Bone Health: Definition, Nutrition & Tips

Instructor: Rachel Torrens
Right now, thousands of people are suffering from weak bones and don't even know it! In this lesson, learn how to determine bone health and what factors place you at high risk. We'll also review lifestyle modifications that promote good bone health.

How to Know if a Bone is Healthy

You hit the gym, work out, and eventually see results. Your biceps get larger, your waist gets smaller. But how do you know if your bones are healthy? The simple truth is you don't. Bones can't be visualized from the outside, nor does the loss of bone cause symptoms.

Poor bone health is regarded as a silent epidemic in the United States. Researchers postulate that by 2020, one out of two Americans over 50 will have, or have a high risk of developing, weak bones. And while once this was viewed as an unavoidable part of aging, now there are many research-proven methods for increasing bone health!

The Life Cycle of Bones

Bones are essential to life. We rely on them to provide structure for our frames and protection for our organs. Bones are constantly working on our behalf, whether it's helping us chew food or walk to the mailbox. Interestingly, the bones serving these functions in your body today aren't the bones you were born with!

Bones are living tissues that are constantly evolving. Old bone components are broken down, while new bones are generated in an endless bone-forming cycle. During childhood, the body makes new bone components faster than it breaks down old bone. So humans tend to reach peak bone health around age 30. After this point, the body continues to cycle bone components, but it's not able to make new bone as quickly as the old is removed.

So how do you know if your bones are healthy? Health care providers use a tool that assesses the mineral density of the bone, known as bone mineral density (BMD). A special type of low dose x-rays, known as dual-energy x-ray absorption (DEXA), look at the mineral content of the bone, usually in the spine and hip where bone loss is first evident. A high BMD indicates strong bones, whereas a low BMD indicates bones that are weaker and more prone to fracturing.

DEXA scans are able to assess the mineral density of the bone.
DEXA scan

If you think about it, this makes sense. Imagine a tower of wooden blocks. If you have strong bones, you have all the blocks in the tower, meaning the tower is strong and less likely to topple. If you have weakened bones, imagine some of the wooden blocks have been removed from the tower. The tower might still be able to stand, but it won't be as strong as the tower with all its blocks. And the rate at which these blocks are removed can be changed by your behavior!

Behavior Modifications to Increase Bone Health

The three most important modifiable behaviors related to bone health are:

  1. Dietary intake of calcium and vitamin D
  2. Physical activity
  3. Tobacco and alcohol use

Necessary Nutrition for Healthy Bones

Because bones can't manufacture new bone without calcium, it's essential to have adequate calcium intake in your diet.  Foods rich in calcium include:

  • Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt
  • Green vegetables, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale
  • Fish with bones, such as canned salmon and sardines
  • Nuts, such as almonds
  • Soy products, such as tofu
  • Drinks fortified with calcium, such as orange juice and soy milk

Vitamin D helps the body to absorb all that calcium you've ingested, so it's equally important to make sure you have this vitamin in your diet. Foods rich in vitamin D include:

  • Oily fishes, such as tuna and sardines
  • Egg yolks
  • Drinks fortified with vitamin D, such as milk
  • Liver

Don't worry if some of these foods don't sound appealing! You can always take a supplement. You just need to ensure you're taking the right amount. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium and vitamin D varies according to age and gender.

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