Bones are like a trust fund that matures when you reach your peak bone density at 35 years of age. But don’t draw down on the investment at menopause. Here’s how you can maintain your bone bank well into your 50s, 60s and beyond.
With a recent diagnosis of osteopenia – the first stage of bone loss measured by a DEXA scan – my personal bone bank account is under scrutiny. Bones are dynamic living tissue, remodelling and restructuring based on availability of hormones, nutrients and other cofactors . My challenge is to find and plug any leaks in the matrix.
Bone loss accelerates in the 5 years after menopause declining on average 1-2 per cent per year from a peak at around age 35 years.
Dr Claudia Welch, Balance Your Hormones Balance Your Life
Let’s start with the myths about bone health and osteoporosis:
Myth #1 – Osteoporosis is a calcium deficiency disease
Calcium IS the most abundant mineral in the diet and only one of many nutrients needed for healthy bones. Just like a tree needs a balance of sunshine, nutrients and wind or movement to make it strong so too do bones. There is an ideal balance of magnesium, vitamin D3, vitamin K2, trace minerals to encourage calcium’s absorption and metabolism. Too little of one of these and calcium can get deposited in arteries and other places in the body where it does not belong.
Fat soluble vitamins from animal sources, including Vitamin A (retinol) from grass fed liver, Vitamin D3 (optimal levels greater than 100 nmol/l) and Vitamin K2 help to assimilate and utilise calcium and other minerals. effectively. Vitamin K2, deficient in most western diets, is the dark horse in bone health. It is found in insects and free range chickens that forage on insects, fully pastured animals, liver, eggs, dairy and emu oil! Vitamin K2 plays a central role in calcium metabolism and is a powerful anti-inflammatory synergist in bone and heart health.
Minerals that work in concert with calcium include magnesium (ionic magnesium or magnesium glycinate), phosphorus, zinc, silicon, manganese, copper and the much underrated boron. Nutritionist, Nora Gedgaudas, suggests “6mg of boron glycinate per day to help activate bone building cells called osteoblasts. Boron also radically reduces urinary calcium and magnesium excretion, while improving vitamin D utilization and is known to speed bone healing and mineralization.”
Protein and collagen from grass fed and finished animal sources gives bones their strength and flexibility. Keep protein amounts to 0.8gm/kg of body weight per day, about the size and thickness of your palm. Note that collagen needs Vitamin C for it’s synthesis. Choose liposomal Vitamin C that works with fat soluble nutrients to support healthy bone mineralization.
Digesting minerals, protein and bone nutrients in food requires healthy levels of stomach acid. Complete animal source protein stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach and the subsequent digestion, absorption and utilisation of all bone building nutrients. An easy to perform diagnosis of low stomach acid can be done at home keeping in mind that stomach acid production drops dramatically with age.
Ideal foods to support women and their bones in transition:
- Bone broth
- Green leafy vegetables – collard greens, mustard greens, parsley, kale, bok choy
- Organic seaweeds
- Tinned fish with bones – salmon and sardines
- Nuts and seeds – sesame and tahini, almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts
- Dairy products – if tolerated
- Liver, eggs, pastured animal source protein and
- Emu oil
Myth #2 – Osteoporosis is an estrogen deficiency disease
Estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and cortisol all have a role to play in bone health. Studies support the idea that estrogen may slow osteoporosis but does not prevent or reverse it. Dr Jerrilyn Prior, Canadian researcher recommends the use of supplemental bio identical progesterone to support bone building activity.
Stress and the hormone cortisol is easily one of the biggest bone robbers – along with alcohol, smoking, excess caffeine and a high carb diet – that steals the building blocks of critical hormones, progesterone and testosterone.
Measure your hormones via a simple blood test through your doctor to get an initial snapshot of your hormonal balance. More detailed urinary testing can follow if needed.
Myth #3 – Osteoporosis is a disease of menopause
Osteoporosis can start a lot earlier than menopause. Women can easily become depleted, from stress, high carb diets, over or under exercising as family and career responsibilities ramp up in 30s and 40s drawing down on the bone bank account.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Yin nourishes bones and the building up of structure whereas excess yang from overwork, stress and excessive exercise can contribute to thinning of the bones. Nourishing Yin means taking more space and time to rest, getting deep rejuvenating sleep and nourishing with well digested food.
Simple movement and weight bearing can have major benefits for bones without overdoing it. Strength training, yoga postures, tai chi and Qigong, skipping and interval training help to build muscle and load bones, stimulating bone health.
I think I’ve found the leaks in my draining bone bank account.. Improving digestion by supplementing with hydrochloric acid at each meal and ramping up Vitamin K2 from emu oil, increasing my intake of boron, magnesium and calcium are important tweaks. Next step is to assess hormone status and change up my exercise routine to include more resistance training and balancing yoga postures.
As the world spins in ever more chaotic circles, having my feet firmly and confidently planted on this Earth has never been so important. Bones, on a metaphysical level, are a gauge of how we take care, nourish and support ourselves so we can live full, active lives into and beyond menopause. It’s time to tune into my bones and give them the support they need to carry me forward.
Blessings for the journey.