Building healthy bones is extremely important. Minerals are incorporated into your bones during childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Once you reach 30 years of age, you have achieved peak bone mass. If not enough bone mass is created during this time or bone loss occurs later in life, you have an increased risk of developing fragile bones that break easily. Fortunately, many nutrition and lifestyle habits can help you build strong bones and maintain them as you age. Here are 10 natural ways to build healthy bones.
1. Eat Lots of Vegetables
Vegetables are great for your bones. They’re one of the best sources of vitamin C, which stimulates the production of bone-forming cells. In addition, some studies suggest that vitamin C’s antioxidant effects may protect bone cells from damage. Vegetables also seem to increase bone mineral density, also known as bone density. Bone density is a measurement of the amount of calcium and other minerals found in your bones. Both osteopenia (low bone mass) and osteoporosis (brittle bones) are conditions characterized by low bone density. A high intake of green and yellow vegetables has been linked to increased bone mineralization during childhood and the maintenance of bone mass in young adults. Eating lots of vegetables has also been found to benefit older women. A study on women over 50 found those who consumed onions most frequently had a 20% lower risk of osteoporosis, compared to women who rarely ate them. One major risk factor for osteoporosis in older adults has increased bone turnover or the process of breaking down and forming new bone. In a three-month study, women who consumed more than nine servings of broccoli, cabbage, parsley, or other plants high in bone-protective antioxidants had a decrease in bone turnover.
2. Perform Strength Training and Weight-Bearing Exercises
Engaging in specific types of exercise can help you build and maintain strong bones. One of the best types of activity for bone health is weight-bearing or high-impact exercise, which promotes the formation of new bones. Studies in children, including those with type 1 diabetes, have found that this type of activity increases the amount of bone created during the years of peak bone growth. In addition, it can be extremely beneficial for preventing bone loss in older adults. Studies in older men and women who performed weight-bearing exercises showed increases in bone mineral density, bone strength, and bone size, as well as reductions in markers of bone turnover and inflammation. However, one study found little improvement in bone density among older men who performed the highest level of weight-bearing exercise over nine months. Strength-training exercise is not only beneficial for increasing muscle mass. It may also help protect against bone loss in younger and older women, including those with osteoporosis, osteopenia, or breast cancer. One study in men with low bone mass found that although both resistance training and weight-bearing exercise increased bone density in several areas of the body, only resistance training had this effect on the hip.
3. Consume Enough Protein
Getting enough protein is important for healthy bones. About 50% of bone is made of protein. Researchers have reported that low protein intake decreases calcium absorption and may also affect rates of bone formation and breakdown. However, concerns have also been raised that high-protein diets leach calcium from bones to counteract increased acidity in the blood. Nevertheless, studies have found that this doesn’t occur in people who consume up to 100 grams of protein daily, as long as this is balanced with plenty of plant foods and adequate calcium intake. Research suggests that older women, in particular, appear to have better bone density when they consume higher amounts of protein. In a large, six-year observational study of over 144,000 postmenopausal women, higher protein intake was linked to a lower risk of forearm fractures and significantly higher bone density in the hip, spine, and total body. What’s more, diets containing a greater percentage of calories from protein may help preserve bone mass during weight loss. In a one-year study, women who consumed 86 grams of protein daily on a calorie-restricted diet lost less bone mass from their arm, spine, hip, and leg areas than women who consumed 60 grams of protein per day.
4. Eat High-Calcium Foods Throughout the Day
Calcium is the most important mineral for bone health, and it’s the main mineral found in your bones. Because old bone cells are constantly broken down and replaced by new ones, it’s important to consume calcium daily to protect bone structure and strength. The RDI for calcium is 1,000 mg per day for most people, although teens need 1,300 mg and older women require 1,200 mg. However, the amount of calcium your body absorbs can vary greatly. Interestingly, if you eat a meal containing more than 500 mg of calcium, your body will absorb much less of it than if you consume a lower amount. Therefore, it’s best to spread your calcium intake throughout the day by including one high-calcium food from this list at each meal. It’s also best to get calcium from foods rather than supplements. A recent 10-year study of 1,567 people found that although high calcium intake from foods decreased the risk of heart disease overall, those who took calcium supplements had a 22% greater risk of heart disease.
5. Get Plenty of Vitamin D and Vitamin K
Vitamin D and vitamin K are extremely important for building strong bones. Vitamin D plays several roles in bone health, including helping your body absorb calcium. Achieving a blood level of at least 30 ng/ml (75 nmol/l) is recommended for protecting against osteopenia, osteoporosis, and other bone diseases. Indeed, studies have shown that children and adults with low vitamin D levels tend to have lower bone density and are more at risk for bone loss than people who get enough. Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is very common, affecting about one billion people worldwide. You may be able to get enough vitamin D through sun exposure and food sources such as fatty fish, liver, and cheese. However, many people need to supplement with up to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily to maintain optimal levels. Vitamin K2 supports bone health by modifying osteocalcin, a protein involved in bone formation. This modification enables osteocalcin to bind to minerals in bones and helps prevent the loss of calcium from bones. The two most common forms of vitamin K2 are MK-4 and MK-7. MK-4 exists in small amounts in liver, eggs, and meat. Fermented foods like cheese, sauerkraut, and a soybean product called natto contain MK-7. A small study in healthy young women found that MK-7 supplements raised vitamin K2 blood levels more than MK-4. Nevertheless, other studies have shown that supplementing with either form of vitamin K2 supports osteocalcin modification and increases bone density in children and postmenopausal women. In a study of women 50–65 years of age, those who took MK-4 maintained bone density, whereas the group that received a placebo showed a significant decrease in bone density after 12 months. However, another 12-month study found no significant difference in bone loss between women whose diets were supplemented with natto and those who did not take natto.