I know sometimes it’s not easy to change lifetime eating habits! But again and again, studies document the bone-building benefits of consuming nutrient-dense foods — such as yogurt.
In a large Irish study, one serving of yogurt daily was linked to a substantially lower risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia.
The researchers measured total hip, femoral neck, and vertebral BMD and bone biochemical markers in 1,057 women and 763 men and conducted separate measurements of physical function in 2,624 women and 1,290 men. Then they accounted for a wide range of factors that affect the risk of osteoporosis: body weight, kidney function, physical activity, servings of milk or cheese, and calcium or vitamin D supplements, smoking, alcohol use, and so forth.
Two things make this study especially interesting
First, the bone-strengthening effect of yogurt was not seen in people who drank milk or ate cheese — it was the yogurt, specifically, not any dairy product. This supports the suggestion that yogurt’s bone-building punch lies in its contribution to our all-important gut microbiome.
Second, the study included over 4,000 adults in the over-60 age group and looked at both physiological measures of bone quality as well as physical function measures like the ability to complete common movements (standing up). This strategy provides a more holistic portrait not just the bones, but the body as a whole. I’m always in favor of that!
It’s not the first time we’ve seen the suggestion that probiotics support bone health. Another study from Sweden reported fermented dairy was associated with a lower risk of fracture, and the US Framingham Offspring Study found a similar association between yogurt consumption and hip bone density. I’ve noted before that probiotics can strongly inhibit inflammation and likely enhance bone strength for this reason.
What does this study mean?
While the study found a strong link between yogurt and bone health, that doesn’t mean eating multiple servings of yogurt daily will eliminate your risk osteopenia or osteoporosis. But it does support the idea that nutrient-dense foods, like a low-sugar, high probiotic yogurt, benefit bone by delivering calcium, protein, phosphorus, potassium and other nutrients.
All yogurts are not created equal
The most successful studies were done with European yogurts, which are high in probiotic organisms and low in sugar. If you want to see what yogurt can do for you, choose brands high in beneficial bacteria with no added sugar or additives (which unfortunately can counteract the benefits). Best bet: start with plain, organic, whole-milk yogurt and add fresh berries and alkalizing nuts and seeds for a creamy bone-supporting treat. Or whip up a yogurt smoothie! The possibilities are endless.
No dairy? No worries! If you avoid dairy remember there any many wholesome non-dairy fermented foods such as sauerkraut, olives, kimchi, tempeh, miso and true (fermented) pickles of all sorts.
Laird E., Molloy A.M., McNulty H. et al. Greater yogurt consumption is associated with increased bone mineral density and physical function in older adults. Osteoporos Int (2017). doi:10.1007/s00198-017-4049-5
Michaelsson K., Wolk A., Langenskiöld S., et al. Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies. BMJ 2014;349:g6015.
Martín Jiménez JA, Consuegra Moya B, Martín Jiménez MT. [Nutritional factors in preventing osteoporosis]. Nutr Hosp. 2015 Jul 18;32 Suppl 1:49-55. doi: 10.3305/nh.2015.32.sup1.9480.
I know that it can be scary to be told you have osteopenia or are well on your way. I talk with women worried about this every day. Unfortunately, with over half of all U.S. adults over 50 estimated to have osteoporosis or osteopenia, concern about bone loss is becoming the norm rather than the exception.
Here are 3 things to know if you’ve been told you have osteopenia – and the first is don’t panic!
- You don’t need to panic — you’re not sick. There’s a lot of confusing information out there about “osteopenia” and what it means. From the very start, the term wasn’t meant to indicate disorder, much less a disease needing treatment.
Osteopenia is really just a statement of where you stand, statistically, on a spectrum of bone thicknesses. A person with “osteopenia” has a bone density more than -1 standard deviation but less than -2.5 standard deviations from the bone density of young women (considered the ideal). With this definition, even 16% of healthy young women would be told they have osteopenia or even osteoporosis—when there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them.
- You probably don’t need medication. There’s growing, thoughtful medical consensus that bone drugs are largely ineffective and unnecessary for preventing fractures in those with osteopenia (Alonso-Coello et al., 2008), and universal recommendations for preventing osteoporotic fractures focus on lifestyle factors ahead of drugs (Cosman et al., 2014).
- You probably don’t have a significantly greater chance of a bone fracture. Bone density alone does not determine fracture risk. In fact, more than two-thirds of all osteoporotic fractures occur in people who have denser bones than would typically be called “osteoporotic” by bone scans. I suggest you take my simple bone health profile to better understand your potential risk of fracture.
You can learn more about steps to reduce your risks with my recent blog “Osteopenia? 5 steps for stronger bones.”
Alonso-Coello P, et al., Drugs for pre-osteoporosis: prevention or disease mongering? BMJ 2008;336:126. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39435.656250.AD (Published 17 January 2008) Cosman F, de Beur SJ, LeBoff MS, et al. Clinician’s guide to the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Osteoporos Int. 2014; 25(10): 2359–2381.
Looker AC, Sarafrazi Isfahani N, Fan B., Shepherd JA. Prevalence and trends in low femur bone density among older U.S. adults: NHANES 2005-2006 compared with NHANES 111. J Bone Miner Res. 2010 Jan 25 (1):64-71.
With farmer’s market season upon us, it’s a good time to remember to be careful when choosing your fresh fruits and vegetables. I recommend seeking out organic produce for one simple reason: chemical pesticides and herbicides are toxic. While the amounts you eat may be tiny, their effects are likely cumulative. Science is just now starting to find ways to identify how trace effects change the body (Curl et al., 2015). But I say it’s better to limit exposures to harmful chemicals, no matter how tiny, than play Russian roulette and hope for the best.
But I’m realistic! I know buying all-organic may be out of reach of many people’s budgets. So it pays to be savvy about what you buy from organic farmers, and what you get from conventional sources.
Several years ago, I wrote about the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and their popular list they call the Dirty Dozen, which identifies foods found to be high in pesticides even after washing or peeling.
The Dirty Dozen list keeps changing
I like to remind you about the Dirty Dozen because it’s not something to check once in a while — you should review it every year, because the rankings change on a regular basis.
For instance, apples had the highest level of chemical residues in 2012 — and stayed at the top of the list for three more years until strawberries took over. This year, strawberries are still the #1 most contaminated food, but apples have slipped to #4. Meanwhile, spinach — ranked #8 in 2016 — is now #2 on the list.
And there are new entries as well: pears, ranked at #22 in 2015, have climbed all the way up to #6 as of 2017 because EWG found that the amount of residue and the number of pesticides and fungicides more than doubled in those two years.
In our global economy, your fruits and vegetables could come from down the road or the other side of the planet. You can’t assume your grocery store is sourcing its produce from the same places all the time, or even that the farms’ pest-control practices are the same from year to year. If you have the ability grow your own fruits and vegetables, perhaps the EWG Dirty Dozen list can offer guidance on what to plant — but if you can’t, let it help you determine which foods you should select from organically grown offerings in your supermarket.
By the way, another annual list from the EWG is the Clean 15 list describing the 15 plant foods least likely to contain even trace amounts of chemicals. These are foods you can buy from conventional growers without much concern — though you should still make sure they’re fresh and wash them before eating!
Environmental Working Group. EWG’s 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™. Available at https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php (Accessed June 6, 2017).
Curl C.L., Beresford S.A.A., Fenske R.A., et al. Estimating pesticide exposure from dietary intake and organic food choices: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Environmental Health Perspectives 2015;123(5):475-483. doi:10.1289/ehp.1408197.