Dietary Recommendations for Good Bone Health

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Omega-3 fats, such as fish, help reduce inflammation.
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"The Whole-Body Approach to Osteoporosis" by R. Keith McCormick will help you address osteoporosis.

The Whole-Body Approach to Osteoporosis (New Harbinger Publications, 2008) by R. Keith McCormick will help you address and prevent osteoporosis. While medication can sometimes help, it won’t fully address the underlying causes of your osteoporosis or osteopenia. To restore bone health, you’ll need a targeted program combining the best bone-building strategies from traditional and holistic medicine.

Dietary Recommendations for Good Bone Health

There is no exact bone-healthy diet. Today, most people know that fruits and vegetables, especially vegetables, should be at the top of their nutritious foods list. You also need a good amount of protein, but obviously not an excessive amount. One interesting, and often disturbing, fact about my osteoporosis patients is that many of them seem obsessed with the foods they should or should not consume. They have become so focused on their diet that all of their joy in eating has been lost. This is in no way beneficial.

Eating for optimal skeletal health doesn’t have to be complicated. Certainly, questioning every bite that you ingest is counterproductive. That said, it is still important to understand that if you have osteoporosis, you are in a nutritionally deficient hole. A good, healthy diet, one that is adequate for someone in good health, may not be adequate for you. You can climb out of the hole you’re in only by eating well, supplementing your diet with specific nutrients, not worrying excessively about small details, and making sure that you are enjoying life. You don’t have to cook anything special. Just follow these general recommendations and you’ll be fine.

Don’t eat on the run.

Low-stress dining is important. When you eat too fast, you don’t absorb nutrients efficiently.

Eat four to five times a day

It’s best not to go for long periods without eating. Each time you go for five or more hours without eating, your adrenal glands have to pump out more of the hormone cortisol to maintain your blood glucose levels. This is very stressful for these glands. Moreover, constantly elevated cortisol levels reduce osteoblast activity, lower BMD, and increase fracture risk. Eat frequently, but only to satiation.

Try to eat as much fresh, unprocessed, and organic food as possible

This is common sense, but you also want to avoid foods with additives, preservatives, and pesticides. Processed foods add a toxic load to your body. Plus, they usually lack antioxidants and other nutrients.

Eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day

Most fruits and vegetables are alkaline and help to reduce the adverse, bone-robbing effects of the typical acidic Western diet of meat and potatoes.

Reduce the grains

A diet high in grains like pasta, cereal, and bread causes your body to become overly acidic. Grains are also high in inflammation-producing omega-6 fatty acids and low in the anti- inflammatory omega-3s. Try to limit grains to only one or two servings a day. Eat vegetables instead.

Eat protein

Protein is very important for the construction of bone matrix. Eat wild-caught seafood, naturally raised poultry, and lean, range-fed beef. Since the amino acid lysine is essential for bone health, make sure you are eating enough quality protein. Not only does lysine help to absorb and conserve calcium, it is also important for forming bone collagen. Because it is mostly found in meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, vegetarians are often lysine deficient and would do well to supplement their diet with 500 mg per day.

Consume omega-3 fats

Salmon, mackerel, herring, and tuna are all high in protein and omega-3 fats, which help to reduce inflammation. Hemp seed oil and flaxseeds (soak them in water for best results) are a great sources of omega-3s in the form of alpha-linolenic acid. It’s best to use flaxseeds instead of the oil because flaxseeds also contain lignans, which are important for skeletal health. (Lignans are found predominantly in the hull of flaxseeds and are antioxidants that have estrogen- like properties.)

Consume omega-9 fats

Omega-9s are monounsaturated fats found in high amounts in olives, almonds, hazelnuts, and avocados. These fats help to reduce the pro-inflammatory effects of saturated fats. Omega-9 fats also help to increase the “good” cholesterol HDL, and reduce the “bad” cholesterol LDL. Omega-9 fats contain polyphenols, which act as antioxidants. These help to reduce inflammation and have been shown to reduce the risk for osteoporosis. There is truth to the saying that an apple–or perhaps I should say five olives — a day keeps the doctor away.

Go easy on the dairy products

If you do eat dairy, make sure you aren’t sensitive to the protein casein, and that you are able to digest its lactose sugar.

Avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils

These oils are found in just about all of the processed foods displayed on grocery store shelves. Hydrogenated oils dramatically increase the inflammation in your body. When you cook, use butter, extra-virgin olive oil, or, my favorite, virgin coconut oil, which contains MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) fatty acids.

Limit refined carbohydrates

Sugar not only robs you of important minerals, it also increases the release of insulin from your pancreas and lowers levels of an important hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). As you will see later in this chapter, IGF-1 is very important for bone health. When cutting back on sugar (sucrose), try to avoid fructose as a substitute, and instead use maple syrup, honey, xylitol, stevia, or agave–but be moderate in your use of any of these. Xylitol, also called “birch sugar” because it is made from birch trees, is the only sweetener that has been shown to have a beneficial effect on bone. One study (Mattila, Svanberg, and Knuuttila 2001) found that xylitol reversed bone loss in animals, possibly by promoting calcium absorption from the gut.

Go easy on the salt

High-salt diets are linked to low bone density, especially when a person has chronic low-level metabolic acidosis (Frings-Meuthen, Baecker, and Heer 2008).

Keep vitamin A intake in check

Levels of vitamin A intake above 10,000 IU per day have been linked to low bone density (Feskanich et al. 2002). Vitamin A is important to health and has been added to a lot of products, so it’s wise to read labels. Keep your total vitamin A intake at 5,000 to 8,000 IU per day with no more than 5,000 IU per day of retinol (the active form of vitamin A).

Eat Soy

It may be good for your bones but… According to a literature review (Setchell and Lydeking-Olsen 2003), the isoflavones daidzein and genistein, found in soy, have been shown to reduce bone loss in animal studies, but the results of human studies are still problematic. The reason for this may stem from the observation that these isoflavones may first need to be activated by the gut’s microflora before they are able to have an anabolic effect on bone (Mathey et al. 2007). Therefore, if your gut health and microbial balance are poor, activation of soy isoflavones will be compromised and their potential to benefit bone will be minimized. But even if research suggests that soy increases bone density in humans, there will still be the question of whether or not it is able to actually reduce the incidence of fractures (Morabito et al. 2003). Until these issues are resolved, soy should be consumed only in moderation.

Soy is also a common allergen, so be cautious if you have any diges- tive complaints. Also, if you have an underactive thyroid or a hormone- sensitive cancer, your soy consumption should be kept to a minimum.

Take bone-building phytoestrogens

Plant products with weak estrogenic activity, such as isoflavones and lignans, are called phytoestrogens. In the form of lignans they can be found in nuts, vegetables, and especially freshly ground flaxseeds. Flax is important to add to your diet because it is high in both the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and the bone-building lignans. If you are a woman and have osteoporosis, you should include flaxseeds in your diet. There have been concerns about men using flax oil because of a possible connection with prostate cancer. Because of this I recommend that men use only flaxseed.

Drink mineral water

Mineral waters from Europe are high in bicarbonate (make sure they have at least 500 mg/L), which helps to alkalinize your body. This is good for your bones.

Eat oranges, broccoli, and onions

These are great foods for bone health. They provide bioactive compounds that have been shown to increase bone density.

Eat soups

Making fresh soups with lots of vegetables is easy and provides wholesome nourishment. When you’re cooking with meat, be sure to include the bone.

My favorite foods for bone health

Sardines, broccoli, almonds, and prunes.

Key Nutrients for Bone Health

The appendix contains important information on specific bone nutrients. It includes a description of each nutrient, deficiency signs and symptoms, related laboratory tests, helpful correlated laboratory tests, dietary sources, and supplement recommendations. Most of the tests I’ve listed are usually available through your doctor. As you will see, I haven’t included tests for every nutrient because they may not be commercially available or their accuracy is questionable. I haven’t listed many tests that have recently become available through specialty labs. These tests, such as those for amino acids, fatty acids, organic acids, toxic elements, and mineral levels of red blood cells can all be very helpful, but they are beyond the scope of this book. When you create your bone-healthy diet, refer to the appendix for all of this very important information.

Avoid The Bone Robbers

What you don’t put into your body is almost as important as what you do. If you want good bones, you have to limit your alcohol intake, stop smoking, not salt your food excessively, go easy on the sugar, and not consume cola beverages. By eliminating the unhealthy aspects of your lifestyle and diet, you will have better bones.

Be aware that certain foods tend to increase inflammation in the body. The major culprits are corn-fed beef, saturated fats, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats, sugar, and sunflower, corn, and safflower oils. Use these foods as infrequently as possible.

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Reprinted with permission: New Harbinger Publications, Inc. copyright © 2008 by R. Keith McCormick