Expert opinion Bone health

“Eat calcium-rich foods for bone health”, says Dr Schneider

Why making Greek yogurt a regular part of your diet?

In this interview, we asked Dr Diane Schneider, a leading expert on osteoporosis and bone health, to describe who is subject to the disease and how nutrition can help prevent it. Dr Schneider explains that calcium-rich foods, combined with vitamin D, are essential to reach daily calcium goals. In this context, she says, yogurt each day appears to be a good measure.

Who is the most subject to osteoporosis?

From day one, everything in your life impacts your skeleton. Osteoporosis is a common disease in women. One in two women over the age of fifty will break a bone. Men break bones, too. One in four men over the age of fifty will sustain a fracture. Men are even more likely than women to die after having a hip fracture.

Optimizing your bone health may not be a priority now, but regardless of your age, it needs to be a conscious part of your everyday routine.

How is osteoporosis preventable? What’s the role of dietary calcium?

You need to build and maintain strong bones to prevent osteoporosis and broken bones. Growth of the skeleton is a complex process that begins in the womb and continues into early adulthood. Any problems during your first thirty years may result in reduced bone development leading to an increased risk of fracture later in life. Simply having poor vitamin D and calcium intake, or not maintaining a healthy weight during growth, can spell trouble in your golden years—or even earlier.

Calcium provides many vital functions in the body. The daily recommendations have been established primarily on the basis of bone health. This is because bone serves as a reservoir of calcium that helps to maintain normal blood levels of calcium. Since calcium is not produced by the body, you must supply it through your diet. Eat calcium-rich foods FIRST to meet your daily calcium goals. Use supplements to do just that supplement if there’s a shortfall in your diet. Also ensure you have adequate levels of vitamin D, which is essential for calcium absorption.

What role can yogurt play and how to integrate it?

Yogurt is a calcium-rich food. Depending on the type of yogurt, one serving may provide 200 to 450 milligrams of calcium. Recent research suggests the beneficial effects of yogurt may go beyond just the calcium content. Because of possible protective effect of fermented dairy products on postmenopausal bone loss, Swiss researchers examined yogurt consumption in Geneva Retirees Cohort made up of healthy men and women who were recruited at the age of 65. Women who ate at least one serving of yogurt a day had better bone density and were thinner than those who did not eat yogurt. These findings were independent of any other factors that could account for differences in bone density, such as physical activity, protein and total calcium intake.

The researchers hypothesize that bacteria contained in yogurt populate the large intestine, where it improves calcium absorption and decreases inflammation. Research over the past five years has exploded in the area of gut microbiome (the bacteria in your intestine) as a potential important regulator of health and contributor to a variety of diseases. In 2012, researchers found gut microbiota regulates bone mass in mice experiments. Who knew? The old saying “you are what you eat” rings true.

Since that time studies have looked for nutritional factors that would decrease bone loss. Modification of microbiota in mice with probiotic supplementation showed beneficial effect on general bone health under non-diseased conditions and reduced bone loss in estrogen-deficit mice. The connection between the gut and the skeleton offers the potential for novel treatment strategies. Stay tuned this is an exciting new area of research! In the meanwhile, you may want to just add a serving of yogurt each day for good measure.

Diane L. Schneider, MD is a geriatrician, epidemiologist, author, and co- founder, An experienced writer and public speaker, Dr. Schneider is frequently featured as an osteoporosis expert in numerous television and radio shows, Internet articles, magazines, newspapers, and medical publications. Dr. Schneider is author of The Complete Book of Bone Health published by Prometheus Books.

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