Preventing brittle bones, as easy as changing your diet
October 26, 2019
When it comes to osteoporosis, milk doesn't always do a body good.
That's the news from a Harvard University study that followed more than 77,000 women for more than a decade. Researchers found no reduction in the risk of arm or hip fractures in women who drank three glasses of milk daily.
As an orthopedic surgeon in the Adventist Health Physician Network, I hear it from patients frequently: "I can't have osteoporosis. I drink plenty of milk." It's one of the greatest perpetuated myths when it comes to bone health.
Osteoporosis is a painful, devastating disease caused by a calcium deficiency that leaves bones more porous and fragile, increasing the risk of fractures.
Nearly 33 percent of women and about 20 percent of all men over the age of 50 will suffer an osteoporotic fracture annually, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation.
Oftentimes, we can make simple lifestyle changes to improve our bone health. It's easier to prevent osteoporosis than to treat it.
But first we need to understand the primary functions of our bones. They, of course, provide support and protect our organs, but they also store essential minerals, including calcium. It's calcium that makes it possible for our heart to beat, our muscles to contract and our nerves to conduct impulse.
When we don't have enough calcium, our body pulls from those stockpiles in our bones. That's OK occasionally, but it can lead to osteoporosis when it happens frequently.
Osteoporosis often is thought of as a geriatric disease. It's not. It can affect people of all ages, and women are twice as likely to develop the disease as men.
The risks are devastating.
Roughly 20 percent of all those who break a hip die within the same year. More than half of those who develop osteoporosis in old age lose their independence and must enter a skilled nursing facility.
So how do we prevent it?
The key is keeping calcium in our bones. Mineral loss in bones comes from a combination of genetics, diet and lifestyle factors. In general, to retain calcium, it's best to avoid salt, caffeine and tobacco, while increasing physical activity and exposure to the sun.
Another thing to avoid? High animal protein diets.
Diets high in animal proteins, including eggs, lead to a greater excretion of calcium in our urine. As a result, there's a strong correlation between animal protein diets and fracture rates internationally.
Meanwhile, eliminating animal proteins from our diet cuts calcium losses in half, according to a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
So, just changing our diet to incorporate more fruits and vegetables could be part of the answer to decreasing our osteoporosis risk. Try eating broccoli, brussels sprouts, collards, kale and mustard greens that are loaded with absorbable calcium.
Combining a healthy diet with exercise can be a powerful tool in decreasing risk. Walking, jogging, hiking and climbing stairs help keep our bones strong, and so does strength training with weights.
And we know some people gripe about eating vegetables, but dietary calcium hasn't been associated with any elevated risk of heart attacks.
As for the milk? Drink up – but it's not going to prevent you from brittle bones.
Dr. Jose Bosque is an orthopedic surgeon in the Adventist Health Physicians Network. He practices in Tehachapi and Bakersfield. To schedule an appointment, call (661) 823-7070.