How many elderly women do you see daily, crippled up from osteoporosis? More than we should. Don’t let this happen to you.
Until very recently, bisphosphonate drugs (Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva) were considered the holy grail for preventing and treating osteoporosis. However, mounting evidence suggests that taking them for longer than five years might actually weaken your bones and cause spontaneous fractures and a rare but very serious jawbone disorder (osteonecrosis), as well as digestive problems.
The good news: It’s never too late—or too early—to adopt simple lifestyle changes that will strengthen your skeleton and help delay bone breakdown. “How your bones land postmenopause is hugely dependent on how you take care of your body during your childbearing years,” says Amy J. Lanou, Ph.D., senior nutrition scientist for the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and coauthor of Building Bone Vitality (McGraw Hill).
The better-bones diet
1. AVOID CALCIUM OVERLOAD Official recommendations encourage women between the ages of 19 and 50 to get 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day and women older than 50 to get 1,200 milligrams.
Lanou suggests lowering that to 500 to 800 milligrams, preferably from dairy-free food sources (see next item). Lanou explains that a higher calcium intake is unnecessary and, if it comes from supplemental sources, may cause constipation and negatively impact the absorption, production or metabolism of other nutrients.
A large Swedish study reported in 2011 in the British Medical Journal found that for the average woman, 700 to 800 milligrams of calcium a day is the range beyond which it appears to stop increasing bone density. Additional recent studies have also linked taking 1,000 milligrams or more of calcium supplements daily with an increased cardiovascular disease risk in women.
2. DON’T DEPEND ON DAIRY Dairy foods— cheese and ice cream in particular—are highly acidic, but the body prefers a slightly alkaline pH; to neutralize the acidity from dairy, your body pulls calcium from the bones. Lanou points out that hip fracture rates are highest where calcium intake from dairy foods is highest, including in the U.S. and Northern European countries. Better calcium sources include leafy green vegetables, broccoli, almonds, beans and sesame seeds.
“If you were building a wall, calcium is the bricks, but vitamin D, magnesium and more than a dozen other nutrients are the mortar,” Lanou says. An ounce of almonds, a cup of raw kale and a can of salmon (with bones), eaten throughout the day to maximize absorption, will give you 800 milligrams of calcium along with those and other bone-building nutrients.
3. PILE ON THE PRODUCE Cultivating a bonefriendly diet also means limiting acidic meat, sugar, sodas, alcohol and packaged products while eating more alkaline foods like fruits and vegetables. Shoot for six to nine daily servings.
Calcium is best absorbed from Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, and turnip and mustard greens (51 percent to 64 percent absorption), then supplements and dairy foods (around 30 percent each). Besides keeping your blood alkaline, you’ll reap extra benefits from the other bonebuilding compounds in these foods, including magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin K.
4. SELECT THE RIGHT SOY According to Beth Reardon, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., director of integrative nutrition at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C., soy is probably more beneficial for building bone and/or slowing bone loss than it is for treating osteoporosis.
She discourages taking soy supplements because they may impact cancer risk for women with certain tumor receptors and they don’t contain the other nutrients and…
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