There are 206 bones in the human skeleton that support and protect our internal organs and perform a number of important functions. But we rarely give them much thought unless we break one and we have to learn to function without it. When you’re a kid, it can be a cool badge of honor, but as an adult, it can wreak havoc with your life.

A few years ago, I broke my right wrist so severely that I now have a four-inch plate and two screws where my wrist bone once was. I was at the roller rink with my kids when a boy lost control and knocked me over. The accompanying nerve damage was excruciating and learning to bathe, dress, cook and take care of my little kids without the use of my wrist was quite a challenge.

It took me almost a year to fully recover, and as a result, I’m even more conscious of my bone health now.

If you’re struggling with wear and tear on hips or knees or perhaps you’re concerned about bone health and osteoporosis as you age (or you have a friend or family member who is), there is much you can do to prevent and even repair bone damage. In this article, I’m going to explore how you can avoid drugs, replacement surgeries and debilitating fractures as you age, and have strong healthy bones for life.

How our Bones Work

Our bones are meant to last: Exhumation at burial sites thousands of years old reveals intact skeletons. Ancient societies’ medical records reveal no issues or concerns with bone failure as people age. So what has changed?

Bones are continuously being built up and broken down. In fact, the entire human skeleton is replaced every 10 years. There are two types of cells in the bones needed to complete this task: Osteoblasts, which produce new bone, and osteoclasts, which are responsible for removing damaged or unnecessary cells from the bones. These cells work to structure your bones as you grow, to regulate calcium levels in the blood, and to repair stresses and damage from daily function.

In addition, almost all of our hormones, including testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, thyroid hormones and growth hormones have an effect on bones. We hear a lot about women being at risk for osteoporosis post-menopause, when estrogen levels in the body fall; clearly the hormone connection is real.

Osteoporosis occurs when bone tissues thin as we age, resulting in a loss of bone density. We have been told that osteoporosis is a problem. But is how dense your bones are really that important? If your bones are thin, but they support you through your life and never break, is there a reason to be concerned?

Or, if it’s actually fractures and their impact that is the real concern, is there a direct correlation between thin bones and fractures that we need to manage? Research indicates that there are many people with thin bones who never experience fractures and many people whose bones are dense who still succumb to fractures.

Thanks to aggressive marketing campaigns, everyone knows of the connection between calcium and bone health. I cringe every time I go into my kids’ schools and see posters of athletes and pop stars with white mustaches. The U.S., Australia, New Zealand and most of Western Europe are the largest consumers of dairy in the world. Yet we have more fractures than people from Asia and Africa. In fact, the populations of Africa and Asia consume almost no dairy, but have fracture rates 50%-70% lower than ours.

Calcium may play a role, but clearly it is not enough on its own. (Of course, there is the question of can we actually absorb calcium or any nutrients from today’s dairy products, which is discussed in the article on making better diary choices; the short answer is no.)

Let’s look at how bones are structured.  Bones are made of an interwoven lattice-like structure: a collagen matrix. This makes up about 35% of the bones and it is what gives bone its flexibility. This matrix forms the base that then traps calcium phosphate, a mineral salt, which is also known as hydroxyapetite. Hydroxyapetite forms about 65% of bone mass and it is what gives bones its strength. Bones are also the depositories of many minerals that the body needs such as sodium, potassium and magnesium.

Tests measure bone density. But if you fall, what determines whether your bones fracture? Is it the density of the bone? If so, why don’t we see that thin bones consistently fracture and that dense bones do not?

Perhaps it’s not how thick the bone is, but rather, how flexible the collagen matrix is and how able it is to support you when you fall or find yourself out of your natural alignment. Caring for bones means more than just calcium and bone density; it means ensuring the flexibility of the collagen web.

If collagen is the key, that would explain why density isn’t directly related to fractures. It would also explain why cultures that consume healthy diets rich in collagen and the nutrients required to produce it such as the populations of Asia and Africa have significantly fewer fractures than Western (collagen-deficient) dieters.

What About Bisphonates?

Osteoporosis drugs known as Bisphonates (such as Fosomax, Actonel and Boniva) work in two ways: by preventing bone perforations that can weaken structure and by inhibiting the osteoclasts, the cells that break down old bone. Normal bone processes includes resorption, in which old bone is cleared away. But osteoporosis drugs prevent that process, so that the old bone stays around longer.

Instead of a natural process that renews the bone skeleton every 10 years, the old bone is kept around. During the first year, new bone keeps getting built, which is  why many people see such great results short-term from bone building drugs. But after a while, that process peaks and just as the bone resorption stops, so does the bone creation. Somehow the osteoblasts that build bone are repressed by the bisphonates and the natural process is halted.

New research reveals that many people on these drugs have spontaneous fractures that are not trauma related but simply bones breaking while walking up stairs or performing normal daily routines. Ultimately, the old bone buildup and the lack of new bone growth may make the bones even more brittle than they were before!

When we looked at cholesterol, we talked about the “number needed to treat,” or NNT. (Some scientists say anything over 50 is like buying a lottery ticket.) A study of post-menopausal women showed that twice as many of the high-risk fracture group (history of a previous fracture and low bone density) on placebos had a fracture versus those on the drug Fosamax. This study result allowed Fosamax to claim a 50% reduction in fractures. But just as in the cholesterol fine print, we need to dig deeper to understand what that means.

The study shows that 2.2% of the placebo group had a fracture versus 1.1% of the Fosamax group. The net result of risk reduction was 1%. For every 100 women treated, 99 got no benefit. Those 99 would be much better served with diet and exercise changes given all the side effects of these drugs, including irregular heartbeats, increased fractures of the femur (isn’t that what we are trying to prevent?), ulcers and upper GI irritation, joint, bone and muscle pain, and rare but serious jaw bone decay.

So if drugs aren’t the answer, what can we do? The answer lies in exercise and diet.

Exercise: Get Moving

Weight bearing exercise is critical to bone strength. As a cycling instructor, I paid attention when a cycling magazine reported that they looked at the bones of professional/serious cyclists and found men in their 50s with hip bone density similar to that of elderly women. There is something about the cycling movement that grinds the hipbone and if you ride to excess without weight bearing exercise, it takes its toll on your hips.

Cyclist or not, we all need to walk, run, hike, dance or climb stairs to get some weight-bearing exercise. And we should also work on strength training. While lifting weights can be done in a gym, you can also use household or kitchen items and perform body weight exercises such as push-ups or squat into a chair in your living room without weights or gym memberships.

And since fractures have a lot to do with flexibility, stretching is key. The hip flexor muscle in particular needs to be flexible enough to respond should you fall out of normal alignment. Yoga and tai chi can be helpful, but you can just lie on the floor and stretch at home, too.

Balance training can also be helpful: The better your balance, the less likely you are to tumble and end up in a position that could result in a fracture. Try standing on one foot without holding onto anything. If that’s easy, close your eyes. Practice over time and your balance will improve: You’ll be able to hold that pose for longer periods of time with greater stability.

Bone-Building Diet Options

The complex interplay of minerals and nutrients for bone health means that dietary answers are not as simple as taking more calcium. Calcium needs approximately 16 other nutrients in order to be utilized by your body and dairy calcium does not deliver those nutrients. So using dairy as a source of calcium is not helpful unless you also consume a wide variety of plant foods to access those other nutrients. But since calcium can also be delivered through those same plant foods, increasing dairy is ultimately unnecessary.

While improving calcium through increasing plant food consumption may be of some help, it is not enough. Collagen — and the vitamin C required to make it — are critical. In fact, some researchers have suggested that vitamin C is as integral to bone health — or given our deficiencies, perhaps even more so — than calcium. Vitamin C stimulates the enzymes that create the connective tissue and the collagen. But collagen also requires adequate protein for formulation. A deficiency of either one — protein or vitamin C — may weaken the collagen matrix and prevent the calcium salts from being retained.

Man is one of the few mammals that cannot make vitamin C in its liver, so we must ingest all our daily vitamin C requirements. Vitamin C is not stored in the body, so it must be continually replenished.

The prior Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin C of 60 mg was chosen as the minimum level needed to avoid scurvy, a disease that occurs when we are extremely vitamin C deficient.

Researchers now recommend that we get a minimum of 200 mg of vitamin C a day, though a recent study on college age men showed they needed as much as 1,000 mg a day. 200 should be sufficient for most of us, but getting that amount means at least five servings of fruits and vegetables. We know about citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits, as well as berries like strawberries and raspberries, but vegetables are good sources of vitamin C as well, and without the blood sugar impact that fruits can have. Dark green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, collard greens and asparagus are all good sources of vitamin C.

Because we can’t store it, that means we must get at least 5 servings throughout the day, and I don’t know a lot of people who get five servings of dark green leafy vegetables a day! But without regular and consistent vitamin C consumption, our collagen matrix can be compromised. A weakened collagen “web” means we can lose the flexibility required to avoid a bone break and our risk of fractures will increase.

Vitamin D is also required for calcium absorption (so we need to get our daily dose of sunshine), as are a host of other minerals including phosphorus, magnesium, boron, copper, manganese, silica, zinc, folic acid and vitamins B12, A and K.

Its best to get these minerals through a whole plant food diet: dark green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, seaweeds and some fish. But if you can’t do that, a whole food supplement can help bridge the gap. (Just note that with vitamin C, you will want to consume several smaller doses a day instead of one larger one because we can only take in smal amounts at a time.) We also need the presence of healthy fats (omega-3s) to perform all the necessary body functions around vitamin absorption.

Finally, it’s important to know that an overly acidic diet will weaken our bones. Acid-creating foods such as alcohol, sugar, flour, grains, meat, fish, poultry and eggs pull calcium and other minerals out of teeth and bones. We need to have some of these foods, as we need protein to support collagen as well. But many of us are out of balance from excessively large meat portions coupled with excess sugar and white flour and not enough healthy fats.

Restoring the acid-alkaline balance is the goal. The more minerals there are in a food, the more alkaline it is; eating fruits, vegetables, seaweeds, salt (note: not iodized salt or excessive sodium through processed food, but natural untreated salt such as himalyan or sea salt) and other alkalizing foods can help balance out too much acid and support our natural healing and bone repair process.

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art

 Leave a Reply




© 2012 Inger Pols, Inc. Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha