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Ask JJ: Optimal Bone Health

Just because bones become more fragile as you grow older doesn't mean you need succumb to osteoporosis. Take control to maintain strong bones no matter what your age with these 10 strategies.
05/23/2016 04:49pm ET | Updated May 24, 2017
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Dear JJ: My doctor warned me I'm in the beginning stages of bone loss and that I need to be taking preventative measures now. My mom and grandma had osteoporosis. What steps can I take right now to reduce its impact?

Decreased bone mineral density and altered bone protein are among the early warning signs of osteoporosis, the most common bone disease.

While it affects everyone, older women become more susceptible than men to osteoporosis. Researchers estimate 35 percent of postmenopausal Caucasian women have hip, spine, or distal forearm osteoporosis.

Regardless of gender, your risk increases with age because bones become more fragile and likelihood of falling increases.

Each year, an estimated 1.5 million individuals suffer bone-disease related fracture, which can become a life-altering event that lands you in a nursing home and diminishes your quality of life.

The earlier you can take preventative steps, the more you lessen this "silent killer's" impact later in life. Sadly, many people don't focus on strong, resilient bones until a fall or fracture debilitates them.

While it might appear stagnant, bone is actually a living, dynamic tissue your body constantly replaces. Two types of cells make that happen. Osteoblasts help form bone matrix, while osteoclasts break down that matrix. Like with most things in life, balance becomes key: Ideally osteoblasts and osteoclasts work in harmony. (A third type of cell, osteocytes, supervise this process.)

Osteoporosis occurs when your body isn't making any new bone and osteoclasts get carried away breaking down too much existing bone. The end result means you're losing bone.

Just because bones become more fragile as you grow older doesn't mean you need succumb to osteoporosis. Take control to maintain strong bones no matter what your age with these 10 strategies.

1. Wipe off that milk mustache. Contrary to popular opinion, the massive Nurses' Health Study, which lasted 12 years and involved nearly 78,000 women, found women who drank the most milk had the highest risk of bone fractures. They also discovered that higher milk and other dairy consumption don't protect against hip or forearm fractures. "Countries with lowest rates of dairy and calcium consumption (like those in Africa and Asia) have the lowest rates of osteoporosis," says Dr. Mark Hyman.

2. Look for a synergistic bone-support formula. Calcium isn't the only player for strong bones. In fact, excess amounts of this crucial-but-overrated mineral could actually slow down your bone matrix-building osteoblasts so that bone-breaking-down osteoclasts win the race. Look for a professional formula that combines calcium with other nutrients like magnesium and boron. One study found magnesium deficiency increased osteoporosis risk. Another found magnesium and boron work synergistically for calcium metabolism. A professional-quality synergistic supplement combines these and other bone-supporting nutrients in efficacious amounts.

3. Eat mineral-rich foods. Slow-roasted or dehydrated nuts and seeds as well as leafy greens are among foods that provide calcium plus vitamin K and other bone-protective nutrients.

4. Ditch gluten. One study found adults with celiac disease suffer more osteoporosis and low bone mass. Even if you don't have celiac, gluten can increase inflammation, a key player in osteoporosis. Studies show going gluten-free can help you lose weight while reducing inflammation and insulin resistance.

5. Go low-sugar impact. Gradually transitioning off sugar (including sneaky sugars) provides serious protection against osteoporosis. People with insulin resistance and other metabolic-syndrome complications frequently suffer poor bone quality and increased risk for osteoporosis. That's one reason why people with Type 2 diabetes become more prone to osteoporosis. Even if you don't, excess sugar also makes your proteins sticky and ineffective at doing their jobs, creating advanced-glycation end products (AGEs) that contribute to bone loss.

6. Dial down inflammation. Swap pro-inflammatory vegetable oils, grain-fed beef, and processed foods for healthy fats including omega 3 fatty acids in flaxseeds, chia seeds, and wild-caught fish. Besides their anti-inflammatory benefits, omega 3-rich foods improve bone quality. These and other foods combined with eliminating food intolerances provide serious anti-inflammatory protection for strong, supple bones at any age.

7. Dump the soda. Phosphoric acid in soda -- yes, even diet ones -- can leech calcium from your bones and decrease bone strength. The famous Framingham study found sodas could reduce bone mineral density in women. Mineral water with lemon or lime gives you soda's kick without the nasty bone-robbing acidity.

8. Lift heavy to build. One study showed exercise preserves bone structure and reduces age-related bone loss and fracture risk. Lifting weights becomes particularly helpful to build and maintain strong bones. "A lifestyle of weight-bearing exercises on a very regular basis also help with our overall health, disease prevention, healthy weight management, as well as bone health," says Dr. Julie Chen.

9. Get your D. One study estimated 90 percent of adults between 51 and 70 years of age don't get enough vitamin D from their diet. Reduced calcium absorption, increased risk of fractures, and bone loss all contribute to inadequate D levels. Hyman says optimal blood levels should be at least 45 ng/dl. About 20 minutes of unprotected sun a few times each week can help. So can supplementing with a quality vitamin D3 supplement. To learn your levels, ask your doctor for a 25-hydroxy test.

10. Control stress levels. Studies show stress triggers physiological changes, leads to poor eating and lifestyle habits, and creates anxiety, depression, and social isolation: Altogether delivering a serious whammy that takes a hit on bone health. Stress management becomes a necessity, not a luxury, to prevent osteoporsis. If yoga or mediation isn't your thing, schedule time for a massage, a park walk, or Starbucks date with your bestie.

If you're concerned about bone loss and taking active steps to prevent or reverse osteoporosis, what strategies would you add to this list? Share yours below and keep those fab questions coming at AskJJ@jjvirgin.com.