Keeping Your Bones Healthy

Lately we've been hearing a lot of talk on osteoporosis and whether calcium supplementation is necessary and/or safe.  On one hand, we have the commercials from the dairy boards warning consumers that if you do not eat enough milk and cheese your bones will not grow properly (has anyone else seen the commercial where the guy tries to throw a football then turns into a floppy mess?). We have also seen in the news recently that calcium supplementation may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in women because of the build up of the nutrient in the bodies cells.  Where does this leave the average person who sometimes eats cheese and yogurt, is afraid of osteoporosis, and thinks (or thought) they should start supplementing with calcium?

First of all, it is important to understand that osteoporosis does not occur overnight.  Osteoporosis is the loss of bone density over time that occurs when the body cannot make enough new bone, or when the body starts breaking down bone.  It takes years of inadequate dietary intake of calcium and other vitamins and minerals, high amounts of caffeine and other acid-forming foods, and/or low levels of physical activity to develop.  So unfortunately, what you eat and what you do in your childhood, 20s, and 30s will affect your risk of developing osteoporosis.  Once your bone mass starts decreasing, you become at greater risk of injury through fractures.  Those at higher risk of developing osteoporosis include:

  • Those with poor diets
  • Increasing age (over 50 years old)
  • Those with family history of osteoporosis
  • Those with low physical activity levels
  • Elite female athletes who consume insufficient calories
  • Those who take corticosteroid drugs (ie prednisone)
  • Children who drink a lot of soda
  • Those with a history of an eating disorder
Calcium has really become a misunderstood buzzword.  Yes, it is very important to bone health, but that is not the only function it has in the body and it cannot act alone to save your bones!  In order for calcium to be absorbed by your body, it requires adequate levels of magnesium.  Proper bone growth also requires vitamin K, vitamin D, boron, and other micronutrients which is why the content list of bone supplements can be quite lengthy!  So before throwing away your bone health supplements, consider this: the studies that have shown negative effects on the cardiovascular system with calcium supplementation are based on people taking calcium on its own.  This means that the calcium group in the studies are given calcium without magnesium or other important minerals needed to offset the potentially negative effects of calcium.

As we have preached many times, it is ideal to get as much of your needed calcium from your diet as you can.  For those who are not into dairy and are looking for calcium-rich foods, there are still ways to get enough calcium through your diet alone.  The recommended daily requirement of calcium for adults 25-50 years old is 1000mg.  Here is a small comparison of calcium content in different foods.  Note:  many foods are enriched with calcium but are not naturally high in calcium.
  • Milk (1 cup): 290mg
  • Cheddar cheese (1/4 cup):  230mg
  • Soy milk (1 cup):  300mg
  • Collard greens (1 cup cooked):  270mg
  • Kale (1 cup cooked):  100mg
  • Turnip greens (1 cup cooked):  100mg
  • Broccoli (1 cup cooked):  60mg
  • Almonds (1 oz or 23 almonds):  75 mg
  • Navy beans (1 cup):  130mg
  • Tofu (100g):  77mg
Like so many other conditions, osteoporosis can be prevented.  Some basic preventative tips include:
  • Getting enough calcium through your diet
  • Weight-bearing exercise
  • Eating alkalinizing foods (eg. fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, seaweeds, etc). These foods maintain a healthy body acid balance which limits the amount of calcium your body has to release from your bones in order to manage body pH.
  • Decreasing foods that are high in oxalates (eg. spinach, rhubarb, beet tops).  These foods limit the absorption of calcium and should be eaten away from high calcium content foods for maximum calcium absorption.
Speak to your healthcare practitioner (or book an appointment with one of us) to discuss your risk of developing osteoporosis as well as more specific ways you can prevent it. 

All the best,

Dr. Cho, ND is a naturopathic doctor based in Pickering, Ontario and Richmond Hill, Ontario.  She maintains a private practice focused in pain management and sports nutrition, in addition to a general family practice at Durham Natural Health Centre.  To learn more about Dr. Cho, book a complimentary 15 minute consult by clicking here.  Not in the Durham Region?  Contact her through to learn about more options.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dr Cho

When you mention in your article about acid foods vs alkaline, how does that make sense in the context of the digestive system? All food enters into the stomach where it lowers in pH due to the acidic stomach juices and then passes into the small intestine where alkalinic bile is released so the chime rises in pH again? Could you explain what you mean by that.

Post a Comment

Twitter Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Facebook Themes