When you were a little kid, your parents probably gave you a tall glass of milk and instructed you to drink up so you could grow strong, healthy bones. As it turns out, this was great advice—dairy is a great source of calcium, which is crucial for bone health and high bone density. However, getting the appropriate nutrients for your bones isn’t something that is only important during childhood.
Bones are dynamic structures that are constantly growing. In order to maintain a healthy level of bone growth, you need to be getting a certain amount of nutrients like magnesium, calcium and vitamin D throughout your entire life. Without adequate nutrients to support your bones, you may be at risk of osteoporosis, a painful bone disease that affects more that 54 million Americans.
If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or have a history of the condition in your family, your doctor may prescribe medications to prevent your body from breaking down bone, strengthen your current bones or form new bone faster. Many of these medications come with a list of side effects ranging from nausea, to blood clots, to ulcers.
Luckily, there are many natural approaches to preventing and reducing the effects of osteoporosis, many of which mimic your parent’s advice. A healthy diet, exercise and natural supplements will not only help build strong, healthy bones, they can make your entire body feel better, as well.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis means “porous bone” and is a bone disease that occurs when your body either makes too little bone or loses too much bone. The disease causes bones to become extremely brittle, leading to an increased chance of breakage during a fall. In addition to a higher risk of broken bones, osteoporosis can cause bone fractures, pain, limit mobility and cause a stooped or hunched posture in patients.
The leading cause of osteoporosis is calcium deficiency, which can derive from a number of unhealthy habits. While osteoporosis can occur naturally in patients, particularly older individuals, many diseases, medications and medical procedures have been linked to bone loss, including steroid medications, cancer, mental illness, autoimmune disorders, AIDS/HIV and gastrointestinal disorders.
Women over the age of 50 are the most common patients of osteoporosis, but men are also susceptible. Bone loss usually goes undetected over the course of many years until a fracture or broken bone occurs and the condition is diagnosed by a doctor.
Natural methods of preventing bone loss
In many cases, you don’t need to take prescription medications to prevent or ease the effects of osteoporosis. There are many natural ways to improve bone health that are both highly effective and come with fewer side effects, including:
- Eat a healthy diet: In addition to promoting general bodily health, maintaining a healthy diet filled with the proper mix of nutrients will help your bones build density. Leafy greens like kale and broccoli and low-fat dairy products like yogurt and raw cheese have a healthy mix of bone-friendly nutrients including calcium, magnesium, vitamin K and vitamin D.
- Boost your vitamin D: Your body requires vitamin D to absorb calcium into the body. Your body is able to make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but be wary of spending too much time in the sun because of the increased risk of skin cancer. If your diet or lifestyle habits cause a lack of vitamin D, you may want to consider taking a natural supplement.
- Engage in regular exercise: One of the leading causes of osteoporosis is a lack of activity in individuals. To maintain and build bone strength, engage in regular weight-bearing exercise such as walking, running, yoga or dancing. Strength training using weighted machines is also important for preventing osteoporosis and can also help prevent your risk of falling and getting injured if your bones are already brittle.
- Get more rest: When you get enough sleep, your body is better able to heal itself and promote healthy bone rejuvenation. Additionally, getting a good night’s rest helps lower stress and prevent mental illness. Stress raises the cortisol levels in your body, which can lead to a loss of calcium and cause bone loss. Keep yourself happy and healthy by getting at least eight hours of sleep each night.
Whether you are trying to prevent osteoporosis or working to relieve the effects of your current diagnosis, eating a healthy diet rich with calcium and vitamin D, exercising regularly and minimizing poor habits such as drinking, smoking or high stress can put you on the natural path toward strong, healthy bones.