This isn’t your typical “Top Causes of Osteoporosis” list…
You know the ones we’re talking about, right? The ones that all list the same risk factors and causes for osteoporosis you can’t do anything about. Things like:
- Family history
Yes, they contribute to osteoporosis, but they’re not causes you can do anything about.
So we’re going to do things differently. We’re going to cover the top 6 causes of osteoporosis WITH actionable advice on what you can do about them so you can live the life you deserve. And the encouraging news is that, in spite of having family history, age, ethnicity or gender working against you, annual bone loss can be affected significantly by adjusting these 6 things.
So, let’s get to it. Here are 6 causes of osteoporosis with an in-depth explanation of each and what you can do about them:
Hormone levels influence all sorts of biological processes in your body. And that includes your natural bone remodeling – the process where old bone is broken down and removed, and replaced with new bone.
See, it’s all about balance when it comes to hormones. If your levels of crucial hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are too low or too high, your bone remodeling becomes unbalanced. And then there’s your thyroid (that’s the gland in your neck that secretes thyroid hormones).
Did you know more than 12% of the American population will develop a thyroid condition in their lifetime? If that wasn’t bad enough, a problem with your thyroid has consequences for your bones too… To discover exactly how hormones can cause osteoporosis, click the name of each below.
Estrogen plays a fundamental role in skeletal growth.1 And that goes for women and men. But it’s true that estrogen plays a more dramatic role in the bone health of women. And that’s because of menopause.
As you go through menopause, your levels of estrogen fluctuate wildly (this is what causes symptoms like hot flashes). And in your postmenopausal years, your production of estrogen is lower.2 And that’s bad news for your bones. Estrogen deficiency causes bone loss in the following ways:
It expands the number of places in bone undergoing remodeling
A lack of estrogen leads to a dramatic elevation in the number of basic multicellular units (BMU).3 That’s the name of a team of osteoclasts – the cells that break down old bone, and osteoblasts – the cells that form new bone. More BMUs means there are more construction sites for bone remodeling on your bones.
But here’s the kicker; a lack of estrogen prompts the formation of more osteoclasts too! So there are more sites of bone remodeling going on at one time, but more osteoclasts are at work, so more bone is being stripped away than is being added!
It makes your osteoclasts work longer
A lack of estrogen also causes your osteoclasts to work longer.4 Yes, the cells that strip away your bone start to work overtime! Research suggests when estrogen levels are too low, the osteoclast cells don’t die off when they’re supposed to. And when they work longer, they strip away deeper into your bones, making them more porous and fragile.
It increases the production of inflammatory cytokines
Inflammatory cytokines are messenger molecules that promote inflammation. Estrogen keeps their levels in check. But when estrogen levels drop, so does control of these inflammation-promoters (like IL-75 and TNF6).
TNF, in particular, boosts nuclear factor-κB ligand (RANKL) activity. RANKL is secreted by the osteoblast cells. It binds to its receptor– receptor activator of nuclear factor kappa (RANK) on osteoclast precursors (cells that could become osteoclasts or other types of cells.) When this happens, the osteoclast precursors become mature osteoclasts and begin to break down bone.7
What can you do about estrogen deficiency?
To raise your levels of estrogen back to a bone-protective level, you can use bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). As the name suggests, BHRT replaces the natural hormones you lose with bioidentical hormones. These hormones are exactly the same as the ones your body produces, so it uses them exactly the same way.
In fact, BHRT restores a woman’s estrogen levels back to those of a healthy 35-year-old! If you want to learn more about BHRT and other ways to ease the symptoms of menopause, visit our “Ultimate Guide to Menopause and its Effects on Bones” post.
Estrogen tends to be the primary focus when discussing hormone levels and osteoporosis. But progesterone has a part to play too. Progesterone is a female sex hormone women’s bodies produce after ovulation during the second half of the menstrual cycle.
One of progesterone’s primary jobs is to prepare the body for a potential pregnancy. But progesterone also contributes to peak bone density and even bone formation. See, progesterone works with a specific form of estrogen in every tissue in a woman’s normal physiology.8 That means progesterone works with estrogen in its bone-related jobs too.
In fact, they’re so closely linked that progesterone deficiency precedes low levels of this form of estrogen in perimenopause.9 What’s more, studies show progesterone levels could be directly linked to osteoblast cell production!9
What can you do about progesterone deficiency?
If you’re concerned about your progesterone levels, a good place to start is asking your doctor for a progesterone test to determine your levels. If they are too low, you can discuss BHRT as a potential treatment option as we saw with estrogen deficiency.
Testosterone is a male androgen hormone, but it’s produced in women too, just at lower levels. But as far as osteoporosis is concerned, testosterone levels are far more concerning for men. In fact, testosterone deficiency is the most important factor of bone loss in elderly men.10
See, as a man gets older, his level of testosterone starts to decrease. The condition associated with this dip in testosterone is called andropause.11 Andropause is often described as the “male menopause,” although it generally starts later than a woman’s menopause would and occurs more gradually.
Hypogonadism is a condition with similar effects to andropause, but it’s not a natural occurrence like andropause. In hypogonadism cases, testosterone levels are low because of an abnormality of the testes or brain. But no matter the cause of a testosterone deficiency, it has negative implications for a man’s bone health…
In men with normal testosterone levels, a small amount is converted (aromatized) to a form of estrogen.12 And this form of estrogen has the same bone-maintaining effects on men’s bones as it does on women’s (as we saw above), although men need far less. So when there’s insufficient testosterone, there’s a lack of estrogen too, and bone maintenance begins to falter.
What can you do about testosterone deficiency?
Like the other hormones we’ve covered, testosterone deficiency can be treated with hormone replacement. Again, testosterone replacement therapy must be administered through your doctor.
There are several methods to choose from, and some may be more beneficial depending on your personal circumstances. Some doctors are closed to the idea of hormone replacement, so you may need to find one who is more involved in anti-aging medicine.
According to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12% of Americans will suffer from either an underactive or overactive thyroid condition in their lives. And right now, 20 million Americans are living with the effects. And it’s bad news for ladies… women are 5 to 8 times more likely to have thyroid problems than men!13
Now, the most common issues related to the thyroid are overactivity or underactivity. And both cause bone loss (more on that in just a moment). But first, what is the role of your thyroid gland?
Your thyroid gland sits in the base of your neck, just below the larynx (Adam’s apple). Here, it produces the thyroid hormones; mostly thyroxine (T4) and a wee bit of triiodothyronine (T3). And these thyroid hormones play a vital role in many bodily functions. They include regulating; your metabolism, heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development, mood and most relevantly for osteoporosis, bone maintenance.
Hyperthyroidism is the term for an overactive thyroid. If you have hyperthyroidism, your thyroid works overtime producing more thyroid hormones than it should.
When this happens, your osteoclasts work much faster to break down bone. Your osteoblasts (bone-building cells) can’t keep up, and your net result is bone loss. In fact, research shows that severe hyperthyroidism, if undiagnosed and not treated, can almost halve the cycle of bone remodeling- from 200 days to 113 days.14
And when this happens, the phase of the cycle that forms new bone is cut short. Researchers believe the net result would be over 10% less mineralized bone every cycle! Now, hyperthyroidism affects around 3% of women and 0.5% of men ─ so it’s pretty rare ─ but that doesn’t mean it should be discounted.15
And it’s worth noting that Graves Disease causes 50-80% of hyperthyroidism cases.16 In Graves Disease, the immune system produces an antibody called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI) that makes the thyroid produce too much hormone. This prompts it to enlarge and become overactive. The disease can be hereditary and often occurs in young women, but can also be caused by environmental toxins and dietary choices (more on those in the sections further down).
So how do you know if you have an overactive thyroid? Well, symptoms of hyperthyroidism without treatment include:
- Sudden or rapid weight loss
- Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat
- Hand tremors
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Disrupted or light menstrual periods
- Goiter (enlarged thyroid gland) or nodes
- Hair loss
- Sensitivity to heat
- Poor sleep
- Muscle weakness
Anxiety, sleeplessness, fatigue… there are a lot of symptoms on that list that are easy to miss or attribute to a less sinister cause. So imagine the damage that hyperthyroidism can do to your bones without you even knowing you have it. It could go on for years…
What can you do about hyperthyroidism?
Currently, conventional medicine offers no cure for hyperthyroidism. But it’s not all doom and gloom! There are medications that can help manage the condition and its effect on your bones.
If you suffer from any of the symptoms listed above, it’s a good idea to get a blood test to check the level of thyroid hormones in your blood (specifically T4, T3, rT3, TSH, and TSI). Your doctor may want to conduct a thyroid scan or iodine uptake test depending on the results of your blood test.
If your test results show you have hyperthyroidism, there are several treatments that can help (depending on the severity of your condition). The treatments include radioactive iodine treatment, anti-thyroid medications, and surgical removal of the thyroid gland.
Important note: The thyroid gland relies on iodine to manufacture thyroid hormones, so most drugs that act on your thyroid work by altering the gland’s ability to use iodine. But if your doctor prescribes you any drugs that act on your thyroid, be sure to ask about any potential bone-damaging side effects.
Hypothyroidism is the opposite of hyperthyroidism. In this case, your thyroid is underactive and doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones. It’s a far more common condition than hyperthyroidism, and also has negative implications for your bones…
See, if you have hypothyroidism, your whole bone remodeling process slows down. Your bone-resorbing osteoclasts slack off, but so do your bone-forming osteoblasts. And unfortunately, the imbalance still favors bone loss.17
Symptoms of hypothyroidism without treatment:
- Excessive hair loss
- Muscle weakness
- Pain and stiffness in your joints
- Sensitivity to the cold
- Weight gain
- Heavy menstrual periods
- Slowed heart rate
- High blood cholesterol
- Impaired memory
What can you do about hypothyroidism? Doctors prescribe a synthetic version of T4, the thyroxine hormone produced by the thyroid gland, for most cases of hypothyroidism.
But a potential risk of long-term use is overdose. And overdosing is very easily done. It happens because your body’s needs can change with time. So the dose your doctor originally prescribes may end up being too high. And if you continue to take a dose that’s too high, you’ll enter a state of low-grade hyperthyroidism — and that can damage your bones (to some extent) too!
It’s very much a “Goldilocks situation.” You need just the right amount of T4. Not too much, but not too little either.
Don’t worry though, it’s easy to make sure your T4 levels are on track. Just ask your doctor to check your thyroid hormone levels to make sure they’re balanced and aren’t causing your bones any damage. The British Thyroid Foundation recommends a check once every year.
How to manage thyroid issues naturally
So, we’ve covered how an underactive and overactive thyroid damage your bones. Plus the most common treatments for each. But there’s actually a way you can help keep your thyroid in check naturally too…
If you remember the start of this section, we mentioned that your thyroid glands secrete two hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). And when these hormones become unbalanced or suppressed, or your body can’t convert T4 into T3, your bones pay the price.
(Please note: This is just a brief overview of what might be going on. Anyone with thyroid issues should consult their doctor for a more in-depth, personal assessment of their situation.)
Well, your thyroid glands primarily produce T4, which is far less active (3 to 4 times less potent) than T3. But here’s the catch; your thyroid glands secrete very little T3 into your bloodstream. (The ratio of T4 to T3 in the bloodstream typically ranges from 14:1 to 20:1.)
So where do you get your active T3 thyroid hormone? Almost all of your T3 is made from T4 inside your cells by the action of enzymes called deiodinases. Deiodinases convert T4 to T3 by removing one of T4’s iodine molecules. And except for some special deiodinase enzymes in the brain, the deiodinase enzymes in the cells throughout the rest of your body (including your bones) require selenium.
So getting enough selenium is a key factor that can help promote healthy thyroid hormone balance. (And may help prevent the bone damage a thyroid imbalance causes).18
Now, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for selenium is 55 mcg per day, but the safe tolerable upper intake level is 400 mcg per day. To pack plenty of selenium on your plate, include yellowfish tuna, wild caught salmon, free range eggs, turkey, organic brown rice, and brazil nuts (one or two daily) in your diet.
Overexposure To Toxins
You may know inflammation causes bone loss. Chronic inflammation over-activates osteoclast cells that break down and remove your bone. And the bad news is, countless substances in our everyday lives contain inflammatory toxins. That includes drugs (even ones prescribed by doctors), refined foods, and even the environment!
Click on the category below to discover how each can contribute to weaker bones and what you can do to avoid them.
Every day you make choices to either fuel your body with nutritious, healthful food or add to your toxin exposure through diet. We call these, food toxins. Food toxins consist of pro-inflammatory compounds such as refined sugars, refined grains (especially wheat, even unrefined), pro-inflammatory fats, and pesticide residues in conventionally grown produce.
Refined Sugars and Grains
Did you know 99.9% of our genetic profile is still the same as our ancestors from the Paleolithic era?19 (the Paleolithic era started around 2.6 million years ago and ended around 12,000 years ago.)
Yes, your genes have only changed about 0.01% since the Paleolithic era! Back then, the only sugar humans encountered was from fruit and a very occasional bit of honey. But fast forward to today, and refined sugars are a constant in our daily diets — even though we aren’t equipped to handle this sugar tsunami!
So what is a refined sugar?
You’ll probably know refined sugar as table sugar, but it pops up in far more places than that… Refined sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beets. These are processed to extract the sugar- typically sucrose, which is the combination of glucose and fructose. Manufacturers add refined sugars, like sucrose and high fructose corn syrup (amongst others), to many processed food and drink products. And that includes products you’d never imagine contain sugar!
You can discover which products we’re referring to by reading our “Sneaky Foods High in Sugar” post.
Now, the American Heart Association recommends the following daily intake of added sugar: No more than six teaspoons (25 g) for women.20 And no more than nine teaspoons (38 g) for men. (At AlgaeCal we recommend as little added sugar as possible). But get this… The average American consumes 76.7 g of added sugar every single day! That’s 19 teaspoons worth!21
Why are refined sugars a cause of osteoporosis?
Refined sugar doesn’t really offer any nutritional value for your body. So straight off the bat, a diet high in refined sugars is providing far less of the nutrients your bones crave.
What’s more, when you consume foods containing sugar, your pancreas reacts by secreting insulin. The Standard American Diet (SAD), which contains tons of processed foods high in sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, causes insulin secretion into the bloodstream in very large amounts at virtually every meal and snack. High blood levels of insulin are a key contributing factor to osteoporosis – and metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.22
So how does chronically elevated insulin promote bone loss? By inhibiting your kidney’s ability to reabsorb calcium, so you lose more through your urine.23 And because 99.9% of your calcium is in your bones, researchers believe this increased loss of calcium is being leached from your bones.24 And if that weren’t already a damning resume for refined sugar, it causes inflammation, too.25
Too much sugar increases the number of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs are harmful compounds that form when protein or fat combine with sugar in the bloodstream, and they promote inflammation.
Plus, sugar produces higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which is also a marker of inflammation. And when there’s too much inflammation in your body, osteoclasts turn on, and you start to lose bone.
What are refined grains and why are they a cause of osteoporosis?
Like we saw with refined sugars, refined grains are the end product of heavily processed natural grains – think white bread, white rice, and white flour. Your body views the carbohydrates in refined grains as another form of sugar. That means the effects on your bones are the same.
Even in young, healthy people, an increase in the number of refined carbohydrates in the diet causes a significant increase in the amount of calcium lost through urine.26
Let’s take a closer look at one example of a refined grain: Whole wheat is refined to white flour. Aside from the calcium loss it causes, and the residual bleach you consume (that’s partly what makes the flour white), there’s another reason it does your body and bones a disservice…
White flour is shortchanging you big time when it comes to nutritional value.
In fact, white flour provides less of all the following good stuff (and lots of them are bone-building heroes!):27
- 72% less vitamin B6
- 67% less folic acid
- 60% less calcium
- 85% less magnesium
- 86% less manganese
- 68% less copper
- 78% less zinc
Now, grains make up about 30% of the average diet. This means eating refined foods, which has become commonplace, is an example of nutritional ‘opportunity cost’ to the tune of 30% less minerals for the average person.
And combined, refined grains and sugars make up almost 50% of the SAD (Standard American Diet)! So we’re consuming far fewer micronutrients than previous generations.
Fat used to have a bad reputation. After all, most people used to think of the ‘extra padding’ around the belly when they heard the term. But that’s changed recently…
You see, there are good fats as well as the bad ones. And it’s essential to recognize your bones – and the rest of your body – need these good fats! Fats do a lot more than provide calories for immediate use or energy stores. Without fat, you’d be unable to:
- Absorb vitamin D – which you need to absorb calcium!
- Absorb vitamin K1 – which has significant anti-inflammatory protective effects on bone
- Absorb vitamin K2 – which activates the vitamin K-dependent proteins that act as traffic signals, directing calcium into your bone (osteocalcin) and keeping it out of your arteries, breasts, brain, and kidneys (matrix Gla protein)
- Produce hormones – including thyroid hormones, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and parathyroid hormone (and we’ve already seen how they’re important to bone health)
- Create and maintain brain cells – did you know essential fatty acids make up nearly 60% of your brain?28
If that weren’t enough, fat, in healthy amounts, cushions and protects your organs. And it’s essential for healthy, unwrinkled skin too. The simple fact is you can’t live without some fat! But the key to unlocking those benefits, and avoiding bone damage, is moderating your fat intake, and eating the right types of fat.
May help you:
- Reduce cholesterol
- Lose weight
- Reduce risk factors for heart disease
Sources: Olive oil, almonds, olives, avocados
Omega 3 fatty acids
May help you:
- Combat inflammation
- Help with joint pain
- Reduce risk of heart disease
- Promote osteoblast production and activity
Sources: Oily fish like salmon, anchovies, and sardines
Dietary guidelines from the World Health Organization and the Dietary Reference Intakes recommend a healthy diet contains approximately 20-35% of calories from fat.29 This translates to somewhere between 40-70 grams of fat per day for women and 45-77 grams of fat per day for men (depending upon age and activity level).
To find out exactly how many grams of fat you need per day, use this handy calculator based on information from the American Dietetic Association: Fat Intake Calculator: http://www.healthcalculators.org/calculators/fat.asp
Why are certain fats a cause of osteoporosis?
Fats become a concern for your bones (as well as an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes) if you’re consuming too much of the wrong types. Even consuming the recommended 20-35% of calories from fat can harm your bones if you eat too much of the following pro-inflammatory kinds of fat:
Omega 6 fatty acids
Consequences: Promote inflammation which activates the bone-resorbing osteoclast cellsSources: Vegetable oils like soy, corn, sunflower, and canola oil
Consequences: Increase the risk of heart disease and insulin sensitivity, and cause chronic inflammation30Sources: Almost all processed foods. Think cookies, cakes, fries, and chips
And here’s the kicker: The Standard American Diet delivers way too much of the pro-inflammatory, “bad fats” and way too little of the “healthy fats.”
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Institute of Medicine recommend trans-fat intake, in particular, should be as low as possible.31 Trans fats lurk in all kinds of processed foods, including chips, cookies, cakes, pies, pastries, donuts, fried foods, artificial creamers, whipped cream, and French fries. Some frozen pizza brands contain up to 5 grams of trans-fats per serving, and microwave popcorn up to 7 grams per serving.32 And you could be consuming even more than you thought…
FDA rules allow manufacturers to round up to 0.49 grams of trans fat per serving down to 0 on the Nutrition Facts label. Plus serving sizes are often much smaller than the amount people actually eat. So if you’re eating a lot of processed foods, you could be consuming a large amount of trans-fat every day without knowing it.
Pesticide Residues in Conventionally Grown Food
Conventional farming techniques use pesticides to keep pests away from crops and to maximize the yield. Most people are aware of pesticide use and don’t give it much thought. But they might if they knew how harmful pesticides can be. Especially to bone health…
Why are pesticide residues a cause of osteoporosis?
Dietary exposure to pesticide residues is now recognized as extremely damaging to human health. Even very low doses of pesticide mixtures can be detrimental. When pesticides were approved for use on our food crops, they were evaluated one at a time.
But we now know that when combined, their toxic effects are synergistic and multiplied. The results of recent studies aren’t pretty!
One study exposed pregnant, breastfeeding mice to pesticides. The results showed cell signaling was clearly disrupted in the bone marrow cells of their offspring.33 The bone marrow is where red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body, and lymphocytes, which are essential for immune system function, are created. Unhealthy red blood cells result in anemia.34 A condition where blood cells are unable to carry the oxygen your cells need to function. And insufficient oxygen (hypoxia) causes inflammation. And your lymphocytes help clear out pathogens, toxins, and cellular debris. So disrupting lymphocyte formation allows these damaging compounds to stick around and cause inflammation, too.
And as you already know, chronic inflammation causes excessive activation of osteoclasts and bone loss.
The pesticide researchers used in the study mentioned above was endosulfan.35 It’s a widely used pesticide and is well-known to be a pro-oxidant. That means it causes the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) that greatly damage your cells.
And the worst part? Endosulfan triggers a cycle of inflammation within your body! This chronic inflammation is a slow-burning fire that doesn’t present any immediate symptoms like hives or trouble breathing. The damage that keeps accumulating is now recognized as a driving factor in metabolic syndrome. And metabolic syndrome is a driving factor in type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis!
In another study, rats were given a tiny dose of a mixture of four organochlorine pesticides (OCP) in their drinking water.36 These OCPs (dichlorvos, dimethoate, acephate, and phorate) are insecticides used on many food crops. When combined (as these pesticides are in real life as residues in the non-organic foods we eat), each pesticide produced a toxic action. Even at levels that are supposedly safe for us.
The mixture of organochlorine pesticides produced the following effects:
- Oxidative stress: Remember, oxidative stress causes chronic low-grade inflammation
- Liver and kidney dysfunction: This means you can’t convert vitamin D into its active form– hormonal form (1,25-D)– or clear toxins from your body. And you’ll lose calcium and magnesium in your urine rather than reabsorb them, too.
- Disturbed metabolism of fats and proteins: This can lead to cardiovascular disease and inflammation.
- Disrupted production of thyroid hormones: This results in a lack of thyroid hormone, which promotes hypothyroidism and bone loss.
*Please note: At AlgaeCal we strive to present you with the latest, highest standard research and studies. And that wouldn’t usually include animal studies. But human intervention studies should never be carried out if the risks outweigh the potential benefits of the information they reveal.
The last two studies are a prime example of this. It wouldn’t be ethical to expose pregnant women to pesticides, or make people drink water contaminated with pesticides. If that weren’t a scary enough list, organochlorine pesticides are a recognized contributor to chronic kidney disease (CKD).37
First OCP residues damage the kidneys, so they’re less able to excrete them. Then the OCPs and other toxins your kidneys are supposed to be able to eliminate in urine, build up in the body… and wreak havoc everywhere! And that spells more bad news for bone health…
You might not know it, but your kidneys play a key role in bone health. Remember, vitamin D helps you absorb calcium (the cornerstone of bone health). And your kidneys convert vitamin D into its active form – the form which helps us absorb calcium!
Plus, your kidneys excrete wastes (that would otherwise cause damage and inflammation), reabsorb vital nutrients (including calcium and magnesium), help you maintain a healthy pH and avoid metabolic acidosis, and regulate your blood pressure (both high and low blood pressure cause chronic inflammation). Yes, your kidneys are an unsung bone health hero! So, it pays to keep them healthy and in full working order.
One last study on pesticides…
With such a heavy reliance on technology and machinery these days, it’s easy to overlook the fact that it’s actually humans who often spray pesticides on SAD (Standard American Diet)) crops. These workers spend a lot of time in the presence of pesticides, so they offer an additional insight into the damage they can cause.
A study assessed 81 intensive agriculture workers (pesticide sprayers), twice during the course of a spraying season. Researchers found these individuals’ levels of key protective antioxidant enzymes were far lower compared to controls.38 That means their ability to combat the inflammation caused by the pesticides was greatly impaired.
What’s worse, people obviously know about the health issues pesticides pose, but it’s still not common knowledge. Take the study we just discussed for example.
Instead of warning the general public, the researchers speculate, “Whether or not the decreased enzyme activities found in this study are linked to the adverse health effects related to chronic pesticide toxicity (in which oxidative damage plays a pathophysiological role, such as cancer or neurodegenerative disorders) is an attractive hypothesis that warrants further investigation.”
By being aware of the dangers, and by making a conscious effort when it comes to your shopping list, you won’t have to be part of that “further investigation.”
What can you do about dietary toxins?
Dietary toxins spell bad news for your overall health, not just your bones. They lead to osteoporosis in numerous ways, but the common theme for all the dietary toxins we’ve covered – refined sugars and grains, fats, and pesticides – is inflammation. And remember, chronic inflammation is a fast-track ticket for bone loss. But the amount of dietary toxins you’re exposed to is in your hands.
When it comes to refined sugars and grains, and pro-inflammatory fats keep the information you’ve read today in mind. You control what goes into your shopping basket and your body, and now you have the knowledge to limit products that will damage your bones.
For more information on dietary toxins to avoid, check out our post: 8 Foods to Avoid for Osteoporosis. You’ll find some tasty, bone-healthy alternatives you to try in there, too!
At AlgaeCal we realize how difficult it is to keep inflammation from toxins and foods completely out of your life, so we formulated a helping hand. Triple Power Omega 3 Fish Oil provides 1400 mg of omega 3s (inflammation-fighting superheroes) plus two more of the most powerful anti-inflammatories on the planet in every tablespoon.
Plus, you’ll absolutely love the mango flavor. Learn more about Triple Power Omega 3 Fish Oil by clicking the button below.
As for avoiding pesticides, it’s as easy as eating organically grown food whenever possible. Most supermarkets have dedicated organic produce sections these days. And how’s this for convenient?
You can check out which produce has the most, and least, pesticide residues in our “EWG’s (Environmental Working Group’s) Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Lists” post. Or if you enjoy gardening, why not grow your own? Your bones (and the rest of your body) will thank you.
So, that’s dietary toxins covered, but we’re not out of the woods just yet. Many other toxins in our environment can lead to osteoporosis if we’re over exposed to them. But don’t panic, once you know what they are, you can take steps to avoid them.
In this section, we’ll cover how endocrine disruptors (harmful chemicals you’ll find in everyday products) and smoking can cause osteoporosis, plus what you can do to avoid them!
Endocrine disruptors (EDs) are chemicals that interfere with your body’s endocrine system.39 That’s a collection of glands that produce hormones to regulate metabolism, sleep, growth and development, and mood, among other things.
Endocrine disruptors, which can be natural or man-made, produce adverse reproductive, developmental, neurological, and immune effects in both wildlife and humans. And as you’ve probably guessed, they’re not friends with your bones!
How do endocrine disruptors work?
Your endocrine system can be disrupted in various ways. Endocrine disruptors can mimic a natural hormone, which fools your body into over-responding to the stimulus.40 Or, it can respond at inappropriate times.
Other EDs block the effects of hormones altogether. As we mentioned in the hormones section, hormones act at precise moments and in small amounts to regulate the body’s immunity, behavior, reproduction, metabolism, growth, and development. And that includes your bones.
So, by meddling with your hormones, EDs can alter the bone remodeling process and skeletal formation.41 And to add insult to injury, EDs can have lifelong effects, even after exposure has been stopped.42
How do you come into contact with endocrine disruptors?
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences reveals that EDs are in many products like:40
- Metal food cans
- Plastic bottles
- Flame retardants
You see, EDs don’t break down easily, which is why manufacturers use them in their products. But this is bad news for your body and the environment, as they stick around in the air, soil, and water.
The Most Common and Well-Studied Endocrine Disruptors
Discover what the common endocrine disruptors are and their health implications:42
What Are They?Man-made chemicals that were used in a variety of applications such as dyes, pigments and carbonless paper, electrical and hydraulic equipment and other industrial applications. The good news is PCBs were banned in 1979.But some old equipment and appliances may still contain them if they were produced before the ban. (Check out this useful pamphlet from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to see if you own anything containing PCBs). Also, like other chemicals on this list, they don’t readily break down. So they can accumulate in food crops small organisms, and fish.Health Implications: Research shows PCBs cause cancer in animals. And human studies support evidence that they may be carcinogenic. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has categorized PCBs as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”44
What Are They? You might remember seeing dioxins on television and in newspapers in the late 1970s.45 The stories highlighted veterans who’d been exposed to them via the Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War.Dioxins are chemical byproducts of industrial practices. They’re created through a variety of processes, including burning trash and improper waste incineration (which then releases into the air).Now, 90% of human exposure is through food. Particularly animal products contaminated by dioxins. How? Because they’re absorbed into fat tissue and accumulate in the food chain.Health Implications: Dioxins are associated with a number of diseases, including chloracne (an acne-like skin disease), type 2 diabetes, and ischemic heart disease. They can cause developmental problems, damage the immune system, and interfere with your hormones, too.
What Are They? Chemicals known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are used in products to make them flame resistant. They’ve been found to contaminate people all around the world, but concentrations in North America seem to be much higher than in Europe!46Now, PBDEs are no longer produced commercially. But they were used widely in building materials, furnishings, airplanes, plastics, and textiles. And PBDEs still linger in the environment today (they don’t dissolve very easily).So humans come into contact with them through foods like dairy, fish, meat, and eggs.47 The top source for infants is breast milk. And here’s the really scary part: Blood, milk, and tissue PBDE levels are increasing rapidly, despite not being produced anymore! In fact, levels are almost doubling every five years!Health Implications: Studies in rats and mice show that PBDEs can cause neurotoxicity, developmental neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, thyroid toxicity, immunotoxicity, liver toxicity, pancreas effects (diabetes) and cancer (penta and decabromodiphenyl ether). Quite the toxic list!PBDEs also have the ability to imitate thyroid hormones in your body and disrupt their activity (and remember, that can accelerate your bone loss!) They’ve also been linked to lower IQ.48
What Are They? Pesticides are chemicals used in agriculture, urban green areas, and public health programs to protect humans (and plants) from diseases. But exposure to pesticides in food, water, and soil can be detrimental to your overall health and bone health as we discussed above in our dietary toxins section.Common pesticide classes include organochlorine pesticides (the most common type is dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane or DDT), organophosphorus pesticides, carbamate pesticides, and triazines.49 If you want to reduce your pesticide exposure, check out The Environmental Working Group’s Annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide in Produce.
What Are They? Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics harder to break and more flexible.52 They’re also known as plasticizers. They’re used in many products, from detergents to vinyl flooring to adhesives.Phthalates are also a common ingredient in personal care products (shampoos, hair sprays, soap, nail polish, and cosmetics) – and are widely used as a fragrance. If you see a product containing “fragrance” or “perfume,” it probably has phthalates in it.Health Implications: Research shows phthalates have a negative effect on semen quality.53 You see, they’re antiandrogens. That means they block or reduce the effect of testosterone.In fact, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) has indicated phthalate exposure is widespread in the U.S. and that women have higher levels than men.54 Because of the phthalates used in shampoos and cosmetics.
BPA (bisphenol A)*
What Are They? BPA has been used as an industrial chemical since the 1960s. BPA is used to make resins and certain plastics.55 It’s found in polycarbonate plastics and food storage containers like water bottles and other packaging. It’s also in epoxy resins used to coat the inside of meta-products. Think bottle tops, water supply lines, and food cans!Health Implications: BPA is associated with a long and damning list of health problems. They include diabetes,56 altered immunity, cardiovascular disease,57 sperm anomalies, and reproductive organ dysfunction.58
What Are They? Triclosan is an antibacterial used in products like soaps, detergents, toothpaste, and cleaners. It’s also used as a preservative to remove or kill bacteria in household products. Because it’s an ingredient in a variety of over-the-counter products, be sure to look at the label to see if it’s listed.Health Implications: Triclosan has the ability to pass through your skin. A large 2008 study to assess triclosan exposure in a representative sample of U.S. children and adults found triclosan in the urine of at least 75% of participants!61 Due to the extensive use of triclosan in consumer products, it’s suggested it may contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria (bacteria that aren’t killed or controlled by antibiotics).62
What Are They? Parabens are one of, if not the, most widely used preservatives in cosmetics. They’re also used as fragrance — but you won’t find that listed on the label. Because fragrance is considered ‘trade secrets,’ companies aren’t required to disclose the list of ingredients and their fragrance chemicals. The most common types of parabens used are butylparaben, propylparaben, methylparaben, and ethylparaben. And get this: 75 to 90% of cosmetics contain parabens! (Although at very low levels).63Health Implications: Parabens have a chemical structure similar to estrogen. This means they can mimic the effects of that hormone.64
* Please note – BPA is now commonly replaced with Bisphenol S (BPS). But research (although limited so far) shows BPS can interfere with cell functioning, and even cause cell death.65 So even BPA-free products can be harmful.
What can you do to reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors?
That table of EDs and their health implications makes for scary reading. But don’t feel overwhelmed or helpless. There are several ways you can limit or even completely avoid exposure to them and their harmful effects.Be a critical consumer: As we’ve seen, EDs crop up in many everyday things. Food, furniture, containers, and even cosmetics can contain them. So, be aware of the types of products you purchase. Ask manufacturers questions and look for eco- and body-friendly alternatives wherever possible.And when it comes to personal care and cosmetic products, there’s an application that can help you out! It’s called ThinkDirty.When you download it to your smartphone, you have a toxin-finder at your fingertips! Here’s how it works:Step 1: Take out your phone and load ThinkDirty.Step 2: Scan a personal care or cosmetic product barcode.Step 3: ThinkDirty will tell you what ingredients are inside! It can even suggest healthier alternatives! You can download ThinkDirty for your smartphone here.Use containers like steel, ceramic, aluminum, and glass when possible: A common theme of EDs is that they crop up in plastics A LOT. Plastic is toxifying our planet and your body. So why not switch your water bottle and food containers for something made of steel, ceramic, aluminum, or glass?A stainless steel straw could be a savvy investment too. Americans use 500 million straws every single day!66 And let’s be honest, using a straw is more of a habit than a necessity. Switching to a reusable straw is such an easy change to make, and it’s a win-win too! Some companies are switching to paper or biodegradable straws now, so keep an eye out for those as well!Help your body detoxify: Your body is designed to remove unwanted toxins that can harm you. And that goes for EDs. But you can give your body a helping hand to make sure it’s removing toxins efficiently.Eating a healthy, balanced diet, staying active, and sweating all help! Did you know sweating activates natural detoxification? We have a whole section on detoxifying coming up in this post, so keep reading to discover more.
It’s no secret smoking negatively affects your overall health. But did you know smoking also damages your bones?
Why is smoking a cause of osteoporosis?
Smoking interferes with the way vitamin D works in your body.67 And remember, you need vitamin D to be working at full capacity to absorb calcium. So by affecting your vitamin D, smoking also affects how you absorb calcium and how much is getting to your bones.68
Smoking also lowers estrogen levels. And as we discussed in the hormones section of this post, lower estrogen levels promote accelerated bone resorption at more sites on your bones!
Cadmium is also a concern for your bones. It’s a toxic heavy metal found naturally in the environment. But there are high levels of cadmium in cigarette smoke, and research shows cadmium is a cause of bone loss.69
And the report card for smoking and bone health gets even worse… Many studies show smoking is a causal factor of fractures. Particularly hip fractures.
A review of 29 studies on smoking’s effect on bone health published in the British Medical Journal showed smokers experience a greater hip fracture risk at all ages compared to non-smokers.70
But get this: the risk of fracture compared to nonsmokers rises 17% at age 60, 71% at age 80, and 108% at age 90!
Further bone-health implications of smoking include:
- Your risk of fracture in old age increases the longer you smoke, and the more cigarettes you consume
- Smokers who fracture a bone experience more complications during the healing process and take longer to heal than non-smokers
- Older women and men who smoke experience greater bone loss than non-smokers
- Exposure to secondhand smoke during youth and early adulthood increases the risk of developing low bone mass
- Women who smoke often produce less estrogen and experience menopause earlier. This leads to increased bone loss compared to non-smokers
What can you do about smoking and its effects on your bones?
If you’re serious about your bone health, there’s only one thing for it… give up smoking for good. Even if you’ve smoked for a long time, it’s not too late to reverse some of the bone-damaging effects.
Now, quitting smoking is notoriously easier said than done. But there are many ways you can find help. The National Cancer Institute’s smokefree.gov initiative is a great place to start. It provides tips, resources, and help for anyone who wants to quit.
If you really can’t kick the habit, there are a few things you should make sure you’re getting in your diet to limit the damage the toxins in cigarettes are doing to your bones and the rest of your body, and to help your body flush them out.
Key Nutrients for Smokers:
Why Is It Helpful? Magnesium helps to relax and expands blood vessels, stops muscles from cramping, prevents inflammation (which can cause bone loss if it becomes chronic), and increases the efficiency of energy use.71Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): Men 30+ = 420 mg Women 30+ = 320 mg
Where Can You Get It?
- AlgaeCal Plus (a plant-based calcium supplement)
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Why Is It Helpful?Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) combat chronic inflammation caused by the toxins in cigarettes. They also promote bone-building osteoblast activity, and limit bone-resorbing osteoclast activity.Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): Men = 1.6 g Women = 1.1 g
Where Can You Get It?
- Oily fish like salmon and sardines
- Triple Power Omega 3 Fish Oil provides 1200 mg of EPA/DHA and 280 mg of other omega 3 fatty acids
Why Is It Helpful?Selenium is a crucial component of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Glutathione peroxidase protects your liver, enabling it to clear toxic compounds from your body.72 (There’s more on detoxifying in the next section).Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): 55 mcg per day, but the safe tolerable upper intake level is 400 mcg per day
Where Can You Get It?
- Wild-caught salmon
- Free-range eggs
- AlgaeCal Plus
Why Is It Helpful? You need vitamin A for healthy epithelial tissue (skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, vagina, uterus).Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): Men and women 19+ = 900 mcg RAe (mcg of retinol activity equivalents)
Where Can You Get It?
- Beef/lamb liver
- Bluefin Tuna
- Goat’s cheese
Why Is It Helpful?Vitamin C is another antioxidant that protects your cells from the damage caused by free radicals.73 Smokers require 35 mcg more vitamin C a day than non-smokers because smoking affects your level of vitamin C.74Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): Men 19+ = 90 mg* Women 19+ = 75 mg* * Smokers require an additional 35 mg a day
Where Can You Get It?
- Acerola cherries
- Bell peppers
Why Is It Helpful? Vitamin E neutralizes free radicals smoking produces and prevents peroxidation of lipids (fats) in lung tissue.75Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): Men and women = 15 mg
Where Can You Get It?
- Sunflower oil
- Sunflower seeds
Why Is It Helpful?When zinc levels are low, the number of T cells in the immune system plummets.76 And T cells help white blood cells to function properly and to attack and destroy foreign tissue, cancer cells, and cells infected with viruses.Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): Men 19+ = 11 mg Women 19+ = 8 mg
Where Can You Get It?
- Red meat
- AlgaeCal Plus
We have some more information on how to help your body detoxify and remove the harmful toxins smoking produces in the “The Inability to Detoxify Frequently and Effectively” section a little further down.
You may be surprised to learn some of the most common medications contribute to bone loss or osteoporosis. Even medications prescribed to treat osteoporosis!
Doctors have your health and your best interests at heart. They prescribe you certain medications because they want to help you manage the distressing symptoms of the condition you’re facing. But the unfortunate truth is your bone health sometimes takes a back seat to the immediate pressing issue the drug is treating.
So, what can you do about prescribed drugs?
Well, it’s as simple as discussing your concerns with your doctor before you agree to any prescribed medications. Let them know you’re worried about your bone health, and together you can work towards a solution that doesn’t harm your bones.
The Inability to Detoxify Frequently and Effectively
Your body’s a lot like a car… Your circulatory system pumps “oil” throughout. Your kidneys flush out “exhaust and toxins” built up through driving. Your liver powers the “engine” to keep things running. And your bones are the chassis that holds all the pieces together!
But if your major organs are out of whack, the rest of your body may have to work overtime. And if this happens often enough, it can compromise your ability to detoxify naturally and effectively. Now, exposure to many pro-inflammatory toxins is unavoidable. But there are ways to naturally enhance your ability to remove these toxins from your body!
So let’s check out the following ways you can support your body’s natural detox capacities (and ultimately help your bones, too):
When you hear the word detox, you think of the liver, right? That’s because the liver is the major organ that supports detoxification. It contains an army of enzymes that break down toxic invaders and convert them into water-soluble substances.77 Then they’re flushed out of your body in your urine.
Your liver plays a role in hormone production, energy storage, digestion, and more too!78 And if that weren’t already enough, your liver and bones are also closely connected.79
In fact, a variety of liver diseases are associated with bone loss. When your liver is unhealthy, it starts to produce pro-inflammatory cytokines that activate your bone-resorbing osteoclasts. And its ability to convert vitamin D into its active form is affected too (remember, you need fully active vitamin D to absorb calcium).
Studies show over 92% of people with liver disease have a vitamin D deficiency.80 Plus, up to 40% of patients with chronic liver disease may experience a fracture!79
So, in short, an unhealthy liver leads to decreased bone formation, increased bone resorption, increased risk of fracture, and an inability to flush those toxic invaders from your body.
So how do you support your liver and keep it healthy?
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet:
A balanced, anti-inflammatory diet helps keep your liver in check. Check the table below to see what you should be getting more of, and what you should be avoiding to keep your liver in tip-top shape!
Get more of these Try to avoid these Leafy greens – They’re full of anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants. Excess alcohol or caffeine (3-4 cups a day is the sweet spot, and can even provide health benefits) Fresh herbs – These boost your levels of glutathione, which combats free radicals. Think turmeric,81 coriander,82 parsley,83 and oregano.84 Sugary drinks and snacks Antioxidant fruits – They provide magnesium, calcium, and potassium to your liver. Think melon and berries. Refined grains- like white bread and rice Green tea – Absolutely jam-packed with antioxidants which combat free radicals, and reduce inflammation in your liver. Products sprayed with lots of pesticides (remember you can check out which produce has the most pesticide residue by checking out this post)
Exercise regularly: Exercise gets your blood pumping! And when your blood is in full flow, it delivers oxygen and key nutrients to your organs, including your liver.
And relax: Research shows that stress affects something called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.86 And when this happens, your liver becomes more inflamed. So whenever you’re feeling stressed out, take a moment to calm down. Your liver will thank you for it!
Your kidneys’ main role is to excrete the majority of toxins that accumulate in your body (through urine). They also balance minerals like magnesium, calcium, and potassium — all of which are crucial for your bones.
Plus, your kidneys convert vitamin D from the Sun and food sources to the active form of vitamin D your body can use.87 Without that conversion, your body’s ability to absorb calcium from your digestive tract is reduced by more than 80%.
So how can you support your kidneys?
- Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water throughout the day will help keep your kidneys in fine shape. As a rule of thumb, your urine should be straw colored. Amber or honey-colored urine could be a sign of dehydration. Dark urine because of other causes can be tinged with brown or red.
- Keep your blood pressure in check: High blood pressure is the second most common cause of kidney failure in the United States!88 You see, when your blood pressure is too high, it stretches your blood vessels. This weakens and scars them, making them less effective at clearing toxins. To keep your blood pressure at a healthy level, exercise often, manage stress, maintain a healthy body weight, and quit smoking.
- Eat a balanced, healthy diet: You know the drill by now. Eat organically grown foods as much as possible and try to cut out sugary drinks and snacks, and overly-processed or refined products.
You may have heard the Hippocrates quote, “all disease begins in the gut.” And with more research supporting the role it plays in your overall health, it’s not something to overlook!
Your gut, or gastrointestinal system, contains 100 trillion microorganisms.89 These are your ‘microbiota.’ Their primary function is to help you digest food, absorb nutrients, and excrete waste.
But when your microbiota become unbalanced, your gut becomes less effective at all its jobs.90 And that can cause a number of issues like irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune diseases, and obesity.
So how can you support your gut?
As you may know, probiotics are helpful bacteria that boost your immune system, guard your gut from harmful invaders, and much more.91
Recent research shows promising effects of probiotics on your bones, too. Swedish scientists reported their surprising findings in the Journal of Internal Medicine.91 The scientists followed 70 osteopenic women (average age of 76) over an entire year. Half the women received Lactobacillus reuteri 6475 (L. reuteri 6475), a special probiotic strain. The other half received a placebo.
(Note: there were no significant differences in the baseline bone densities and other health readings between the two groups. And none of the participants took any bone loss medications.)
The women taking L. reuteri 6475 mixed it into a drink and consumed it twice a day. The scientists measured changes in bone mineral density in each woman’s tibia (shinbone) after 12 months. And the results shocked them…
While both groups lost bone density, the placebo group lost nearly TWICE the amount of the L. reuteri 6475 group!
This unique probiotic was the only difference between the two groups, and neither scientists nor the participants knew who was taking what (a gold-standard, double-blinded study). Interestingly enough, the Swedish researchers couldn’t pinpoint exactly why the probiotic bacteria reduced bone loss. To discover that, further research is required.
But having said that… There are some compelling reasons why this may be. (One of the reasons may be because “good bacteria” help with mineral absorption!)92 To learn more about probiotics, fermented foods, and even how your gut can influence your bone density, please check out the following resources: The Importance of a Healthy Gut + Its Connection To Your Bones The Ultimate Guide to Prebiotics and Probiotics + Their Impact on Your Bones How to Make Fermented Foods For Your Bones
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and organs that work to expel waste from your kidneys and colon.93 Your spleen, tonsils, and bone marrow are all part of the lymphatic system.
During steady-state exercise, your lymphatic system flow increases 2-3 times compared to rest. That means when you exercise, your body is able to expel toxins faster!
Exercise like yoga is particularly beneficial. Why? Because yoga can boost your body’s circulation and lymphatic drainage, and some of the weight-bearing poses involved support your bone health, too. Check out our “Ultimate Guide to Yoga for Osteoporosis” post for more information on the best poses to practice.
But wait! That’s not the end of yoga’s benefits… Yoga has powerful benefits for your mind, too. It’s true! A yoga practice helps to induce a sense of whole-body relaxation and calm. The breathing, intention setting, and meditation practices help to reduce stress. And remember, as we mentioned in the liver section, chronic stress is essentially a toxin that causes inflammation. Not to mention the implications it has on your mental health.94
Get your sweat on!
Sweating helps you detoxify. In fact, most toxin concentrations are 2-10 times higher in sweat than in blood. That indicates your body utilizes sweating as a detoxification process!
And here’s the exciting part; exercise and physical activity aren’t the only ways to get sweaty (although we do encourage them of course). You can actually detoxify by sitting still… in a warm room that is. Yes, research shows saunas help to excrete a whole range of toxins!95
In fact, even firefighters and police use saunas for health reasons. Law enforcement personnel are regularly exposed to chemical hazards like methamphetamine labs. And this frequent exposure can become hazardous to their health without detoxification. One study showed a sauna every day for one month dramatically reduced a group of 14 firemen’s toxic load.96
When you look after your body’s detox organs and systems, you maximize your ability to flush out harmful toxins and protect your bones. But to get ahead of the game, it’s wise to limit your exposure to the toxins in the first place.
Now, it’s impossible to avoid every single dietary and environmental toxin out there. But in the section above, we outline many you can take steps to avoid. To discover more about each of your body’s natural detox capacities, take a read of our in-depth “How to Detox Your Body Naturally” post.
Osteoporosis Lifestyle Choices
The decisions you make every day – consciously or not – help determine your bone health. Some lifestyle choices are obvious factors that affect your bone health, but others are a little more obscure.
In this section we’ll cover how a lack of weight-bearing exercise, frequency of Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) testing, and sunscreen can cause osteoporosis and what you can do about them!
This should come as no surprise, but another cause of osteoporosis is a lack of exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise.
Nowadays, lots of people live a sedentary lifestyle (whether they’re aware of it or not). If you think about it, modern life makes it easy to slip into. We sit when we travel or commute. We sit at our desk jobs. We sit when we’re relaxing after a long day, watching TV for hours at a time. And the consequence is this— bones are simply under-utilized for the majority of the day.
That’s why it’s important to be doing regular weight-bearing exercise, resistance training, and other forms of exercise that get your body moving!
Now, a common misconception is that exercise alone can increase your bone mineral density. While that statement isn’t accurate, exercise is an important factor for building and maintaining bone (along with proper nutrition and avoiding inflammatory toxins.)
See, weight-bearing and resistance exercise increase your muscle strength. And your muscle strength has a direct impact on your bone strength.97 Your skeletal and muscular systems are closely linked. Muscle contractions are the strongest mechanical forces on your bones. And these muscle contractions condition your bone density, strength, and microarchitecture (the internal structure of your bones.)
Now, free weights are one of the best things you can do to increase your bone strength because of the concentrated pressure they put on your bones.
(Please note: You don’t need a lot of weight to reap the benefits of weight training, especially if you have osteoporosis. 1-2 pounds will be sufficient without putting you at risk of injury).
Your body allots resources to strengthening them due to the demand of weight-bearing exercises. Any doubts about this fact are easily quashed if you consider astronauts in zero gravity conditions. Upon returning to Earth they often need to be carried from the ship, as their bones (and muscle) have withered – at 12 times the rate of the rest of us here on Earth!98
We all lose about 1% of bone every year after age 35. But an astronaut will lose at the rate of 12% and more per year. And that’s because their muscles have been on a gravity-free holiday. To discover more on how exercise benefits your bones, check out our “Can Exercise ALONE Increase Bone Density” post.
You wouldn’t start saving for retirement once you hit retirement age, right? Well, the same principle applies to your bones!
The habits that set the stage for osteoporosis (mainly diet and exercise) begin at a very young age. But unfortunately, most people only get a DEXA test (Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry) after age 40, if at all, to learn about their bone health. And that’s usually in response to a fracture.
In fact, DEXA scans aren’t covered by insurance until age 65 for women, and 70 for men. Unless your doctor finds reason to request one earlier.
So what can you do?
Imagine if you took the DEXA scan earlier. You’d have a greater chance to turn the situation around. If you can see osteoporosis is lurking on the distant horizon, you can take preventative measures to avoid it altogether! For more information on DEXA scans, check out our “What is a Bone Density Test?” page.
Since the 1970s, we’ve been very strongly encouraged to wear sunscreen whenever we venture out on a sunny day. The reasoning? The fear that a diminishing ozone layer would lead to sunburn and even skin cancer.
Obviously, cancer is a scary prospect, so many people got on board with sunscreen. But we’ve relied on the Sun to provide the UV rays our body can convert to vitamin D for hundreds of thousands of years. (And remember, vitamin D helps you absorb calcium.) Comparatively, the discovery that sunscreen blocks anywhere from 50-90% of UV rays is a recent revelation.
What does that all mean? Most Americans are now vitamin D deficient. The American Society for Clinical Nutrition goes as far as to say that because of a fear of the sun, vitamin D deficiency is now a worldwide ‘pandemic.’99 They go on to say, ‘the major cause of vitamin D deficiency is the lack of appreciation that sun exposure in moderation is the major source of vitamin D for most humans.’
So what can you do?
Obviously, you should still be careful when you’re out in the sun. Try not to spend too much time in direct sunlight, and wearing a hat and sunglasses is always a wise safety precaution.
But do try to spend some time soaking up the rays each week. As for sunscreen, the jury is still out on whether it reduces the risk of skin cancer. The National Institute of Cancer currently claims the evidence is still “inadequate.”100 But the jury is definitely in on the fact that medical complications due to vitamin D deficiency (osteoporosis being one of many) outweigh medical complications due to melanoma – by roughly ten to one!
Conditions or Diseases
If you’re diagnosed with a serious disease, odds are you’re probably not thinking about how it can affect your bone health. But unfortunately, that’s the case for a lot of diseases. Your bones can suffer from the way a disease changes your body function, or from the medications prescribed to treat it.
Below are some common conditions that cause bone loss (please note, this isn’t an exhaustive list):
We’ve mentioned chronic kidney disease (also known as chronic kidney failure) several times throughout this post, but here’s a little recap. Chronic kidney disease is the gradual loss of kidney function. And that’s double trouble for your bone health.
Impaired kidneys are less able to convert vitamin D into its most active form (so you’re less able to absorb calcium). And as chronic kidney disease reaches an advanced stage, your kidneys lose their ability to filter waste, excess fluids, and toxins. All three of which cause inflammation if they’re not excreted. And as you know, inflammation leads to bone loss!
CLDs are chronic inflammatory conditions of the liver where abnormalities are present over an extended period of time. Chronic liver disease covers a wide range of conditions such as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, and hepatitis.
And here’s the bad news for your bones: studies show 40% of patients with CLD may experience an osteoporotic fracture!101 Plus, approximately 30% of patients suffer from osteoporosis. The reason CLDs cause bone loss is still not entirely understood. But there are a number of common factors that affect bone metabolism. These include vitamin K deficiency, calcium and vitamin D metabolism alterations, and hormonal dysregulation.
RA affects more than 1.3 million Americans!102 It’s the most common type of autoimmune arthritis and causes stiffness, joint pain, and swelling.
Studies show bone loss in rheumatoid arthritis patients may be a direct result of the disease.103 And others have found an increased risk of fracture, too. Inactivity because of the disease plays a role, but certain medications can also trigger bone loss. Women are affected at a higher rate than men, which is also the case for osteoporosis, so it’s a great concern.
Did you know 70% of your immune system is clustered in and around your gut?104 So making sure your digestive system is running at its peak can be key to addressing your overall health, and bone health.
Crohn’s: Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of your digestive tract.105 This can lead to malnutrition, weight loss, fatigue, severe diarrhea, and even abdominal pain. But how does it cause bone loss?
Well, people with Crohn’s disease are often vitamin D deficient.106 And vitamin D deficiency is one of the most irrefutable links to osteoporosis because of vitamin D’s role in calcium absorption.
What’s more, the worst cases of Crohn’s disease can amplify the vitamin D and calcium absorption issue. The small intestine can sometimes experience extensive disease or be partly removed through surgery.
And finally, people with Crohn’s disease have higher levels of inflammatory messenger molecules called cytokines.107 Researchers believe these cytokines promote the removal of old bone and limit the creation of new bone.
Celiac: Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder caused by a sensitivity to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, farina, and bulgur).108 When people with celiac disease consume foods containing gluten, their immune systems respond by attacking and damaging the lining of the small intestine.
And when this lining is damaged, their bones (and other parts of their body) are deprived of nourishment (calcium, magnesium and more). See, the small intestine is responsible for absorbing these nutrients from food into the bloodstream for the body to use. It’s estimated that at least 1% of all Americans have Celiac disease.109
Bariatric surgery limits your ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins D and K — both of which are crucial for healthy bones. If you want to read up a little more on bariatric surgery, head to our two dedicated blog posts: “How bariatric surgery reduces your ability to absorb nutrients” and “Why bone loss rapidly increases after bariatric surgery.”
Endocrine glands secrete hormones, which are substances that regulate the activity of your organs and cells. These hormones then affect your metabolism, your growth, sexual development, and bodily function.
- Thyroid Disorders: Thyroid hormones play a role in the bone remodeling process and your bone density.112 Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are associated with reduced bone mineral density and fracture risk. For a recap on both, jump to our Thyroid section above.
- Parathyroid: The parathyroid glands are small glands in your neck.113 They regulate the level of calcium in your blood within a very tight range, 24 hours a day! That means they control how much calcium is in your bones! But when your parathyroid hormones are out of whack, they affect the health of your bones. Hyperparathyroidism is when a tumor grows in one of the parathyroid glands. When this happens, your glands can no longer regulate properly, and your calcium levels start to jump around, usually on the high end.
- Adrenal Gland Disorders: Adrenal glands are small, triangular glands located on the top of both kidneys.114 They secrete hormones that affect chemicals in your blood, metabolism, and certain body characteristics. If you suffer from an adrenal gland disorder, it can mean your glands are producing too much (Cushing’s syndrome) or not enough (Addison’s disease)115 hormones. And there is mounting evidence that adrenal hormones have detrimental effects on bone metabolism.114
Many cancer treatments cause bone loss, which can be worsened by the tumor itself.116
- Multiple myeloma: This is a cancer that forms in a plasma cell. Plasma cells are crucial for health as they help you fight infection. More than 80% of multiple myeloma patients suffer from bony lesions that result in pain, mobility issues, neurological deficits, and fractures.117 A complication of multiple myeloma is called myeloma bone disease, which causes a lack of bone formation.
- Leukemia: Leukemia disrupts normal blood production. When it comes to your bones, it alters the balances and cycles of osteoclast and osteoblast activity, which results in changes to your bones and skeleton.118
- Lymphoma: Lymphoma patients have a higher risk of osteoporosis. And it’s increased when treated with alkylating agents or corticosteroids.119
- Breast cancer: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women behind skin cancer. It occurs in both men and women, but is less common in men. Since estrogen has a protective effect on bone, reduced levels trigger bone loss. This is due to treatment medications or surgery (also many breast cancer survivors experience loss of ovarian function which leads to a drop in estrogen levels).120
- Prostate Cancer: Just like breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men increases risk of fractures and osteoporosis.121 This is due to chemotherapy and hormonal-therapy -induced hypogonadism (absence or reduction of hormone secretion/physiological activity of the gonads).
So what can you do about these diseases?
If you have one of these diseases, you can still minimize the negative effects they have on your bones. They may require medication or treatment. But by being aware of the medications and treatments that can cause bone loss, you can work with your doctor to find a solution that doesn’t harm your bones further.
As for some of the other diseases, like chronic kidney and liver disease, your diet plays a major role in preventing them by keeping inflammation in check. And as you’ll see in the next section, your diet is the most important factor for supporting your bone health!
Lack of Optimal Bone-Building Nutrients
There are many factors that contribute to healthy bones (exercise, and avoiding toxins, etc.) But proper nutrition is the most important of all.
Did you know your bones need 13 specific minerals to stay strong and healthy? And there are three vitamins crucial to the bone-building process, too. All these nutrients combine to support healthy bone remodeling and optimal bone health.
The 13 Essential Bone-Supporting Minerals
The Supporting Cast Of Vitamins
For an overview of every vitamin and mineral on the list, and how they promote healthy bones, check out our “Osteoporosis Diet and Nutrition” page.
It sounds easy, right? Provide your bones with the nutrients they need to stay strong and healthy, and osteoporosis will never rear its ugly head. But there’s a catch…
Modern agricultural techniques and mass food production have altered the mineral content of our produce. In fact, the mineral levels in many common vegetables are 30-50% below what they were only 50 years ago! Our soil is becoming nutrient-depleted from overuse and other factors like fertilizers that only replace 3-4 of the dozens of nutrients we need.
The truth is, the produce our grandparents ate contained far more nutrients than the same produce we eat today! So how can you ensure you get all 13 essential minerals- in amounts similar to that of healthy bone- without buying 13 separate supplements?
Well, there’s a simple solution. AlgaeCal Plus. It’s a natural, plant-based calcium source that contains all 13 minerals on the list, plus clinical doses of vitamin D and vitamin K2 too! When you take AlgaeCal Plus along with our natural strontium supplement Strontium Boost– (together they form our Bone Builder Pack)- you’re guaranteed to increase your bone density in as little as six months!
If you don’t, we’ll refund your purchase. And it gets even better! When you take our Bone Builder Pack, you’ll continue to add new bone year after year. And because AlgaeCal Plus is a plant-based calcium supplement and provides a proper balance of calcium and magnesium, there are zero side effects.
Award-winning studies have been conducted to back up our claims, and we can confidently inform you no other calcium product on the market can guarantee a positive outcome for your bone density. So why not give the Bone Builder Pack a try? It’s 100% risk-free.
There are many factors that contribute to bone loss and osteoporosis. Some are out of your control, like your gender and your family history. But as we’ve outlined on this page, there are causes for osteoporosis you do have control over. There are things you can do, or changes you can make today to stop bone loss in its tracks and even build new bone.
Replacing your plastic food container with a ceramic one, embarking on a weight-bearing exercise regimen, and trying the risk-free Bone Builder Pack are all simple changes. And they will have a positive impact on your bone health.
Yes, osteoporosis is scary, and it can be overwhelming. But remember, you have a say in your bone health. Every single day. We hope this information was useful for you. And if you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. We’re here to support you on your bone health journey.
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