7 ways to strengthen your frame as you age
If you’ve ever broken a bone, you know how difficult it can be to get through the day, struggling with an unwieldy cast and a sometimes very limited range of motion.
Unfortunately, as the Baby Boomers age, more and more of them will be dealing with problems caused by weak and brittle bones. Osteoporosis is the best-known condition, but there are others, including osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis.
While these disorders are usually associated with women, men are vulnerable to weak bones, too. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many people learn this the hard way.
Now, you might be thinking, “It’s a good thing I take calcium supplements and don’t have to worry about osteoporosis.” Not so fast! The truth is, calcium is only one of several nutrients required for healthy bones. If you’re not getting sufficient amounts of other essential substances, calcium alone is not going to do the trick. The process of building bones is a bit like making a cake; if you think all you need is flour, your “cake” is going to be very disappointing.
What about the “miracle drugs” that have been developed to treat osteoporosis, such as Fosamax, Actonel, and Didrocal? Truthfully, I am not impressed, primarily because of the potential for extremely negative side effects, including debilitating bone and joint pain, kidney damage and failure, jaw deterioration, and irregular heartbeats (atrial fibrillation), to name just a few.
Then there is the issue of those drugs’ “benefits.” Osteoporosis drugs claim to increase bone density, but they do it by unnaturally forcing bones to become dense. As a result, bones become so hard that they are actually more likely to break, defeating the drugs’ purpose. In addition, osteoporosis drugs interfere with your bones’ normal processes, like breaking down and rebuilding. So you might end up with higher bone density scores while taking these drugs, but your bone quality will be inferior to naturally created bones.
4 Essential Nutrients
According to conventional wisdom, healthy bones require a combination of the following nutrients:
- Vitamin D3
Here is a brief look at the role each of these substances plays in bone health:
The most abundant mineral in your body, calcium plays an essential part in many bodily functions. It is also one of the basic building blocks of teeth and bone.
Currently, the RDA states that adult men and women up to age 50 should consume 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily. After age 50, women need 1,200 mg daily, while men remain at 1,000 mg. After age 71, both men and women should aim for 1,200 mg each day.
- Red kidney beans
- Green beans
- Milk and cheese
This nutrient increases the amount of absorption from food sources of calcium, and it slows the amount of calcium lost in the urine. As a general rule, I recommend 1,500 IUs daily, but a simple blood test can determine if your levels are low enough to require a higher dosage. In my experience, nearly every patient I’ve tested has needed more Vitamin D3.
Like calcium, magnesium performs a long list of functions in the body. It is, for example, needed to prevent bone loss and help increase bone mass. However, magnesium deficiencies are quite common today, due to eating habits and the fact that there is very little magnesium remaining in farm soil. For supplements, I recommend 300 to 500 mg daily.
This vitamin is essential for your bones’ protein production. As a rule, I suggest taking a daily dose of 1,000 mcg (micrograms). Although, if you eat lots of fresh greens, you might not need supplements.
It would be next to impossible to get enough of all of these nutrients from food alone. Fortunately, various supplement manufacturers have formulated products containing many of these basic ingredients, so you only need one, or maybe two, pills at a time.
Nutrients Must Be Absorbed
Of course, bone-building requires the right type of calcium. My preference is for calcium derived from a food source, since it is the most easily absorbed. The product label should clearly state that it is food-based or organic, which simply means that the calcium comes from an edible source, such as algae, as opposed to being synthesized in a lab.
On the other hand, calcium carbonate, a popular form of calcium commonly added to things like orange juice, is poorly absorbed in the body. As a matter of fact, so is the calcium in dairy products. So, if you’re consuming dairy products and/or calcium-fortified food to maintain bone health, inadequate absorption might be interfering with that plan.
When shopping for bone-building supplements, look for a product containing food-based or chelated calcium that provides no more than 500 mg per dose, since that’s all the body can absorb at one time.
By the way, if you think you can get calcium from products designed to treat indigestion (like Tums), think again. Tums are made of calcium carbonate, so they are not easily absorbed to begin with. Furthermore, Tums reduce stomach acid, which is counter-productive since you actually need acid to absorb the calcium.
While we’re on the subject of absorbability, you should also know that I recommend digestive enzymes and/or Betaine HCL to most patients over the age of 50. By mid-life, many people are not producing enough stomach acid to properly digest food and supplements. Mainstream doctors tend to treat any and all stomach problems with acid-reducing medications, which do nothing to solve the problem and could make it worse. Digestive enzymes and Betaine HCL (short for hydrochloric acid, the same thing your stomach produces during digestion) help increase absorption of nutrients in food and supplements, including calcium and other bone-healthy substances. You can also enhance absorption of nutrients, including calcium, by taking at least 1,500 mg of omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) daily. High-quality fish oils are one way to do this, and my own marine oil omega-3 product – which contains vitamin D3, another healthy bone nutrient – is another option.
Manage Your Body’s pH Level
Supplements are great for filling in nutrition gaps. But don’t forget that even the best supplements can’t work properly in a hostile environment. If your body is overly acidic, a condition known as metabolic acidosis, those calcium supplements are not going to provide much support for your bones. That’s because, when you are acidic, your body actually steals calcium to reduce acidity and create a more alkaline environment.
The acid/alkaline distinction is lost on most conventional doctors, but it is well recognized in science – and many studies have examined how it affects your health. Ideally, your pH should be in the range of 7.2 to 7.4, which is a bit more alkaline than plain water. If your pH is lower than 7.2, you are in a state of acidosis. A pH above 7.43 indicates excessive alkalinity, or alkalosis, which is far more rare than acidosis.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) of meat and other animal products (such as dairy and eggs), along with sugar, coffee, tea, wine, and fast or processed foods is an acid-producing nightmare. By contrast, a plant-based diet focusing on fruits and vegetables helps balance acidity while providing healthful substances, such as antioxidants, fiber, and minerals like potassium.
The ideal diet consists of 60 to 80 percent alkalizing foods and the rest acid-forming foods. To reach this goal, many people have to step up their fruit and vegetable intake. If that’s challenging for you, my Ultimate Greens with pH Boost supplement provides an entire day’s worth of healthful, alkaline-producing nutrients in one serving.
Although we tend to think of bones as static elements that form our skeletons, they are actually very much alive and constantly changing, eliminating old material and using available elements to build new bone. That process is enhanced by regular, weight-bearing exercise, like walking, jogging, and resistance or weight training. The proof of this simple fact is seen in studies that consistently show the most active individuals have the best bone density.
If you have been sedentary or have health concerns that limit your movement, please talk with your doctor about how you can incorporate more daily activity into your life. Even walking for 30 minutes a day, three or more days per week, is a huge help. If finding time for a single stretch of 30 minutes is difficult, break up your exercise sessions into three, 10-minute walks. Remember, even a little activity is better than none.
Monitor Your Hormone Levels
As we age, hormone imbalances become common. So anyone middle-aged or older should talk with a physician about natural hormone replacement therapy. This is an area where dosage is important. Taking too much or too little of a hormone can cause complications, so you’ll want your current hormone levels checked to determine proper dosage. But it’s a worthwhile investment. Adequate hormones can make a major contribution to bone density, as well as to your health in general.
Not all doctors do this, but it is important to have the condition of your bones evaluated as part of any general physical exam. A bone-density test known as DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) is a simple, painless, non-invasive test that shows even early signs of osteoporosis in men and women who are middle-aged or older.
Osteoporosis is an invisible problem for millions of Americans who are unaware that their bones are deteriorating. And you don’t have to be one of them. Stay proactive and make necessary changes to prevent complications like hip fractures and the spinal curvature known as “widow’s hump.” These serious, life-altering challenges can be avoided with proper diet, exercise, and correct supplementation.
Last Updated: April 23, 2020
Originally Published: August 8, 2013