Maintaining healthy bones can be considered a work in progress throughout the course of your lifetime. Bone tissue continuously regenerates itself through a process often referred to as bone remodeling. During this process, bone tissue is reabsorbed and recreated, forming new bone, with adult bones typically replacing at a rate of approximately 10 percent a year. However, the ratio of reabsorbed bone tissue and replaced bone tissue can shift as we age, impacting the strength of bones and leading to osteoporosis and other health conditions. Nutrition is an essential part of helping to mitigate the impact of that ratio shift to ensure optimum bone health into old age.
Nutritional Balance for Bone Health
Skeletal health is a critical part of being able to be active and healthy well into old age. While most everyone is familiar with the rock star nutrient for healthy bones – calcium – not everyone realizes that there are a number of other nutrients that are also essential to the continued health of the bones.
Nutritional balance is important because, for example, in order for calcium to do its job in the skeletal system, it needs to be supported by the correct ratio of other nutrients such as magnesium. The nutritional choices you make today can have a significant impact on the health of your bones during your senior years.
Essential Nutrition for Healthy Bones
Correct levels of magnesium are required to maintain the right balance of calcium and vitamin D. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with a higher risk of bone fractures due, in part, to its impact on the actions of other bone-essential nutrients. Calcium, another important bone-health nutrient, is essential for bone mass and overall bone health. Recent studies have connected high vitamin D levels with a lower risk of frailty during the senior years, though further testing is needed to determine exactly what optimal vitamin D levels should be. In this case, what is clear is the role of vitamin D in the absorption and utilization of calcium. Low vitamin D levels heighten the risk of developing osteoporosis and, for those already dealing with this health condition, can make it worse.
Vitamin C, among its many vital purposes within the body, is a critical part of collagen and connective tissue production and thus, bone development and remodeling. Some studies indicate that Vitamin C plays a role in the gene transcription involved with bone formation. Vitamin K is another nutrient that plays an important role in bone health. It works in partnership with vitamin D to assist in the metabolism of calcium and aids in maintaining bone density. Low levels of Vitamin B12 have been linked to a higher risk of hip fractures in both men and women.
The Estrogen Issue
Estrogen levels can have an impact on bone density, making nutritional decisions even more important for women as they approach and experience menopause. Men, too, can be impacted. This hormone impacts the ability of osteoblasts – the cells responsible for bone production during bone remodeling – to perform their tasks. As estrogen levels decrease during menopause and the aging process, this process becomes less efficient, potentially decreasing bone density and increasing the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis. Nutrition and physical activity are essential to mitigating the impact of decreasing estrogen levels on the skeletal system.
Phytoestrogens can offer some natural help with estrogen levels, thereby helping to promote a healthier bone density. Some studies show a reduced risk of bone fractures in women with higher soy consumption. Researchers have also found a link between taking soy isoflavone supplements and better calcium retention in bones for women. For post-menopausal women, low vitamin B6 levels have been linked to a higher risk of osteoporosis, leading researchers to consider connections between estrogen and the body’s utilization of this nutrient, because there isn’t a similar link between low vitamin B6 and osteoporosis in men. Vitamin B12 also has a role in the functioning of osteoblasts, making it another nutrient to watch for bone formation and density.
Supplements May Be the Right Choice
While a healthy diet should always be the primary goal when it comes to healthy bones, the facts are that certain nutrients are more difficult to obtain healthy levels of via diet alone. This can be especially true for those approaching the senior years and women moving toward and through menopause.
Vitamin D can be particularly difficult because it is not naturally available in a wide range of foods and requires more sunlight exposure than the average person tends to get in today’s more urban lifestyle. Vitamin K is another nutrient that people often don’t get enough of in the typical Western diet. Taking a high-quality dietary supplement designed to support bone health while working to improve the daily diet can be a great way to promote the bone density and health that is essential to healthy, active and happy senior years.