Imagine having bones so fragile that even a cough or a sneeze could cause your ribs to break! Unfortunately, this is a reality for over 10 million Americans suffering from osteoporosis – a disease where bones lose mass and become brittle.1 According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, more than half of America’s population aged 50 and above has either osteoporosis or low bone density, placing them at a high risk for fractures. Osteoporosis has been dubbed a “silent thief” because the bone loss is often not obvious till the first fracture occurs.2
Although osteoporosis and bone loss can affect anyone at any age, postmenopausal women with estrogen deficiency and women with smaller frames are most susceptible to bone loss.3 While there are medicines to increase bone strength and reduce the chronic pain associated with osteoporosis, some natural remedies, healthy food choices, and simple changes in lifestyle offer you the best protection against this disease. Start early, since the first 30 years of your life are when you acquire almost all your bone mass and strength.4
1. Eat Calcium-Rich Foods
You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Any discussion on bone health has to start with calcium, the nutrient that helps the body build bone. And any discussion on calcium has to be followed by advice to tank up on dairy. Right? Yes and no.
Dairy is definitely the most ubiquitous and easily available source of calcium. A cup (250 ml) of milk contains 300 mg of calcium, taking care of about a third of your daily requirement of the mineral. Yogurt, the gut-friendly dairy product, is bone-friendly too, with about 340 mg of calcium packed into a 6 oz. cup.5 Cheese, especially mozzarella, is another delicious way to sneak calcium into your diet.
But the vegans and the lactose-intolerant have no reason to worry. Vegetables such as watercress, asparagus, broccoli, kale, and okra are excellent sources of calcium too. Go easy on spinach, though – its high oxalate content can interfere with calcium absorption.6
Almonds are another surprise powerhouse of calcium.7 Toss a handful into your salads or follow the Ayurvedic method of soaking the nuts overnight in milk and grinding them into a delicious paste. You could even have almond milk.
More good news for those who prefer green sources of calcium – animal proteins are more likely to cause loss of calcium through urine than proteins from plant foods. The sulfur present in animal amino acids gets converted into sulfate and acidifies blood. As this acid is neutralized, bone dissolves, merges with the bloodstream, and eventually gets excreted through urine.8 9
2. Do Not Forget Vitamin D
Absorption of calcium is as important as its intake and that’s where vitamin D enters the picture, helping the body metabolize calcium. Vitamin D not only regulates calcium absorption but also causes the intestine to synthesize calcium-binding proteins. This “sunshine vitamin” is usually synthesized by the body through exposure to ultraviolet B rays. But these days, lifestyle factors such as insufficient exposure to sunlight and use of sunscreen have resulted in widespread vitamin D deficiencies.10 Besides, the ability of the skin to process vitamin D decreases with age. So, unfortunately, women above 50, who are already prone to osteoporosis, have this additional risk factor to reckon with.
So how can you get in enough vitamin D? Aside from a daily dose of sunshine, a diet rich in the vitamin can help ensure your body never falls short of it.11 Seafood (salmon, herrings, oysters), yolks from eggs of pasture-raised chickens, and wild mushrooms are some food options that provide significant amounts of the vitamin.12
3. Include Whole Grains, Legumes, And Fruit In Your Diet
If you needed just one more reason to incorporate these wholesome foods into your diet, here it is! Though calcium and vitamin D are what come to the mind when one hears of bones, the supporting actors in the skeletal system – magnesium, vitamin K, potassium, boron and several other nutrients – each have a vital role to play in building and maintaining a healthy bone mass. Sea vegetables such as agar agar and nori ( yes, the humble seaweed that gives your sushi its punch!) are versatile and gut-friendly foods that are great sources of vitamin K.13 Adding protein-packed legumes such as chickpeas, kidney beans and black-eyed peas to your diet, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, and choosing foods made with whole grains whenever possible can give you your daily quota of all these elements.
4. Toss In Some Tofu
Recent studies show the potential of isoflavones found in soy products in reducing the risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Isoflavones, in combination with calcium, may be effective in slowing down bone loss and preventing vertebral fractures. Though evidence on this is not conclusive, soy products are also solid alternatives to dairy as sources of calcium. So, go ahead and throw in a few cubes of tofu in your stir fry or curry, and whip up a yummy smoothie with soy milk. A moderate soy consumption of 2–4 ounces per day is considered ideal.14
5. Find Time To Exercise
If you suffer from or are at high risk of bone loss, you may feel it is counterintuitive to exercise. What if you fall and fracture a bone? But nothing could be farther from the truth! Irrespective of your age, regular physical activity can increase muscle strength and improve bone health. It can also lead to better balance and coordination.15
A good strategy may be to find the right balance of weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises. While high-impact, weight-bearing exercises such as dancing, aerobics, jogging and climbing stairs help build bones, you may need to avoid them if you have broken a bone due to osteoporosis. In such cases, opt for low-impact alternatives such as using elliptical training machines or walking on a treadmill. Resistance exercises that strengthen muscles include lifting weights, using exercise bands, standing on your toes etc. Pilates is another good bet for improving posture and bone strength. If you are already facing bone loss, consult a physiotherapist to ensure that the exercises you choose are appropriate and effective for you.16
6. Flex It With Yoga
As a low-impact, bone-strengthening discipline, yoga holds great potential as a physical activity routine for preventing and managing osteoporosis. A study conducted by a group physiatrists from various American universities indicated that even a 12-minute routine involving select yoga exercises such as the tree pose (vrikshasana), triangle pose (trikonasana) and warrior pose (virabhadrasana) could improve bone density in the spine, hips, and femur. Weight-bearing yoga poses such as arm balances, standing poses, and inversions are considered effective in promoting calcium retention in post-menopausal women.17 In fact, yoga is one system of exercise in which your arms and upper body bear weight. This helps strengthen bones and improve bone density. 18
Make sure you consult a yoga trainer, preferably one who specializes in therapeutic yoga, before trying out any yoga exercise.
7. Try Ayurvedic Remedies: Triphala, Veld Grape, And Sesame Oil
In ayurveda, diseases of the bone are considered to be related to vata dosha. Practitioners suggest several remedies that can combat bone-related illnesses, fortify the skeletal system, and improve digestion which is vital for the health of your joints.
Triphala: The almost-legendary combination of haritaki, amalaki, and bibhitaki is said to work magic on the colon and is used to treat several ailments, including osteoporosis. Amalaki (Indian gooseberry) is especially useful in replenishing bone tissue.19
Veld grape: This plant that has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to promote healing of fractures. Incidentally, it actually resembles bones and joints! Studies indicate that this herb has anti-osteoporotic effects and stimulates the production of osteoblasts, which are essential for bone growth. Veld grape or Cissus quadrangularis is used as a vegetable in South East Asia and is available in capsule form as a herbal supplement.20
Sesame seed oil: In ayurveda, oil from the black sesame seed is considered the “king of oils.” It is very effective in fighting degeneration of bones. Apart from using it to impart a distinct flavor to your oriental dishes, you can massage it into the skin and wash it off with warm water a few minutes later. This practice of “abhyanga” – self-massage with warm oil 4-5 times a week – is considered to be almost a panacea since it can promote relaxation and overall well-being and fortify bones. 21
While herbs like red clover and black cohosh are being studied as osteoporosis remedies, there’s still concern about their side effects and how effective they are.22 For now, it would be better to stick to the tried and tested remedies we’ve listed.
8. Rein In These Bone-Eroding Habits
A regimen focused on stalling or controlling specific diseases requires some conscious lifestyle changes. Many of our lifestyle choices can have implications on bone strength and overall health.
Quit smoking: Tobacco launches an onslaught of toxins on the body, increases chances of early menopause in women, and can affect bone health.
Limit salt: Excessive salt intake in postmenopausal women results in loss of calcium through urine. Cut down on fast foods and processed foods, as they account for 75 percent of our salt consumption.23
C for calcium, not cola: Carbonated drinks, especially colas, contain phosphoric acid. Some studies suggest that an overdose of phosphorus can come in the way of calcium absorption.24 Swapping cola for a glass of calcium-fortified orange juice is a bone-wise way to quench your thirst.
Cut the caffeine: Consuming more than 330 mg of caffeine per day – the amount in 4 cups of coffee – can also contribute to bone loss.25 . Grab a cup of white tea instead – it has the least amount of fluoride among teas made from Camellia sinensis (the shrub that produces tea leaves) and gives you a bone-boosting shot of antioxidants. 26
Mind your medicines: Long-term use of some medications such as steroid hormones, blood thinners, thyroid drugs, and antacids with aluminum may hasten the onset of osteoporosis. Seek advice from your physician if you take any of these medicines regularly.27
|↑1, ↑25||FAQs. National Osteoporosis Foundation.|
|↑2||54 Million Americans Affected by Osteoporosis and Low Bone Mass. National Osteoporosis Foundation.|
|↑3||Aloia, John F., Stanton H. Cohn, Ashok Vaswani, James K. Yeh, Kapo Yuen, and Kenneth Ellis. “Risk factors for postmenopausal osteoporosis.” The American journal of medicine 78, no. 1 (1985): 95-100.|
|↑4||Osteoporosis . National Health Services.|
|↑5||Food and Your Bones. National Osteoporosis Foundation.|
|↑6||Sunyecz, John A. “The use of calcium and vitamin D in the management of osteoporosis.” Therapeutics and clinical risk management 4, no. 4 (2008): 827.|
|↑7||Rose, Mary Swartz, and Grace MacLeod. “Experiments on the utilization of the calcium of almonds by man.” Journal of Biological Chemistry 57, no. 1 (1923): 305-315.|
|↑8||Calcium in Plant-Based Diets. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.|
|↑9||Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.|
|↑10||Nair, Rathish, and Arun Maseeh. “Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin.” Journal of pharmacology & pharmacotherapeutics 3, no. 2 (2012): 118.|
|↑11||Lips, P., D. Hosking, Kurt Lippuner, J. M. Norquist, L. Wehren, G. Maalouf, S. RAGI‐EIS, and J. Chandler. “The prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy amongst women with osteoporosis: an international epidemiological investigation.” Journal of internal medicine 260, no. 3 (2006): 245-254.|
|↑12||Food And Your Bones. National Osteoporosis Foundation.|
|↑13, ↑14||Naturopathic Approaches To Preventing And Treating Osteoporosis. Natural Medicine Journal.|
|↑15, ↑16||Exercise For Your Bone Health. National Institute of Health.|
|↑17||Lu, Yi-Hsueh, Bernard Rosner, Gregory Chang, and Loren M. Fishman. “Twelve-minute daily yoga regimen reverses osteoporotic bone loss.” Topics in geriatric rehabilitation 32, no. 2 (2016): 81.|
|↑18||Motorwala, Zainab S., Sona Kolke, Priyanka Y. Panchal, Nilima S. Bedekar, Parag K. Sancheti, and Ashok Shyam. “Effects of Yogasanas on osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.” International journal of yoga 9, no. 1 (2016): 44.|
|↑19||Birla, Ankita K., and Sapna Purohit. “Geriatric Care; Complete Ayurvedic Package.” Ayurlog: National Journal of Research in Ayurved Science 5, no. 5 (2017).|
|↑20||Shirwaikar, Annie, Saleemulla Khan, and S. Malini. “Antiosteoporotic effect of ethanol extract of Cissus quadrangularis Linn. on ovariectomized rat.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 89, no. 2 (2003): 245-250.|
|↑21||Basisht, Gopal K., Ram Harsh Singh, and Harimohan Chandola. “Management of rheumatoid arthritis (Aamavata) using symbiohealth healthcare system.” Ayu 33, no. 4 (2012): 466.|
|↑22||Al-Anazi, Abdullah Foraih, Viquar Fatima Qureshi, Khalida Javaid, and Shoeb Qureshi. “Preventive effects of phytoestrogens against postmenopausal osteoporosis as compared to the available therapeutic choices: An overview.” Journal of natural science, biology, and medicine 2, no. 2 (2011): 154.|
|↑23||Sodium in Your Diet: Use the Nutrition Facts Label and Reduce Your Intake. US Food And Drug Administration.|
|↑24||By the way, doctor: Does carbonated water harm bones?. Harvard health.|
|↑26||Izuora, Kenneth, Jennifer G. Twombly, Gary M. Whitford, Jennifer Demertzis, Roberto Pacifici, and Michael P. Whyte. “Skeletal fluorosis from brewed tea.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 96, no. 8 (2011): 2318-2324.|