent among the housebound, but also among active seniors, and up to 80% of all hip fracture patients may exhibit vitamin D deficiency. The elderly living in northern climates and those exposed to little sunlight require from 800 to 2000 IU of vitamin D a day. In addition, all elderly should keep their intake of calcium and other key bone nutrients at least at RDA levels. The first, and for many the most important, bone health test for seniors is a test for vitamin D adequacy.

How to promote bone-healthy aging

  • Eat at last one serving of meat or two servings of beans per day.
  • Get daily direct sunlight if possible and use daily supplemental vitamin D (800-2000 IU).
  • Use a balanced multivitamin/mineral and additional calcium as necessary.
  • Be physically active. Exercise, even if from a wheelchair.
  • If you are on an osteoporosis medication, its effectiveness can be increased if used along with a strong bone-building nutrition program.
  • Do that which provides a sense of well-being and joy.

Taking care with medications

An estimated 11% of all hip fractures are attributed to the use of mood-altering medications, which cause falls. Those using long-acting psychotropic drugs like Valium and Librium run a 70-80% greater risk of hip fracture. It is especially wise for the elderly to take care with medications, enhance fitness for better balance, and make household environmental changes to reduce falls.

Nutrient
Therapeutic daily intake
Calcium
1000-1500 mg
Phosphorus
800-1200 mg
Magnesium
400-800 mg
Fluoride
Unknown
Silica
not yet determined
Zinc
20-30 mg
Manganese
10-25 mg
Copper
1-3 mg
Boron
3-5 mg
Potassium
4000-6000 mg
Strontium
3-30 mg
Vitamin D
800-2000 IU and up
Vitamin C
500-3000 mg
Vitamin A
5000 IU or less
Vitamin B6
25-50 mg
Folic acid
800-1000 mcg
Vitamin B12
10-1000 mcg
Vitamin K1
1000 mcg
Vitamin K2
45-180 mcg
Fats
~20-30% total calories
Protein
1.0-1.5 g/kg

Bone tests

While the DEXA bone density scan is the standard means of assessing bone density, the new urine tests for bone breakdown can estimate the likelihood that you are currently losing bone. These tests include:

  • The NTx Osteomark test, which reports N-telopeptides of type 1 collagen. These collagen fragments appear in the urine as bone is broken down.
  • The deoxypyridinium collagen crosslinks Dpd test. These collagen crosslinks are also excreted in the urine when bone is broken down. In adults, high levels of these bone breakdown by-products suggest excessive current bone loss.

Top bone-building nutrients for people of all ages

The accompanying table provides reference ranges for our top-20 nutrient picks for adults. For children and young adults, follow recommended daily allowances (RDA) and dietary reference intakes (DRI) specific to each age. For specifics on recommendations and the bone-healthy nutrients and daily amounts that are found to be most therapeutic, see our full article on the 20 key bone-building nutrients.

What we discover more each day is that it is never too early nor too late to enhance bone health. Because bone health is intimately linked to overall health, osteoporosis can be best seen as an invitation to not only build better bones, but also a better body at any age.

A path to better bone health for a better body

How many times during your busy day have you stopped to think about bone health? Most people would probably answer, “Not very often.” Bone health is often taken for granted until a bone is broken, or you are diagnosed with osteoporosis. Yet at any given moment in each of us, there are millions of sites where small segments of old, weak bone are being dissolved and new bone is being laid down in its place. The health of our bones is as vital in our overall well-being as our cardiovascular system or our digestion — it’s just not as visible.

When we do start to think about bone health, we discover that our skeleton is a truly amazing organ. That might seem like an odd description — the skeleton as an organ — but when you think about it, the skeleton is as dynamic and changeable as any other part of the body. Like any other living tissue, the bones of the body undergo constant transformation. Every atom in our skeleton is replaced in a three-month period as our bodies continually monitor and improve our bones’ strength. So it stands to reason that at any given point in our lives, our bones will be different from what they were years ago — and from what they’ll become in years to come.

It’s unfortunate that few people take the time to understand how our bones develop and age, how they repair themselves, and what causes them to weaken. We’ve seen a whole industry develop in the last few decades intended to shore up the weakened bones of old age, all with only a sketchy understanding of what bones need to function well, or indeed what those functions are! The simple truth is, there is a great deal more to bone health than meets the eye. Our understanding of the many roles bones play in our health is constantly evolving.

The nature of healthy bones

Healthy bones are more than just a support for the rest of the body. They are a factory for our blood cells, making sure that a fresh supply of red and white cells are available to meet our body’s needs for oxygen and immune function. They’re a mineral storehouse, warehousing calcium, phosphorus, silica, and many other nutrients needed in our body. They maintain our body’s pH, releasing alkalizing mineral compounds strategically when our body becomes too acidic. And they protect our most vital organs from harm, cradling them in a hard yet flexible armor. All of these roles, and more, are essential to our health.

We have many resources in this section to help you learn more about what healthy bones are — and how to keep them healthy.

Our most popular resources on bone health

  • anyageHealthy bones at any age
    Dr. Susan Brown, PhD, the osteoporosis nutritionist, offers information on bone health at any age and natural ways to build bone strength, reduce fracture risk, and prevent osteoporosis.
  • brokenfootBone Fractures – What We know Now
    Better Bones offers an overview of fracture risks and factors predicting bone fracture.
  • calciumEssential Bone Nutrients
    Nutrition for healthy bones requires much more than just calcium. We explain the importance of 20 key nutrients for bone health.

Building bone at any age

It’s never too late to strengthen your bones. The author of Better Bones, Better Body explains what you can do now to help prevent osteoporosis later.

(Adapted from an article published in Let’s Live magazine, October 2000.)

Bone health is our birthright. Yet, today in the US, 10 million individuals already have osteoporosis and 18 million more have low bone density, placing them at risk for the disease. In this country, 1.5 million osteoporotic fractures occur each year, 20% being potentially devastating hip fractures. Half of all American Caucasian women aged 50 and older in the United States and one out of eight men over 50 will suffer an osteoporotic fracture, the direct costs of which now reach 10-15 billion dollars a year.

How do we go about reclaiming lifelong bone health? At the Better Bones Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Syracuse, NY, we aim to rethink osteoporosis from an anthropological perspective. At the Center for Better Bones, we implement a comprehensive Women’s Health Network Better Bones program® at each stage of life. Although many people may think of osteoporosis as an old woman’s disease, bone health is important to both sexes and all age groups.

Here are just a few ways you can build better bones at any age. Most of these recommendations apply to both genders, with some additional highlights for each: