You are worried about your bones. So you make sure that there are enough calcium rich foods (milk in the morning, yoghurt and green leafy veggies for lunch and cottage cheese or beans for dinner) in your diet, you even pop in a calcium pill every morning (just in case), and keep track of your vitamin D level. But to actually keep your bones happy and healthy, besides all this, you need to keep these five stealthy bone stealers in check too.
Too little or too much protein
Too little is bad news. That’s because protein is needed to keep your collagen (protein part of the bone) firm, and when either the amount or quality, or both are low, bones become fragile. So whether you are on a diet, or are generally a fussy eater, or too busy to look closely at your plate – ensure enough protein in your diet – for the sake of your bones. But that said, don’t OD on it too (via protein shakes, bars, hi-tech supplements etc) as research done at Purdue University shows that too much protein can actually lead to leeching of calcium from the bones and lower the bone density. Some evidence also shows that animal protein leads to more calcium leaching as compared to vegetable protein. Most of us need about 50 to 70 grams protein a day, so get enough, not less, not more.
Smoking doesn’t just mess up your lungs, the effect seeps down to the bones too. This was identified almost 20 years ago and since then a lot of theories have been put up by scientists: smoking reduces the blood supply to bones, decreases the absorption of calcium from the diet, and leads to a breakdown of hormone estrogen, which is essential for a strong skeleton. According to a study reported in 2012 cigarette smoke makes people produce excessive amounts of two proteins that trigger a natural body process that breaks down bone. And apparently the risk is high for the passive smokers too. Too much alcohol does the same too; it disrupts the absorption of calcium and vitamin D, and causes hormone havoc, basically lowers secretion of estrogen and increases two potentially bone-damaging hormones cortisol and parathyroid hormone – leading to bone breakdown.
It makes sense to keep caffeine, carbonated beverages and energy drinks in check too. There are indications, although no conclusive proof yet that too much of these could affect calcium balance negatively in the body. Similarly a study showed that while vitamin A is important (for the process of redepositing calcium in bones), too much tends to promote fractures. But as too many fortified foods are not the mainstay in our diets in India yet, this is not that big an issue. Too much salt, though, is known to cause problems, as it increases the amount of calcium excreted through urine and sweat. So go easy on the salt shaker and processed foods please. Too much sugar in any case is a proven bone destroyer.
Low physical activity
Active people tend to keep calcium in their bones, while sedentary people lose calcium. Plus exercise helps build and maintain bone density, especially as we get older. Weight-bearing exercises – walking, stair climbing, running, hiking – are effective bone builders. Moving more is always a good idea.
Lack of sleep
Research is divulging the link between lack of sleep and bone mineral density. Lots of theories are floating about. Some scientists say that sleep deprivation impacts the daily repair of bones wear and tear negatively, others have reported that when we sleep less we produce less melatonin hormone – and that accelerates bone loss. A study published early this year also found sleep apnea as an unrecognised cause of some cases of osteoporosis. Sleep, it seems is paramount for the health of our skeletal system too.