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Better Bone Health: It’s All About Balance

by Lisa B. Nelson, MD

Want to keep your bones healthy and strong? If you’re paying attention to the news these days, the word on bone health can feel pretty discouraging. Bisphosphonates, the first-line therapy in treating osteoporosis, have been linked to serious side effects, such as atypical femur fractures, osteonecrosis of the jaw, and even esophageal cancer. More recently, a European study showed an increase risk of heart attacks in those who take calcium supplements.

But don’t lose hope! Better bone health can be simple to achieve and maintain. The key is balance.

Acid-base balance. Maintaining a proper blood pH, or acid-base balance, is critical to normal cell functioning. Research suggests an alkaline diet can protect healthy bone formation. The more acidic our blood becomes (from foods such as refined sugars and animal protein), the more we need to break down bone to create a buffer. This may explain why some studies reveal that women who eat high amounts of dairy products fail to have lower rates of osteoporosis, despite the common belief that milk is essential for bone health. The good news? We now know that a more alkaline, plant-based diet can help protect the heart and bones.

Kick off your shoes! The human foot has 26 bones and more than 30 muscles. Keeping those muscles agile and strong is a key factor in preventing falls. Walking barefoot improves strength and flexibility, prevents “flat feet,” and provides your brain with the positioning cues it needs to ensure steady balance.

Life balance. For optimal health, take a big-picture view. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, has long been known to preserve bone density. Stress reduction is also key, as cortisol, a stress hormone, decreases bone formation. And don’t forget time to relax in the sun—just 15 minutes of sunshine on your face and arms, several times a week (without sunscreen), is enough to provide all the vitamin D we need to keep our bones strong.