Osteoporosis: Can Probiotics Help with Weak, Brittle Bones?

Osteoporosis is a disease in which decreased bone strength causes weak and brittle bones.

Having this bone disease increases the risk of bone fractures. There are many things which influence bone health, including probiotics.

Worldwide, osteoporosis causes more than 8.9 million fractures annually, resulting in an osteoporotic fracture every 3 seconds!

This debilitating bone disease is estimated to affect 200 million women worldwide - approximately one-tenth of women aged 60, one-fifth of women aged 70, two-fifths of women aged 80 and two-thirds of women aged 90.

The combined lifetime risk for hip, forearm and vertebral fractures which require medical intervention is around 40%, equivalent to the risk for cardiovascular disease!!!

But guys, you are not immune to the risks! Worldwide, 1 in 3 women over age 50 will experience osteoporotic fractures, but so will 1 in 5 men aged over 50.

1 in 3 women over the age of 50 will experience a fracture related to osteoporosis

Women, Don't Be a Statistic!

Men, Don't Be a Statistic!

1 in 5 men over the age of 50 will experience a fracture related to osteoporosis

Most people think of osteoporotic-related fractures in the hips but the truth is that most fractures occur in the forearm, then the humerus (upper arm bone), then the hip and then the spine. However, for obvious reasons, hip fractures are most likely to end in disability and premature death.

After sustaining a hip fracture 10-20% of formerly independent-living people require long term nursing care. Hip fractures have reported mortality rates up to 20-24% in the first year after a hip fracture and an increased risk of dying may persist for at least 5 years afterwards. Loss of function and independence among survivors is profound, with 40% unable to walk independently and 60% requiring assistance a year later.

The moral of this story? Keep your bones strong and reduce the risk of osteoporotic fractures! Now that you are convinced, let’s look at what you need to do.

Isn’t Bone Density the Most Important Factor in Avoiding Osteoporosis?

Most people have heard that calcium is required for strong bones and so they pop a calcium supplement or antacids like Tums. Calcium is only a small part of the story, however.

Some of you may be on the drug Fosamax. Fosamax does not build new bone; it inhibits resorption (breakdown and reabsorption). The results may be increased bone density but this comes at the expense of flexible, dynamic bones. Therefore, bone density is not the whole story, either.

Unlike calcium, which is a mineral, and the effects of Fosamax, which makes bone static, bone is a dynamic, living structure. It is constantly breaking down (resorption) and rebuilding itself in a process called remodeling. The buildup processes are regulated by many body-wide and local factors such as insulin, insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), bone morphogenetic factors (BMPs), and signaling proteins. The breakdown is regulated by as many different processes.

The ability of bone to remodel itself is the most important factor in bone health.
Osteopenia and osteoporosis result when the breakdown exceeds the formation of bone.

While calcium levels and bone density levels may be important for bone health, neither by itself can result in strong, flexible bones.

You Must Have This for Strong Bones

Weight-bearing exercise and healthy living habits (proper diet, no smoking, limited alcohol and drugs) can help with improving bone health. But, you must have a healthy gastrointestinal tract in order to have strong, flexible bones.

Gut health affects bone remodeling and your chances of osteoporosis and osteopenia by affecting:

  • Protein absorption
  • Vitamin D absorption
  • Vitamin K2 production
  • B vitamins’ production and/or absorption
  • Vitamins A and C absorption
  • Mineral absorption
  • Inflammation in the body
  • Thyroid hormone conversion

Healthy gut bacteria, including probiotics, can positively influence each of those gut health-related bone remodeling factors by:

  • Improving absorption of nutrients such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates in many ways, one of which is to keep the intestinal barrier intact and the small intestinal villi healthy. Since the insides of bones are made up of a protein matrix, proper protein digestion and absorption allows sufficient protein access for bones.
  • Improving vitamin D absorption from the GI tract and improving the health of the liver and kidneys for vitamin conversion to its active form. Vitamin D is important in bone health.
  • Improving production of vitamin K2 by gut bacteria. K2 helps to keep calcium in the bones and teeth and out of the arteries.
  • Improving production and/or absorption of B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin A, all of which are either cofactors for bone remodeling processes or are otherwise important for bone health.
  • Producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) which help with the absorption of minerals. Many probiotic bacteria produce SCFA’s or influence bacteria that do. Minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, boron and many others either form the hard outer surface of bones and teeth or are cofactors for the formation of this hard matrix.
  • Decreasing inflammation in the body and the production of inflammatory chemicals. Inflammatory chemicals cause bone breakdown.
  • Converting a portion of inactive thyroid hormones into the active form. Thyroid function affects bone remodeling.

How to Maintain Gut Health to Reduce Your Risk of Osteoporosis

To maintain gut health you have to:

  1. Remove things that are assaulting your GI tract and body from your diet and lifestyle
  2. Replace things that may be missing such as digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid
  3. Reinoculate the digestive tract with beneficial microbes – this is the area in which probiotics absolutely play a critical role!
  4. Regenerate the GI lining with proper nutrients

Where to Get More Help for Osteoporosis and Osteopenia

If you need more help with improving your gut health and your bone health, consider nutritional consultations.

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