By CM Monteleone
Many people think of bones as being very rigid: a concrete like solid structure. Bones, however, are dynamic living tissues that grow bigger with exercise, just like muscles! The cycle of bone cell regeneration is about 10 years. That means you can change how strong your bones are by acting now, today! Bones are just absolutely amazing. They are stronger than reinforced concrete but light enough for us to be able to sprint. And sprinting, studies show, is a great way to build stronger bones! Our astonishing bone tissue produces a hormone that regulates mood, controls blood sugar, boosts male fertility, keeps our cognition sharp and increases exercise performance! Previous research has focused on the correlation of vegetable intake and calcium on bone health, but recent research has shed new light on the importance of animal foods, particularly those high in protein, vitamin D and magnesium content for maintaining and increasing bone density as we age.
In the process of regeneration, old bone cells are constantly being replaced by new bone cells. When bones fracture, a rush of blood circulates to the injury and collects. In comparison, tendons and cartilage have very little blood flow. This is one reason why smokers have a hard time healing fractures. Blood vessel growth, for instance, is inhibited by smoking.[i] Bone tissue is also the only tissue that does not scar! Wow! And, with proper framework, new bone tissue can grow where bone is missing. The importance of taking care of our bones is always relevant but increases as we age.
It is widely known that resistance (strength) training is a good way to create stronger bones. However, sprinting has also showed tremendous benefits in combating osteopenia and osteoporosis as we gain years. In studies of older athletes, sprinters were shown to have better neuromuscular function and bone density than distance runners. [ii] [iii] Motions with higher impact and less frequent impact repetition build more bone than frequent, low impact work like long distance running. [iv] Thus picking up sprinting as opposed to training for a marathon is a better way to maintain bone health. Swimmers, for instance, also have lower bone density than sprinters due to lack of impact.
Metabolically, what are some good ways to create strong bone tissue? Mineral content determines the strength of bone tissue. Most people think bones are strictly calcium dependent. However, don’t go diving in to the calcium supplements just yet! Shockingly, calcium supplements have been found to increase risk of coronary artery calcification and I never advise my clients to take them. In addition, studies show that high calcium intake results in poor absorption of calcium. On the contrary, lower intake of calcium foods throughout the day promotes greater levels of calcium as your body is constantly in calcium homeostasis-regulating the amount of calcium circulating. There is a better route to maintaining bone health and increasing bone strength as we age.[v] Calcium can come from many foods, not just milk, which can be inflammatory. Foods like: sardines, salmon and almonds are high quality calcium sources.
The hormone that controls the cell growth of bone, osteocalcin is absolutely fascinating. Osteocalcin, only discovered in 1977, regulates osetoblasts and affects your mood, risk for Alzheimers, blood sugar (insulin) response and athletic performance! [vi] During exercise we have twice as much serum osteocalcin in our muscles, attributing partially toward greater athletic performance! In a study of mice, injections of osteocalcin created a 100 percent increase in the speed mice were running. Older mice ran just as fast and just as far as younger mice! [vii]
Osteocalcin is dependent on several things including: Vitamin K, Vitamin D, Optimal protein intake and impact/strength training.
In promoting osteocalcin, Vitamin K2 has more positive correlations than K1. [viii] Vitamin K1 and K2 are very different. Vitamin K1, (phylloquinone) known to be essential in blood clot formation, largely comes from plant foods like kale and spinach. Research has shown that K1 is actually poorly absorbed and has no correlation with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, while K2 (menaquinones in the forms of MK-4 and MK-7) is absorbed well, circulates in the body longer, decreases risk for cardiovascular disease and contributes to tissue regrowth more.[ix] [x] As mentioned above, blood circulation and the flow of blood to bones is essential to bone health and healing. Some of my favorite foods, that I recommend to my clients, with high amounts of K2, come from: goose liver, beef liver, dark meat from poultry, egg yolks and butter. Grass-fed sources have been shown to have higher levels of K2.
Optimal protein is also important to bone health. Active women with high protein intake have a positive bone mineral content. [xi] [xii] Part of this is due to the amino acid content of protein, particularly alanine and glycine. Glycine is also essential in promoting collagen, a major component of bone structure. Foods high in glycine include: gelatin, bone broth, poultry skin, seafood, and red meat. Excellent sources of alanine are: gelatin, poultry, beef, salmon, and eggs.
Low protein diets have been associated with parathyroid increase and release of calcium from bone. Higher protein diets increase IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor , which declines with age). Meat intake is associated with higher IGF-1. Soy, a popular plant based protein, is associated with lower IGF-1. [xiii] Soy has also binds calcium so that it is not as available to your body. Other plant foods, such as those containing beta-carotene have been shown to reduce bone mineral density.[xiv] It was previously thought that the acidity from high protein diets resulted in calcium leeching from bones, however recent research has refuted this, especially when the diet contained animal foods and foods that contained vitamin D. [xv]
Vitamin D was discovered in 1913 when looking for a cure for rickets, a disease of children in which their bones softened and distorted causing bowed legs. Your body makes Vitamin D, a hormone, when sunlight hits your skin. Most Americans are found to be vitamin D deficient, especially during winter months. Foods that contain optimal amounts of vitamin D are: fatty fish like salmon, beef liver, butter and egg yolks. The cure for rickets ended up being a combination of cod liver oil and butter!
Helping the conversion of vitamin D into an absorbable form is magnesium. Again, most of the population is magnesium deficient. While leafy greens are known to be sources of magnesium, they also contain oxalates, which can interfere with calcium signaling and nutrient absorption.[xvi] Animal foods like salmon, butter, poultry and beef are also excellent sources of dietary magnesium. 50% to 60% of the magnesium in your body resides in your bones! [xvii]
By now you should be seeing the correlation between animal foods, increased protein from animal sources and healthy bones. The path to aging well with lower risk of fracture and greater mental health could be as simple as taking care of your bones with a proper food choices and exercise!
What are few other ways to promote bone health and resulting athletic performance from better bones? In addition to vitamin D, zinc promotes the formation of bone building cells in the matrix of collagen protein and prevents breakdown of bones. Zinc deficiency is associated with decreases in bone density. A proper balance with the trace element copper is necessary because zinc and copper compete for the same receptors. One problem is, most people intake too much copper from copper pipes transporting water into their homes and copper pesticides on fruit and vegetables. This decreases zinc absorption as we mentioned they compete in our body. Also blocking zinc absorption are phytates. Phytates are only in plant foods and are found primarily in grains like wheat, corn and rice as well as in the outer casing of beans. Iron can also inhibit zinc absorption if consumed by way of plant foods as a source, like spinach. On the contrary, iron has been found not to inhibit zinc absorption when combined in animal foods like red meat. [xviii] Red meat is a high zinc, high iron food that also has the perfect zinc to copper ratio naturally.
Besides bone health, zinc is encoded in our DNA, a cofactor in over 300 enzymatic reactions in our body. It is anabolic, meaning, for athletes, like sprinters, it translates into more power. It also is extremely important in our sleep cycle. The less zinc we have, the worse our sleep is. Sleep quality is important to nearly every aspect of our daily life and aging. [xix] Zinc deficiency is tied to dementias like Alzheimers. I advise my clients: if you want to age well and remain strong, get rid of the nutrient blocking grains and beans and eat more red meat! Foods highest in zinc are: shellfish like oysters and mussels and red meat. Red meats, like grass-fed beef, or wild game meats, have the perfect combination of nutrients and amino acids (Lysine, leucine, glycine, alanine, arginine, proline, glutamic acid) to maintain bone health and muscle mass.
One final way to maintain bone and thwart bone loss is to add Omega-3 fatty acids. EPA and DHA from fish oil have been shown to decrease inflammation and help maintain bone density. [xx] This can come from fatty fish like: salmon, cod liver, herring, oysters, sardines and caviar, or by a high quality supplement.
Our skeletal architecture is here to protect us like armor and provide stability to move, but furthermore, our bone tissue also affects everything from our happiness to our exercise performance,. It affects how we store chemicals to how we make blood cells. Taking care of our approximate 206 bones (some have more than others, not counting the sesamoid bones) should be of upmost importance as we look toward creating our optimal self!
CM Monteleone is a Metabolic Analytics Practitioner and a World Champion Sprinter in the 400m (W40-44)
[i] Hewings- Martin, “How Do Broken Bones Heal?” Medical News Today Aug 2017
[ii] Gast, et al “ Bone Density and Neuromuscular Function in Older Competitive Athletes Depend on Running Distance” , Osteoporosis Int. Jul 2013.
[iii] Piasecki et al, “Hip and Spine bone Mineral Density Are Greater in Masters Sprinters, but Not Endurance Runners Compared with Non-Athletic Controls” Arch Osteoporosis, 2018.
[iv] Douglas, Scott. “Older Sprinters’ Bones Healthier than Older Distance Runners’” , Runners World, Dec 18, 2012.
[v] Anderson, et al “Calcium intake from Diet and Supplements and the Risk of Coronary Artery Calicification.., J Am Heart Assoc., 2016.
[vi] “The Role of Osteocalcin in Glucose Metabolism,” Science Direct
[vii] Mera, et al, “Osteocalcin Signaling in Myofibers IS Necessary and Sufficient for Optimum Adaptation to Exercise,” Cell Metabolism, June 2016.
[viii] Koshihara et al, “Vitamin K2 Enhances Osteocalcin Accumulation in Extracellular Matrix of Human Osteoblasts in Vitro, J Bone Mer Res, Mar 1997
[ix] Maresz, Katarzyna, “Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health, Interg Med, Feb 2015.
[x] Koitaya, et al, “Low-Dose Vitamin K2 (MK-4) Supplementation for 12 months Improves Bone Metabolism and Prevents Forearm Bone Loss in Postmenopausal Japanese Women), J Bone Mineral Metab Mar 2014.
[xi]Isanejad et al , Asssociation of Protein Intake with Bone Mineral Density…”, J Nutr Health Aging 2017
[xii] Dolan, Eimear, et al, “Protein and Bone Health Across the Lifespan, Proc Nutr Soc, Feb 2019
[xiii] Heaney, and Layman, “Amount and Type of Protein Influences Bone Health, Am Journ of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 87.
[xiv] Myung-Hwa, et al, “Vegetable and Fruit intake and its relevance with serum osteocalcin and urinary deoxypyridoline in Korean adults,” Nutr Res Pract, Oct 2010
[xv] Heaney and Layman, “” also note in the Myung-Hwa study tubers along with high protein yielded positive correlations with bone density
[xvi] Kusumi, et al, “Renal Calcium Oxalate Deposit Induce a Pro-Atheosclerotic and Pro-Osetoporotic Response in Mice, J Cell Biochem, 2017.
[xvii] NIH Fact Sheet for Health Professionals, “Magnesium”
[xviii] Lonnerdal, B. “Dietary Factors Influencing Zinc Absorption,” J Nutr May 2000
[xix] Walker, Matthew, “Why We Sleep”
[xx] Kuroda, et al, “Intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids Contributes to Bone Mineral Density at the Hip in a Younger Female Population, Osteoporos Int, Oct 2017