​Nutrition: Bone Health

Friday 04 May 2018

Bone health is important especially for those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Treatment can increase the risk of women getting osteoporosis for several reasons. Oestrogen has a protective effect on bone and reduced levels of this hormone causes low bone density.

Chemotherapy itself can have a significant negative effect on bone health as it is designed to reduce oestrogen levels. I am frequently asked about this and how women can support their bone health as naturally as possible.

I want to start with hints and tips on how to protect your bones, some detail about bone health and bone turnover and about drugs that are recommended to help protect the bones and finally a simple recipe that you may like to try which will support bone health.

In order for us to have strong bones we need a cocktail of nutrients that work synergistically. These are: Calcium, Magnesium, Vitamin D3, Boron and Vitamin K. We have all heard of calcium for strong bones but without the other nutrients the calcium will not be absorbed into the bones.

A very simple way to ensure that you get plenty of these nutrients is to eat the foods that they are rich in.

  • Calcium; sesame seeds (look out for tahini paste used to make humus is great as a spread),almonds, tinned salmon, sardines, green leafy vegetables, brazil nuts, baked beans, oats and quinoa.
  • Magnesium; all nuts, all seeds, whole grain foods( like oats, whole wheat flour brown rice)
  • Vitamin D; sunshine, oily fish (salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, mackerel) egg yolks.
  • Boron and Vitamin K; appears in most vegetables especially, alfalfa sprouts, green leafy vegetables, nuts, peas and beans.

Looking at the above if the diet is high in green leafy vegetables, which includes broccoli, fish, nuts and seeds then you should be having plenty of the bone friendly nutrients.

What about a flapjack made from oats, seeds and you could add some chopped nuts, or a rich green based soup like watercress soup or something as simple as beans on toast. The trick is to include a selection of these foods in your diet regularly.

Apart from these bone friendly foods I have mentioned above there are a few other things that are worth considering which will help to keep the bones strong.

  • Avoid carbonated drinks (unless it is naturally carbonated spring water) as these contain phosphoric acid which draws calcium from the bones to neutralise the acid. In fact fizzy drinks are one of the biggest causes of the osteoporotic epidemic that we are witnessing.
  • Avoid excess alcohol, evidence suggests that alcohol can have a negative effect on bone health.
  • Avoid salt and salty foods as these create an acidic environment when the body again will draw on its calcium stores to neutralise the acid.
  • Antacid medication has much the same effect upsetting the natural pH balance.
  • Consider the sunshine (if you can) as we make vitamin D from the sun.
  • Take regular weight bearing exercise like a good walk as this has been shown to increase bone density. Like muscles bone responds to exercise by becoming stronger.

It is interesting to point out here that some research papers and naturopaths believe that drinking milk actually causes poor bone density. This is simply because milk is an acid forming food (like meat eggs, grains etc) and to neutralise the acid the body calls on calcium reserves from the bones. (My next blog will be on acid and alkaline.)

Now for a little more detail for those who would like to know  more.

Most people think of bones as a hard static mass but our bones are metabolically active constantly being broken down and renewed. This process is called ‘bone turnover’. The Osteoblast cells help to build bone by taking up excess calcium from the blood and the osteoclast cells which release calcium back into the blood.  An easy way to remember the difference is the B in osteoBlasts ‘B ‘ for build. The health of our bones is the balance between these cells and the nutrients they receive.

To help maintain bone density some women are prescribed drugs. i.e. alendronic acid and Strontium Ranelate. Both work by increasing the number of osteoblasts (bone building cells) and prevent the osteoclasts from removing the calcium. In both cases there can be side effects and calcium and Vitamin D supplements are also required.  

The Institute of Medicine recommends daily calcium levels of 1000mg for women under 50 years of age and 1200mg a day for women over 50. This of course has to be accompanied by vitamin D at least 1000 ius a day.

Almond Breakfast Muesli
Serve with low fat live bio yogurt and some raspberries or blueberries for a very bone protective start to the day.

200ml apple juice.
2 tbsp rapeseed oil.
200g flaked almonds.
8 tbsp sunflower seeds.
4 tbsp pumpkin seeds.
2 tbsp  ground flax seeds.
2 tbsp sesame seeds.

Simply mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and bake in the oven gas 3/elec140’C for 25-30 mins until golden brown. Cool and store in an airtight container.

Blog originally written by Caroline June 2012

Get cancer support near you

To find your nearest Maggie's centre, enter your postcode or town below.

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay up to date with our news and fundraising by signing up for our newsletter.

Sign up