10 December 2012

How to strengthen your bones without dairy

In the UK osteoporosis:
  • Affects nearly three million people and costs the NHS more than £2.3billion per year (£6m daily)
  • One in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to poor bone health
  • Is the cause of 230,000 fractures each year
  • Causes the death of 1,150 people every month as a result of hip fractures
(Statistics from the National Osteoporosis Society).

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is a basic guide to help us understand our minimum nutrient requirement for vitamins and minerals. To help prevent osteoporosis, the recommended RDA varies between 500mg and 1000mg for adults. During pregnancy, this amount increases to 1200 mg and for women over 45; calcium need is even greater at 1500 mg. For children aged 1 to 3 the daily allowance is 500mg; aged 4 to 8 800 mg and aged 9 to 18 1300mg.

If sufficient calcium is being consumed, why are the rates of osteoporosis so high?

It is a question of balance. If you consume plenty of calcium but you are not getting enough of the other minerals that work synergistically with calcium, your mineral stores will be thrown out of balance. Likewise, poor absorption can also be a factor. If you take calcium supplements for example, but have poor absorption, the chances are the calcium will either be excreted, making the supplements very expensive, or it will be stored in soft tissue instead of your bones. High calcium stores in soft tissue may cause inflammatory problems such as arthritis. Not good if you already have osteoporosis.

Calcium works in synergy with magnesium, vitamins A, C and D and Chlorophyll.

Magnesium stimulates the production of calcitonin, a hormone that prevents calcium being absorbed into soft tissue and puts it where it should be, in your bones.

Vitamins A and C are cofactors for the absorption of calcium whilst vitamin D is required for the utilisation of calcium. Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin but in countries like the UK, where sunshine is a rare treat, vitamin D supplementation is worth a worthwhile option.

Chlorophyll is formed from the process of photosynthesis. At the heart of the chlorophyll molecule is magnesium. Thankfully, foods that contain chlorophyll act like vitamin D and thus help your body to regulate calcium.

To increase bone health the first thing is to ensure you are absorbing properly. You can do this by ensuring you get a sufficient amount of vitamin D, preferably from sunlight.  Second, eat plenty of dark leafy greens, cereal grasses, seaweed and blue green algae (see table below) everyday, preferably raw.

The third recommendation is to move your body. Physical activity helps moderate calcium loss whilst at the same time helps to increase bone mass.

Avoid foods that contain oxalic acid prevents the absorption of calcium and other minerals. Plums, cranberries, rhubarb, spinach, beet greens and chard are the foods to look out for. Additionally, avoid or decrease consumption of soft drinks, coffee, alcohol, salt, refined sugar, meat and foods that contain solanine; (aubergine/ eggplant, peppers and potatoes). Other factors that inhibit absorption are smoking and use of other toxic drugs.