3 Strategies to Prevent Osteoporosis, Build Strong Bones

Exercise, food, and supplements can have a big effect—without dangerous side effects
June 25, 2020 Updated: June 25, 2020

There are alternatives to osteoporosis drug therapies that can keep your bones healthy and help to prevent bone fractures.

An estimated 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone mass, with (mostly postmenopausal) women outnumbering men 2–1, but both experience fractures, which lower quality of life.

The World Health Organization’s T-score measures bone mineral density (BMD) using a DEXA scan. Patients are then labeled “osteopenic” if they have T score between -1 and -2.5, or “osteoporotic” if their T-score is -2.5 or below. But even with the reassuring precision of such numbers, it’s an imperfect way to predict bone health or bone fracture risk.

In fact, the majority of patients who sustain a low-trauma fracture don’t meet the T-score definition of osteoporosis and younger individuals with BMD in the osteoporotic range, but no other risk factors have relatively low fracture rates and yet are often questionably treated with osteoporosis drugs.

Adverse Effects of Osteoporotic Drugs

Common osteoporotic drugs—bisphosphonates, like alendronate (Fosamax), risedronate (Actonel, Atelvia), ibandronate (Boniva) and zoledronic acid (Reclast)—may cause adverse effects to the upper gastrointestinal tract, musculoskeletal pain, jaw osteonecrosis, ocular events, more risk of serious atrial fibrillation, fever, musculoskeletal swelling, and fatigue.

People on alendronic acid showed no reduction in four-year fracture risks and a higher risk of gastric and esophagus ulcers. Prolonged use (over four years) increased stress fractures (50 percent), pain (76 percent), and bone micro-cracks.

Fortunately, there are alternatives approaches to these drugs. These alternative strategies are essential to increase bone health and prevent fractures.

1. Exercise/Movement

Neuromuscular abilities such as walking and speed of gait are strong predictors of falling and hip fracture risk. When you exercise regularly, your bone adapts by increasing its quality and quantity, which enhances balance and coordination, and in turn, helps prevent falls and broken bones.

Some of the proven ways to exercise or move to increase bone health include Tai Chi, dance, yoga,  and non-weight and weight-bearing exercises.

2. Nutrients

The top categories of nutritional foods most helpful to bone health include prunes, flavonoids, Soy isoflavones, carotenoids, and vitamin-dense foods.

Prunes (dried plums) are one of the richest bone-building foods. In a study of postmenopausal women, eating five prunes a day prevented bone loss during a year-long trial and exhibited long-lasting bone protection in a five-year study. Prunes improved BMD by suppressing the bone turnover rate in 237 postmenopausal women.

Flavonoids (found in black tea, dark chocolate, fruits/veggies) were associated with disease prevention. Black tea, in particular, is a rich source of flavonols (myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol), which are potent antioxidants and good for your health.

Higher intake of black tea/flavonoids was associated with a lower risk of fracture-related hospitalizations in 212 elderly high-risk Australian women. Since flavonoids are abundant in fruits and vegetables, it is not surprising that a meta-analysis (225,062 subjects) found a lower bone fracture risk was associated with an increase of one serving of fruits/veggies daily.

Soy isoflavones, particularly genistein (fermented soy, red clover, fava beans, coffee, and kudzu), were superior to osteoporosis drugs (alendronate, raloxifene, and estradiol) for increasing BMD and bone strength, reducing bone resorption (loss of calcium) and increasing bone formation in postmenopausal women. They significantly improved spine, hip, and neck BMDs and three bone turnover markers in a meta-analysis of 52 articles.

Carotenoids (found in carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, apricots, and spinach), especially lycopene (found in guava, tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, red peppers, red cabbage, papaya, and mangos), promote bone health. In a 17-year study of 946 men and women suffering 100 total hip fractures, those eating the highest level of carotenoids experienced a lower risk of hip fractures, and those with the highest lycopene intake had a lower hip and non-vertebral fracture risk.

High vitamin foods offer greater dietary vitamin levels. For example, vitamin C (found in broccoli, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kale, kiwi, oranges, papaya, peppers, sweet potato, strawberries, and tomatoes) was associated with a 33 percent lower osteoporosis risk and reduced hip fracture risk, as well as higher neck and spine BMDs. Subjects who ate more fish (vitamin D3) and green vegetables (K1 and K2 vitamins) also reduced fracture risks.

3. Vitamins/Supplements

In a meta-analysis of 1,349 postmenopausal women, low magnesium levels were an osteoporosis risk factor. In a study of young adults, magnesium supplementation had beneficial effects in reducing bone loss.

A vitamin D deficiency also can lead to osteoporosis and mineralization defects, associated with falls and fractures, but vitamin D and magnesium should be taken together as vitamin D can deplete magnesium levels.

In addition, vitamin K2 increased bone strength in the femoral neck and reduced the incidence of clinical fractures, increasing bone growth, and decreasing bone loss. Vitamins K and D work synergistically together for bone health as well. Vitamin C exerts a positive effect on bone formation of genes involved in skeletal health.

Choosing Bone Health

These three options of exercise/movement, nutritional foods, and vitamins/supplements are great for bone health and lower fracture risk, without harmful drug side effects. For the latest scientific research compiled by GreenMedInfo.com, see the research databases for osteoporosis and bone fractures.

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