Bones are something often forgotten about when we talk about our health.
We focus on fat deposits, heart health, gut health, and under some circumstances we discuss lung health. But why not bone health?
You may think: Bones are solid. They’re not going anywhere – other than breaking during an accident, they’ll be ok!
That is, unfortunately, far from the truth.
Bones are a living tissue.
They have their own type of metabolism keeping them alive and strong. This means that they are continuously building and breaking down. . As weird as it may sound, this means your bones need to “eat”, and that your diet determines your bones’ meal.
Your bone is vascular. Blood vessels must permeate (travel through) the bone and be able to feed the cells that live in a highly calcified area. Imagine trying to constantly feed every individual ant within a huge colony. You wouldn’t just throw food down and hope it sinks through the ground. You’d need to find all the various entrances/exits to the colony to evenly distribute the food.
Your bones are vascular because all of the cells of your bones need to be fed but your bone density is too thick to allow nutrients to just “sink in”!
If you want to know how to strengthen your bones, you need to first understand how they form.
How are bones formed?
To put it in simple terms, bone first develops in as little as 3 months of life as a fetus. The process is called ossification and these little cells (osteoblasts) start secreting a substance that eventually becomes cartilage.
You may have heard that when a young child or baby breaks a bone, it’s often a splintered break, much like the snapping of a healthy stick or branch, and as opposed to a clean break of adult bones – more along the lines of snapping a dried-out stick or branch.
That effect is due to the ratio of cartilage-to-bone in a young child’s skeleton!
Later, the ratio becomes far more bone-dominant and you will find range-of-motion in joints decrease significantly. Then as you age, over time, your habits and diet will dictate most of your bone health. Genes can certainly be a detriment or a benefit, but they don’t define the future of your bones 100%.
What causes bone to break down?
Bone is hard, there’s no doubt about it. But don’t be fooled – bone can break down and weaken even faster than it formed when you were a baby! In fact, with age and past 30 years old, our bones tend to break down at a faster rate than they are built.
So, what is it that causes bone to break down and weaken?
Once it reaches a certain point, the process of bone loss leads to Osteoporosis. We should all do our best to prevent this as we get older.
If you’d like a more extensive look into osteoporosis, feel free to read our Hormones, Bones and Osteoporosis page!
There are specific things that can cause low bone density, some of which include;
- A big drop in estrogen (like menopause) – this causes an increase in osteoclasts that break down the minerals in the bone.
- Chronic vitamin D deficiency – Vitamin D aids the body’s absorption of calcium and phosphorus. Both of these are important in maintaining bone health.
- Chronic calcium deficiency – Most people understand that calcium plays an extremely important role in bone health, much of the density is because of the calcium deposits in your bone tissue.
- Lack of reason to be strong (more about this later)
What can help bone grow back?
You may have already guessed the answers by using the list above.
Keeping your hormones in-check (balanced) will ensure a strong and long-lasting skeleton. Now, you can’t control all of your hormones directly, but there are ways to work for your body rather than against it.
See our article and infographic: 5 Ways to Balance Your Hormones
Keeping your vitamin D and calcium intake fairly high can decrease the risk of osteoporosis or loss of bone density. Vitamin D is important as it increases the rate at which important minerals like calcium and phosphorus are absorbed. But take a step back from the mineral deposits for a moment and remember what we said earlier, bone tissue is still a living tissue.
How can stress increase bone density?
The answer to this question is exercise!
How do you get your muscles to become strong, and stay strong?
What causes your muscles to weaken and decrease in size?
Through your actions, you’ve told your body “Hey! We need to be able to lift this or move that, and travel this fast…” – then like a slow type of magic, your muscle tissue strengthens, enlarges, and fibers become denser. They adapt to the stress you caused for your body.
But why do many people assume that it’s only muscle tissue that adapts to the stress? Some of us already know that connective tissue, like tendons and ligaments, can strengthen to an extent as they adapt over time. So, why do we assume that bone doesn’t adapt too?
Your whole body adapts to micro-stressors like exercise. That includes your bones!
You don’t have to lunge with 100-pound dumbbells or bench press 225-pounds to see benefits. Any resistance-based movements that have an impact on your energy level, will force your body to adapt. It could be as easy as using bodyweight movements like push-ups and pull-ups or wearing a backpack holding 20-pounds of books as you squat and walk around.
These all count as stressors that will lure your body into adaptation mode, and assuming you have enough calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus in your diet, along with other nutrients covered in depth in our article Hormones, Bones and Osteoporosis, your risk of bone loss will decrease significantly!
If you feel like you want to test your knowledge of bones and bone health, go ahead and take our quiz: How Well Do You Know Your Bones?
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