Osteoporosis is characterized by the depletion of bone mineral mass combined with bone micro-architecture deterioration that results in greater bone fragility leading to increased fracture risk. It’s estimated that 10 million adults in the United States have osteoporosis and another 44 million are at serious risk for the condition. Incredibly, just a 10% loss of vertebral bone mass can double the risk for a vertebral fracture! While some factors are beyond our control, the current data suggests that actions taken throughout life can each play a part in the health of our skeletal structure.
Several studies have identified smoking, corticosteroid use, excessive alcohol consumption, and physical inactivity as modifiable risk factors for osteoporosis. But what about diet? Can our dietary choices also impact bone health? While adequate calcium intake and healthy vitamin D levels (which can be improved through diet) are important for bone health, a systematic review that included 20 studies identified three dietary patterns that can affect osteoporosis risk. The authors of the review reported that the Western-style diet pattern (high-fat, high-carb) is linked to an increased risk for low bone mineral density. On the other hand, a heathy diet pattern, like the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet, carried a reduced risk for low bone mineral density.
A diet with a high intake of milk and dairy products appeared to be linked to stronger bones, which was confirmed by a 2023 study that included 1,429 postmenopausal women whom researchers monitored for 15 years. During that time, 172 participants sustained at least one osteoporotic fracture. In a final analysis, the research team identified an association between habitual milk intake and a lower risk for osteoporosis fracture. If it can be tolerated, the data suggests that including milk in the diet may benefit bone health.
Additionally, engaging in weight-bearing exercise (like walking, jogging, running, or playing sports on a field or court) is also important for maintaining strong bones. In a July 2020 study, among a group of 47 patients at elevated risk for osteoporosis, those who took part in a six-month impact and resistance training program experienced increased muscle strength and improved bone mineral density in the lumbar spine (3.8%) and femoral neck (2.3%).
While the majority of bone mineral content and bone mineral density is decided by genetics and early life behaviors, engaging in good health habits like not smoking or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, getting regular weight bearing exercise, eating a healthy diet (possibly including milk), and maintaining healthy vitamin D levels can help maintain strong bones well into old age. Additionally, a July 2021 study found that abnormal sagittal posture (from the side) is associated with an increased risk for vertebral fractures in older adults with low bone mineral density. Hence, the importance of regular chiropractic care to address postural faults!