3. Get Some Sun
You may not think of sunlight at being beneficial for your bones, but it’s quite necessary. Calcium cannot be absorbed into your bones without vitamin D (11). This is why the best calcium supplements also contain vitamin D. At the same time, the vitamin D in your cells has to be activated by sunlight (12). Most people think you get vitamin D from being in the sunlight, which is partially correct. Ultraviolet rays from the sun convert allow vitamin D’s precursor (7-dehydrocholesterol) to be converted into a useable form of vitamin D (13).
So, even if you consume enough vitamin D in your diet, it’s useless without sun exposure (14). Experts recommend at least 10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure daily. If you live somewhere where sunlight isn’t reliable year-round (i.e. Alaska), then you can “stock up” in the summertime. Just be sure to watch for signs of sun damage, especially if you are fair-skinned.
Bottom line: you need exposure to sunlight for healthy bones.
4. Start Weight Training
A sedentary lifestyle is near the top of the list of contributory factors for osteoporosis. Some of the correlation is simply that active individuals tend to take better care of themselves. However, recent studies prove that physical activity – weight/resistance training in particular – helps prevent and even reverse osteoporosis (15).
Significant positive improvements in bone mineral density can be achieved in less than one year of regular weight training (16). If you are already showing signs of osteoporosis, ease into resistance training with bodyweight exercises, such as Pilates. With increased strength (and approval from your physician), start a weight training program for the most benefit (17).
It should be noted that the benefits of weight training, such as improved bone density, will only be maintained as long as the training is maintained. So if you only weight train as long as it takes to reverse osteopenia/osteoporosis and then stop, then your bones will begin to weaken. Training three times weekly for 30 minutes will be enough for most people to improve and maintain healthy bone structure (18).
5. Take Herbs For Arthritis
There is not much clinical research on the effectiveness of herbs for the treatment of osteoporosis, but there is strong anecdotal support. Since some herbs can have estrogen-like effects, they may protect against bone loss (19). Be sure to review any herbal supplements with your physician prior to taking them to avoid medication interactions.
Herbs used in the treatment of arthritis show the most promise, such as red clover, black cohost, and horsetail. Red clover is high in isoflavones, which reduces bone loss in clinical studies (20). Black cohosh contains phytoestrogens and is often used to relieve symptoms associated with menopause. Horsetail is high in silicon, which (in theory) can help increase bone strength and promote healing of bone fractures (21).
6. Stop Smoking
There have been a number of long-term studies completed to determine the effects of smoking and bone loss. They all come to the same conclusion: smokers are more likely to suffer bone density loss and osteoporosis than non-smokers (22). The association is also dose dependent in that heavier smokers experience worse bone loss than light/occasional smokers (23).
There is no safe level of smoking and nicotine use. It’s bad for you, period. Try some natural methods to help you kick the habit. For severe addictions, you can consult your doctor for pharmaceutical aid, but be aware that there are significant side effects.
7. Cut Back on Caffeine
A moderate amount of caffeine in the form of regular coffee or tea can be beneficial to your health (24). There is, however, a strong connection between caffeinated beverages and bone loss (25). The relationship seems to be more of a correlation, since studies focusing on coffee consumption present a weak link at best (26). The phosphoric acid found in most carbonated beverages, for example, leaches calcium from the bone (27). Soda drinkers are also less likely to drink beverages that contribute to bone health, like milk or coffee with cream.
Stick to getting your caffeine from a daily cup (or two) of coffee or black tea, and limit added sugars.