What you really need for strong bones

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In last week's post, I explained why taking supplemental calcium may be more harmful than helpful for the health of our hearts or our bones. (Read it here if you missed it!) Strong healthy bones are crucial to living an active life to its fullest well into our 80s, 90s and even beyond. Osteopenia and osteoporosis are very real threats to our bones, and there are many approaches to preventing these debilitating conditions. This week I'll give you nutrition tips on how to keep your bones strong and healthy for the long run. Next week's email will offer lifestyle tips for strong bones.

Nutritional approaches to maintaining healthy bones

So if calcium isn't the answer, what is?

  1. Vitamin K2: This fat-soluble vitamin is being extensively studied and gaining respect for its critical roles in:
    • reducing and preventing inflammation
    • working synergistically with other nutrients such as calcium and another fat-soluble vitamin D to help shuttle calcium to where it is needed, such as bones and teeth and keep it out of the places where it is detrimental, such as blood vessels and other soft tissues.
    • preventing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and kidney stones due to its role in keeping calcium out of soft tissue.
    • increasing or enhancing insulin sensitivity, which helps stabilize blood sugar and lowers the risk of diabetes.
    • Unfortunately, Vitamin K2 is extremely difficult to get in sufficient quantities from diet alone. K2 is found in high-fat animal foods such as hard cheeses, liver, egg yolk, butter, and ground beef. It is also found in the Japanese fermented food known as natto. The problem with many of the animal sources is that they are not fed a nutrient-rich diet themselves and therefore may not provide substantial amounts of K2. Even pastured, grass-fed animals eating the diets they were meant to eat may not provide enough K2 because our soil has been so severely depleted through years of intensive farming practices that have eroded nutrients from the soil. K2 supplementation may be a helpful approach to getting enough. If you decide to go that route, look for the version of K2 known as MK-7. This is the type found in natto, which most people may find to be, shall we say, unpalatable. Be sure to eat plenty of nutrient-dense animal foods from pastured animal sources to round out your K2 intake, and always take any K2 supplement with healthy fats to help your body absorb it. (Read this post if you want to know what nutrient dense foods you should be eating.)
  2. Omega 3 fats. Omega 3 fatty acids are relatively well known for their many health benefits, such as reducing the risk of cognitive decline. (Want to learn more about how to keep your brain from shrinking? Read this post.) The two main essential fatty acids (EFAs) are DHA (Docosahexanioc acid) and EPA (Eicosepentenoic acid). They are found primarily in fish and fish oils. they may help increase bone mineral content, leading to stronger, healthier bones. While it is important to get enough Omega 3 EFAs, another factor is to decrease the intake of Omega 6 EFAs from sources such as industrially produced and rancid vegetable oils. These oils are cheap, very unhealthy and found in most refined, processed foods. The ideal ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 is roughly 1-to-1, but in the average American diet it can be as high as 20 or even 30-to-1 in favor of Omega 6. This imbalance can lead to inflammation and its many health challenges. Only increasing Omega 3s without decreasing Omega 6 intake won't get you to the vibrant health and energy you deserve. Omega 3s are easy to obtain by eating more oily fish such as salmon (always choose wild-caught and always avoid farmed fish!) or through supplements. 
  3. Vitamin D: This fat-soluble vitamin already mentioned above is another heavyweight nutrient with a host of health benefits. Among the many tasks vitamin D performs in your body are protection from cancer, depression, heart disease and cognitive decline. In terms of bone health, Vitamin D helps your intestines absorb the calcium you get through food. Calcium absorption may be increased by as much as 50% in the presence of adequate Vitamin D. the food sources of vitamin D are similar to those for Vitamin K2. Supplementation can be important in winter months or for anyone who doesn't get 15-20 minutes of sunshine on their skin most days. Our skin makes vitamin D form sunshine when we get enough sun for our skin to turn just pink. People with darker skin may need more time in the sun to make Vitamin D. 

Including these three nutrients in your diet will not only help improve bone health, they will have other far-reaching benefits for your overall health and well-being. Next week, I'll send you lifestyle habits to further enhance bone health and more!