By Dr. Mercola
Bone weakening is a common problem associated with aging. In most people, sometime during your 30s, your bone mass will begin to gradually decline. For women, that bone loss can significantly speed up during the first 10 years after menopause.
This is the period when osteoporosis often develops, provided you're not doing anything to counteract it, that is. Those with osteoporosis are at increased risk of height loss, fractures of the hips, wrists, and vertebrae, and chronic pain.
Many are under the mistaken impression that a prescription drug combined with megadose calcium supplements is the answer to strong and healthy bones. But bisphosphonate drugs like Fosamax, Actonel, or Boniva are associated with serious side effects—including an increased risk of bone fracture!
One important strategy for maintaining healthy bones is to eat the right kind of foods. A diet full of processed foods will produce biochemical and metabolic conditions in your body that will decrease your bone density, so avoiding processed foods is definitely the first step in the right direction.
Certain nutrients, including omega-3 fat, calcium, vitamin D, K2, and magnesium, are also critical for strong bones—as is exercise, especially weight-bearing exercises and Whole Body Vibrational Training using a Power Plate.
Exercise Naturally Builds Stronger Bones
Your bones are constantly being rebuilt in a dynamic process involving the removal of old bone through osteoclasts and regeneration of new, healthy bone by osteoblasts. Load-bearing exercise works to build stronger bones by stimulating cells responsible for the synthesis and mineralization of bone (osteoblasts).
Weight-bearing exercise is actually one of the most effective remedies against osteoporosis, because as you put more tension on your muscles it puts more pressure on your bones, which then respond by continuously creating fresh, new bone.
A good weight-bearing exercise to incorporate into your routine (depending on your current level of fitness, of course) is a walking lunge, as it helps build bone density in your hips, even without any additional weights. Running and jumping are also effective, as is weight training.1 As recently discussed in the New York Times:2
"Sprinting and hopping are the most obvious and well-studied examples of high-impact exercises. In one recent study,3 women ages 25 to 50 who leaped like fleas at least 10 times in a row, twice per day for four months, significantly increased the density of their hipbones.
In another, more elaborate experiment from 2006,4 women who hopped and also lifted weights improved the density of their spines by about two percent compared to a control group, especially if the weight training targeted both the upper body and the legs. Women whose weight training focused only on the legs did not gain as much density in their spines."
The Power Plate—A Valuable Tool for Prevention and Treatment of Brittle Bones
Acceleration Training, a.k.a. Whole Body Vibrational Training (WBVT) using a Power Plate is another safe, natural way to improve bone strength and density, thereby warding off osteoporosis. Best of all, it's gentle enough even for the disabled and elderly, who may not be able to engage in exercises like leaping, hopping, sprinting, or weight lifting.
The Power Plate platform vibrates in three planes: vertical, horizontal, and sagittal, meaning front to back. (There is equipment out there that only moves in two planes but the three plane movement devices seem superior.)
These micro-accelerations force your muscles to accommodate, resulting in dramatic improvement in strength, power, flexibility, balance, tone, and leanness. Research supporting the use of WBVT for the prevention and treatment of brittle bones include but is not limited to the following:
- In one six-month long study,5 published in 2004, WBVT was found to produce a significant increase in hip area bone density in postmenopausal women, while conventional training was only able to slow the rate of deterioration.
- More recently, a 2013 study6 found that postmenopausal women who used a vibration platform for five minutes, three times a week for six months, increased their lumbar spine bone density by two percent. The control group, which did not engage in WBVT, lost about 0.5 percent of theirs in that same timeframe.
Your Bones Need More Than Just Calcium
Besides exercise, your diet can quite literally "make or break" your bones. But while conventional recommendations focus on boosting your calcium intake, there are compelling reasons to ignore such advice. Your bones are actually composed of at least a dozen different minerals, and if you focus on calcium alone, you actually run the risk of weakening your bones and increasing your risk of osteoporosis.
There's an excellent book called The Calcium Lie, written by Dr. Robert Thompson, that explains why this is so. Interestingly, Dr. Thompson proposes that one of the best practical alternatives in terms of supplementation is to use natural, unprocessed salts, such as Himalayan salt, as they are one of the best sources of a very wide variety of trace minerals.
Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue has also authored a comprehensive book on the topic of calcium, titled: Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life. Six of the most important nutrients, and their ratios, you'll want to pay particular attention to are:
In a nutshell, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K2, and magnesium work synergistically together to promote strong, healthy bones, and your sodium to potassium ratio also plays an important role in maintaining your bone mass. Getting sufficient amounts of omega-3 fat is yet another factor for building healthy bone. I recommend krill oil, as I believe it's a superior source of omega-3s.
Vitamin K2 is a particularly critical component here, because the biological role of vitamin K2 is to help move calcium into the proper areas in your body, such as your bones and teeth. It also helps remove calcium from areas where it shouldn't be, such as in your arteries and soft tissues.
Paying attention to your vitamin K2 intake becomes even more important if you're taking large doses of oral vitamin D3, as your body will create more vitamin K2-dependent proteins when you take vitamin D. These K2-dependent proteins are what helps move the calcium around in your body, but you need vitamin K2 to activate those proteins. If they're not activated, the calcium in your body will not be properly distributed and can lead to weaker bones and hardened arteries—the exact opposite of what you're trying to achieve.
So, it's important to maintain the proper balance between all of these nutrients: calcium, vitamin D, and K2, and magnesium. Vitamin K2 deficiency is actually what produces the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity, which includes inappropriate calcification that can lead to hardening of your arteries. And if you have too much calcium and not enough magnesium, your muscles will tend to go into spasm. This has consequences for your heart in particular. An appropriate ratio of calcium to magnesium is thought to be 1:1.
Eat Your Way to Strong, Healthy Bones
Lack of balance between these four nutrients (calcium, vitamins D and K2, and magnesium) is why calcium supplements have become associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke. One of the best ways to ensure you're getting enough of all of them is to get regular sun exposure to optimize your vitamin D levels, and to eat a diet rich in fresh, raw whole foods, which will also maximize a wide variety of other natural minerals. This way, your body will have the raw materials it needs to do what it was designed to do. Below are some suggestions for foods that provide these bone-building nutrients (with the exception of vitamin D):
- Calcium: raw milk from pasture-raised cows, leafy green vegetables, the pith of citrus fruits, carob, and sesame seeds. Homemade bone broth is another excellent source. Simply simmer leftover bones over low heat for an entire day to extract the calcium from the bones. Make sure to add a few tablespoons of vinegar. You can use this broth for soups, stews, or drink it straight. The "skin" that forms on the top is the best part as it also contains other valuable nutrients, such as sulfur, along with healthful fats.
- Magnesium: Industrial agriculture has massively depleted most soils of beneficial minerals like magnesium, so this is one instance where a supplement may be warranted, especially since most people are deficient. It is the only mineral that I personally supplement with. That said, if you find biologically-grown organic foods (grown on soil treated with mineral fertilizers), you may still be able to get a lot of your magnesium from your food.
Chlorophyll has a magnesium atom in its center, allowing the plant to utilize the energy from the sun. Seaweed and green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard can be excellent sources of magnesium, as are some beans, nuts, and seeds, like pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds, and raw organic cacao. Avocados also contain magnesium. If you opt for a supplement, I recommend using magnesium threonate. It's a newer type of magnesium supplement with superior ability to penetrate the mitochondrial membrane.
- Vitamin K2: Grass-fed organic animal products (i.e. eggs, butter, and dairy), goose liver pâté, certain cheeses such as Brie and Gouda (which provide about 75 mcg of K2 per ounce), and certain fermented foods. You can obtain most or all the K2 you'll need (about 200 micrograms) by eating 15 grams of natto daily, which is half an ounce. If you don't like natto, you can also get plenty of vitamin K2 from your fermented vegetables, provided you ferment your own using the proper starter culture. Please note that while vitamin K2 is produced by bacteria, not every strain of bacteria makes K2. For example, certain types of cheeses, such as those mentioned above, are very high in K2, and others are not. It really depends on the specific bacteria.
- Trace minerals: Himalayan Crystal Salt, which contains all 84 elements found in your body, or other natural, unprocessed salt (NOT regular table salt!).
Mind Your Sodium-Potassium Levels as Well
Two additional nutrients that play an important role are sodium and potassium—you want the optimal ratio between these two in order to maintain your bone mass. If you eat a diet loaded with processed foods, there's a good chance your potassium to sodium ratio is far from optimal, as processed foods are notoriously low in potassium while being high in sodium. Consider this: our ancient ancestors got about 11,000 mg of potassium a day, and about 700 mg of sodium.7 This equates to a potassium-over-sodium factor of nearly 16. Compare that to today's modern diet where daily potassium consumption averages about 2,500 mg (the RDA is 4,700 mg/day), along with 4,000 mg of sodium.
An imbalanced sodium to potassium ratio can contribute to a number of diseases, including osteoporosis. To ensure you get these two important nutrients in more appropriate ratios, simply replace processed foods with whole, unprocessed foods, ideally organically grown to ensure optimal nutrient content. This type of diet will naturally provide much larger amounts of potassium in relation to sodium, which is optimal for your bone health, and your overall health. If you find it difficult to eat the recommended amount of vegetables, give vegetable juicing a try. I would not recommend taking a potassium supplement; rather it is best to get it in your foods, primarily vegetables.
You CAN Strengthen Your Bones Safely and Naturally
Maintaining strong healthy bones really is within your power. Brittle bones aren't necessarily a fate that has to befall you just because you're getting older. Proper diet, regular sun exposure, and weight bearing exercise can both prevent and treat weakening bones. Whole Body Vibrational Training using a Power Plate is an excellent choice especially for the elderly, but will naturally work for all ages. To sum up some of the most important points discussed above, the following guidelines can help you maintain, or increase your bone strength safely and naturally, without the use of drugs that might cause you even further harm:
- Avoid processed foods and soda, which can increase bone damage by depleting your bones of calcium. By ditching processed foods, you're also automatically eliminating a major source of refined sugars and processed fructose, which drive insulin resistance. It will also provide you with a more appropriate potassium to sodium ratio, which is important for maintaining bone mass.
- Increase your consumption of raw, fresh vegetables, ideally organic. If you find it difficult to eat the recommended amount of vegetables you need daily, you can try vegetable juicing.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels, ideally from appropriate sun exposure or a safe tanning bed. Vitamin D builds your bone density by helping your body absorb calcium. If you use an oral supplement, make sure you're using vitamin D3 (not D2), and that you're also increasing your vitamin K2 intake.
- Consider making your own fermented vegetables using a special vitamin K2-producing starter culture, or supplementing with vitamin K2 if you're not getting enough from food alone. Vitamin K2 serves as the biological "glue" that helps plug the calcium into your bone matrix. Also remember to balance your calcium and magnesium (1:1 ratio).
- Maintain a healthy balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fats in your diet by taking a high-quality animal-based omega-3 supplement like krill oil, an reducing your consumption of processed omega-6, found in processed foods and vegetable oils.
- Get regular exercise. Ideally, your fitness program should be comprehensive, providing the necessary weight-bearing activities for bone health while also improving your cardiovascular fitness and fat-burning capabilities with high-intensity exercises. For a more complete, in-depth explanation of my Peak Fitness regimen, please review my previous article, "The Major Exercise Mistake I Made for Over 30 Years." Implementing Peak Fitness -- with its array of weight-bearing exercises for bone health and Peak Exercises for disease prevention, fat loss, and more -- may be one of the best lifestyle changes you could ever make.