Contrary to what many nutritionists have claimed, the Paleo diet is not bad for the health of your bones, in fact, it is very beneficial. Read on to find out how to keep your bones strong by living a lifestyle without dairy, grains, or calcium supplements.
One of the most common concerns of those starting a Paleo diet is that the diet is low in calcium. In fact, this is one of the biggest complaints from mainstream medical professionals and dietitians: that by excluding dairy and grains, we will not be able to get the proper nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, and therefore our bone health will suffer. affected.
However, there is a very obvious little mistake in this logic: there are many cultures around the world that do not consume dairy products and yet can keep their bones healthy and strong throughout their lives.
This article will help you build your diet and lifestyle in order to protect your bones and keep them strong as you age. This by using recent research, anthropological data, and even some common sense.
What is osteoporosis?
Before we talk about how to prevent osteoporosis and other bone disorders through diet and lifestyle, we will briefly explain the process of bone mineralization to put the recommendations into context.
Our bones are constantly undergoing a process of breakdown and reconstruction called bone remodeling, and the process has several physiological functions.
As children's bones grow, the remodeling process allows them to lengthen and change shape to suit the needs of the adult body.
When new forces and stresses are applied to a bone, reshaping is used to add new bone tissue where needed and to strengthen the bones to handle the new stresses.
Our bones are also our largest storehouse of calcium, which is maintained in a homeostatic range in our bloodstream in order to provide appropriate calcium for important functions. Functions such as nerve signaling, blood clotting, and muscle contractions.
When our serum calcium levels drop, cells called osteoclasts break down bone tissue to release calcium into the blood. When serum calcium is elevated, a healthy, well-nourished body will use osteoblasts to return that calcium to bone storage.
A bone that becomes more porous
Now that you understand how bone grows and changes, let's talk about what can go wrong with this process. Osteoporosis, one of the most common bone density problems as we age, occurs when the bone becomes more porous and therefore more brittle as we age.
The osteopenia is a precursor to osteoporosis and both are diagnosed by scanning bone mineral density with a DEXA machine. Osteomalacia is a softening of the bones due to vitamin D deficiency and is another cause of bone fractures.
Bone disorders are a very common problem. About one in two women and up to one in four men age 50 and older will suffer a fracture due to osteoporosis. And these fractures significantly increase the risk of mortality for older adults, even doubling or tripling a person's risk of death in some cases.
Women are at especially high risk because of the role estrogen plays in maintaining their bone mass. Estrogen decreases with age and is affected by many factors, including diet, exercise, and stress.
So now that we understand the physiology of bone growth, as well as its importance, let's talk about how we can keep our bones strong through simple diet and lifestyle changes.
The role of calcium in bone health
Calcium is a surprisingly controversial nutrient. Guidelines for calcium intake range from 1,000 to 1,300 mg daily in adults. But some experts suggest that we really only need about 600-800 mg of calcium a day for healthy bones.
Still others argue that the bioavailability of calcium from different foods will affect how much calcium you actually need to consume to meet your daily needs.
List of whole foods as a source of calcium
The science on calcium is controversial, and experts are far from deciding on guidelines. But generally it is best to get a minimum of 600 mg of calcium per day through food, and ideally above 800 mg. This is a list of whole foods and their calcium content, starting with the best sources:
As you can see, many of the major sources of calcium in our diet do not come from dairy. And you can get lots of calcium every day by eating lots of green leafy vegetables or eating bone-in fish.
Just consuming two cups of green leafy vegetables and a can of bone-in sardines in one day, you would have already ingested about 840 mg of calcium. Add some herbs and spices, and 2 ounces of almonds, and you can easily hit 1,000 mg.
Vitamins D, A and K2 and bone health
If you've been on a Paleo diet for some time, you've no doubt already learned the role of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2 in promoting bone health and ensuring proper absorption and utilization of the calcium we ingest.
But if you are new to the Paleo diet, you may have no idea why these nutrients are so essential. And you may not have even heard of vitamin K2!
Vitamin D should ideally come from adequate sun exposure, and adequate blood levels to be achieved throughout the year are between 30-50 ng / dL. Some people need to supplement with vitamin D3 if they have dark skin and / or live far from the equator. Or if they can't spend enough time outside to get the proper levels.
Vitamin A in its preformed state comes mainly from the liver. And to get an adequate intake you can eat 1/4 pound of liver per week or supplement with 1 teaspoon of cod liver oil daily. Egg yolks are also a good source of preformed vitamin A.
To get vitamin K2, you can eat free-range dairy fats like ghee and butter, goose livers and other poultry, fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, or natto, a traditionally fermented soy product.
Magnesium is another mineral that is essential for bone health, yet the world of conventional nutrition rarely disputes its importance. Magnesium is one of the key minerals that forms the structure of the bone matrix. This will be removed from the bones if magnesium levels in the blood fall. Magnesium deficiency is a known risk factor for osteoporosis.
Magnesium is necessary for a large number of physiological functions in our body (more than 300!). And since many of our modern habits deplete our magnesium stores more quickly, it is imperative that we make an effort to keep our magnesium intake high. A minimum of 400 mg per day is recommended and up to 800 mg for those who have higher needs for this mineral.
Magnesium is one of the few nutrients that is recommended to be supplemented regularly. Some supplements are magnesium glycinate and magnesium malate. They are generally well tolerated and cause minor digestive side effects.
Keep in mind that magnesium supplements are not suitable for everyone. Review these precautions and talk to your doctor or dietitian before starting any supplements.
Inflammation affects bone health
Another unknown factor influencing bone health and osteoporosis risk is inflammation. Several different inflammatory cytokines have been implicated in the development of osteoporosis. And chronic inflammation is believed to be a major risk factor for this disease.
Inflammation has many causes, but there are many diet and lifestyle factors that can influence the inflammatory process. Examples of this include having a low omega-3 to omega-6 ratio in the diet, a high intake of refined cereal grains and sugar, and a low intake of antioxidant-rich plant foods.
Fortunately, the Paleo diet is highly anti-inflammatory, especially when it focuses primarily on eating fatty fish and free-range meat, large amounts of plant foods, and refined grains, seed oils, and sugar are generally avoided.
The effects of gluten
For people who have an immune response to gluten, including those with celiac disease, strictly avoiding gluten is essential to preventing osteoporosis. As mentioned, inflammation is a major factor that leads to the development of osteoporosis, and every time we eat food to which we have a strong immune response, we are increasing the overall inflammatory state of our bodies.
In people who have been diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, consuming gluten will stimulate an immune response that leads to systemic inflammation.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that decreased bone density is one of the first symptoms of celiac disease, even in asymptomatic patients. But the good news is that people who have suffered a reduction in their bone mineral density due to undiagnosed and untreated celiac disease can strengthen their bones simply by following a gluten-free diet.
Dairy that are tolerated
Like calcium, dairy products are another highly controversial topic when it comes to promoting bone health. In the US, three servings of dairy products per day are recommended for an adequate calcium intake. While many proponents of the plant-based diet suggest that a high dairy intake actually causes osteoporosis.
These two recommendations are completely opposite, so it is not surprising that people are confused about the role of dairy in a healthy bone-building diet.
Most of the research evidence suggests that dairy is generally positive when it comes to its effects on bone health. As mentioned above, you certainly don't need dairy to get adequate calcium and vitamin D to build healthy bones. However, eating organic dairy with a certain amount of fat can strengthen your bones.
That said, like gluten, there are many people whose bodies generate an immune response to dairy proteins like whey and casein. In this case, these people should definitely avoid dairy for better bone health.
Ultimately, the role of dairy in bone health is very individual. If you are unsure whether dairy is the right food for you, consider consulting a nutritionist who can help you determine your personal tolerance for high-quality dairy.
Collagen's role and its importance
What many people forget about the structure of bones is that about 25-30% of the dry weight of bones is made up of collagen proteins. Evidence suggests that the strength of our bones is highly dependent on the quality of the collagen matrix, particularly the cross-linking of collagen.
So it sounds logical that supporting collagen formation would be important for maintaining strong bones as we age.To promote good collagen formation, the amino acids glycine, proline and lysine are needed, along with adequate amounts of vitamin C for hydroxylation of these amino acids.
While our bodies can produce glycine, proline, and lysine from any protein obtained from the diet, there is evidence to suggest that these amino acids may be considered "conditionally essential" and therefore could benefit from consuming them.
This means that you have to eat a lot of bones, joints, tendons and animal skin, either by making bone broth, consuming gelatin and following a nose-to-tail eating pattern that our ancestors practiced regularly.
Calories and bone health
This is another topic that could be extended a lot, and it applies mainly to women who are overtraining and eating little. There is a common syndrome in female athletes called the Female Athlete Triad. This can affect any woman who is over training and not eating an adequate amount of calories.
This is a topic that is very little recognized in the Paleo community, in which there are many women on low carbohydrate and / or low calorie diets who simultaneously participate in high intensity training programs like CrossFit.
This triple condition is defined as an alteration in diet, menstrual dysfunction or amenorrhea, and premature osteoporosis. These latter symptoms are caused by a decrease in estrogen production.
And while osteoporosis is typically a disease that older people develop, it can be scary to see women in their 20s and 30s develop osteoporosis due to having an unhealthy approach to "healthy" eating and exercise that leads to a decrease in estrogen.
If you are concerned that you are developing this condition, it is highly recommended that you work with a nutritionist to ensure that you are consuming an adequate amount of food and to help you regain your normal menstrual cycle if you have lost it.
Effects of acid loading
Some people are concerned that the high intake of animal protein in the Paleo diet will lead to acidification of the body, which in turn can cause demineralization of the bones.
However, observational studies have not found a correlation between the acid load of the diet and bone mineral density (BMD) or risk of fracture. And although high protein diets are associated with increased calcium in the urine, there is no evidence of a net negative impact on calcium status from a high protein intake.
In fact, animal protein, the most acidic food of all, has been associated with better bone health.
Bone health can improve with exercise
Diet is not the only factor that influences bone strength. Getting the right type and amount of physical activity on a regular basis is just as important to maintaining healthy bone density. The best type of exercise for strengthening bones is exercise with weights, the best of which is strength training with relatively heavy weights.
The stress placed on the bones during this exercise stimulates the remodeling process described at the beginning of this article. Doing moderate weight-lifting exercises several times a week has been shown to significantly increase bone density, especially in postmenopausal women.
Running regularly is another well-known way to increase bone density, and a recent study suggests that it may be even more effective in building bone mass than weight lifting.
Sleep promotes bone health
Sleeping well is not only important for overall health and wellness, it actually has a direct impact on bone density through the hormonal effects of melatonin, the main hormone secreted during sleep.
Melatonin affects the actions of osteoblasts and osteoclasts, interacts with other hormones such as estrogen to increase bone remodeling, and functions as a powerful antioxidant that protects bone cells from oxidative stress and inflammation.
The most important way to keep melatonin secretion working optimally is to get your circadian rhythms into a proper 24-hour cycle. The best way to do this is to limit your exposure to artificial light at night and make sure you get enough natural light during the day.
Committing to getting your 8 hours of high-quality sleep in a cool, dark room also helps boost melatonin.
The negative impact of stress
Stress is another health factor that is generally ignored by those who focus more on diet and exercise. And like sleep, stress levels can directly affect bone health. Long-term use of corticosteroid medications is known to cause bone loss and can lead to osteoporosis, several studies confirm.
However, high levels of stress cortisol could lead to similar effects on bone density. Cortisol acts indirectly on bone by blocking calcium absorption, which slows the growth of bone cells. And even having high cortisol levels for a short time can cause a decrease in bone mass.
Since cortisol is the main stress hormone, the best way to keep cortisol levels in a proper range is to practice regular stress management. The most recommended techniques include yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and positive social interaction.
Tobacco and excess alcohol
It is important to remember that both smoking and excessive alcohol consumption have been linked to a reduction in bone density. So if you regularly smoke or drink excessively, stopping these habits as soon as possible should be a priority for good bone health.
What about calcium supplements?
Calcium supplementation is a common recommendation by conventional physicians and dietitians for patients with reduced bone density. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this is inappropriate and potentially dangerous advice.
Calcium supplements will probably do more harm than good for most people. Very few people should even consider calcium supplementation. Most people should have no problem obtaining adequate calcium intake from food.
The Paleo diet IS a way of life that strengthens bones
The various concerns that exist about the Paleo diet and bone health are completely unfounded, as has been demonstrated many times throughout this article.
A nutrient-dense Paleo diet, full of vitamin-rich fats and calcium-rich vegetables, plus the lifestyle factors that need to be promoted (good sleep, stress management, and regular exercise), is the perfect combination to promote good bone health.
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