A recent study shows that use of a new bioavailable derivative of curcumin significantly increased the bone density in the heel, upper jaw and little finger bones in older men. While the study looks at men — more about that below — I think it has some very interesting implications for us all!
What did the study look at?
- The trial population consisted of 57 older Italian men — all between 68 and 73 years old — described by study authors as “reasonably fit” with a BMI below 25.
- All study participants began a standardized bone health management program that included regular exercise, nutritional evaluation and dietary modifications, with particular focus on vitamin D, vitamin C and calcium.
- 29 of them spent 24 weeks supplementing their program with the curcumin supplement, while the remaining 28 did not.
Now, it’s important to note that this is a small, preliminary study, and some of the choices the researchers made limit its usefulness. Men have fewer risk factors for bone loss than women in the same age group, and it’s unclear how “low” the subjects’ bone mass was (relative to their overall body size) to begin with. Plus, given that the individuals were “reasonably fit” Italian seniors (who likely had eaten an alkalizing Mediterranean diet most of their lives), we can infer that their initial risk of osteoporosis and fracture wasn’t high.
The powerful effects of curcumin
But as a starting point, it has some interesting implications. Curcumin has long been known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. And there’s evidence suggesting it inhibits an important biochemical mechanism for osteoclast development know as the RANKL pathway (Bharti et al., 2004) — which is the same process targeted by the powerful bone drug denosumab (Prolia; Hanley et al., 2012).
That’s why it makes sense that a bioavailable curcumin could have such powerful effects to build bone when combined with common-sense healthy diet and exercise habits.
Obviously, the researchers have much more work to do, but I am encouraged to see scientists turning to nature to find the best ways to build bone health!
Bharti AC, Takada Y, Aggarwal BB. Curcumin (diferuloylmethane) inhibits receptor activator of NF-kappa B ligand-induced NF-kappa B activation in osteoclast precursors and suppresses osteoclastogenesis. J Immunol. 2004;172(10):5940–5947.
Hanley DA, Adachi JD, Bell A, Brown V. Denosumab: mechanism of action and clinical outcomes. Int J Clin Pract. 2012 Dec;66(12):1139–1146.
Riva A, Togni S, Giacomelli L, et al. Effects of a cucurmin-based supplementation in asymptomatic subjects with low bone density: A preliminary 24-week supplement study. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Stud. 2017;21:1684–1689.
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.