Maintaining healthy bones is important in preventing osteoporosis, a condition in which weak bones are prone to fractures and other complications. Bone health is critical for both men and women, but particularly women, who account for 80% of those living with osteoporosis.
Breaking down osteoporosis
“Osteoporosis” comes from the Greek root words “osteon”, which means “bone”, and “poro”, meaning “porous”. With this condition, the bones are porous, weak, and brittle compared to the solid and strong nature of healthy bones.
There’s a spectrum of severity for osteoporosis, with less severe cases resulting in general weakness and lack of stability and balance. The most severe cases of osteoporosis can lead to bone fractures and further health complications stemming from the fracture. However, osteoporosis is known as a “silent disease”, meaning many people don’t necessarily realize they are developing osteoporosis until a fracture happens.
Women are at a far greater risk of developing osteoporosis than men. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, eight of the ten million Americans living with osteoporosis are women, and approximately one in every two women over the age of 50 will break a bone at some point due to osteoporosis.
Understanding bone health
You can think of your bones as the “bank” that holds valuable minerals like calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorous, and selenium. These minerals are required for healthy bones, but also for various other bodily functions like heart and muscle function.
These minerals are constantly being deposited into and withdrawn from the bone bank based on your body’s needs. In other words, your bones are constantly being built up and then broken down, and this process is known as “bone remodeling”.
Cells called “osteoclasts” are responsible for the breakdown of bone. These cells break down the bone, pull out the minerals needed, and send the minerals where they need to go elsewhere in the body.
“Osteoblasts”, on the other hand, build the bone, taking excess minerals from other places in the body back to the bones to fill holes and build bone mass.
The hormone estrogen plays an important role in bone health as osteoblasts have estrogen receptors on them. While there is still scientific research being done to learn exactly why these receptors exist on the cells, it is clear that when estrogen binds to the receptors, it increases the activity of the osteoblasts, therefore boosting the building of bone versus the breakdown.
How age affects bone health
Before the age of 30, your osteoblasts are far more active than your osteoclasts, primarily due to higher levels of estrogen. Your body has the ability to build your bones faster than it needs to break them down for other bodily functions, and therefore you accumulate bone mass (i.e. you grow!).
Just like financial investing, the more you can put into the bone bank when you’re young, the better off you will be later on, when your body needs to withdraw more from the bank. The amount of bone mass you’re able to accumulate before the age of 30 has a direct effect on your long-term risk of developing osteoporosis.
How gender affects bone health
Biologically, females tend to have smaller frames and therefore smaller and lighter bones, making women more susceptible to osteoporosis right off the bat.
Beyond size, the relationship between estrogen and bones is the primary reason bone health is much more critical to females than males.
Both men and women have some mix of estrogen and testosterone hormones. While men have higher levels of testosterone earlier in life, their testosterone tends to decrease with age and their estrogen rises. Women, on the other hand, start out with higher levels of estrogen that decrease over time. Given the fact that higher estrogen levels promote healthier bones, men can actually become less susceptible to osteoporosis as they age, while the risk increases for women.
Birth control can have a negative impact on bone health
Birth control medications contain “pseudo-estrogens”, which are synthetic forms of the hormone. These synthetics look like estrogen to the body, so your body sees an influx of what it believes to be estrogen, and therefore lowers the level of natural estrogen it produces.
However, while pseudo-estrogens may look the same to the body, they don’t act the same way as natural estrogen, and they’re not able to bind to the osteoblast receptors to stimulate the building of bone. In other words, the new keys (the pseudo-estrogens) don’t fit into the lock anymore (the osteoblast receptors), and the key that does fit (natural estrogen) is no longer being produced.
Bone health is critical for pregnancy
Pregnancy is another reason bone health is so important for women. Strong bones are needed to support the greater weight during pregnancy, and an abundant bone bank is needed to not only support one individual, but to support the development of another human being’s bone structure!
Strong and healthy bones are also important to withstand the trauma in the pelvic region during childbirth.
How to invest in your bone health
There are some risk factors of osteoporosis that are beyond our control, such as age, gender, and family history.
But there are also a few risk factors that we have more control over.
Diet and supplementation: Consuming enough calcium, zinc, and magnesium, through food and/or supplementation, will support healthy bones. Foods that are dense in these important minerals include leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Dr. Mac’s Bone Health supplement contains 100% of your body’s daily requirement of calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Vitamin D3 also promotes healthy bones as it increases your body’s absorption and utilization of these minerals.
Physical activity: Like muscles, bones build and maintain strength with regular load-bearing exercise.
Smoking: Smoking tends to decrease estrogen levels and can potentially lead to early menopause in women less than 50 years of age, increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis.
Alcohol: Alcohol consumption can create fatty deposits in the blood vessels which restricts blood flow. The lack of blood supply can cause death of bone tissue, a condition called “avascular necrosis”.
Certain medications: Like discussed above, birth control can hinder bone health, in addition to corticosteroids, some seizure medications, some thyroid medications, and others.