Can Osteoporosis Be Slowed Through Diet?

9 answers | Last updated: Oct 29, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Can osteoporosis be slowed through diet?

Expert Answers

Beth Reardon, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is senior food and nutrition editor and the director of integrative nutrition at Duke Integrative Medicine. As a practitioner of integrative nutrition, Reardon takes a holistic approach to wellness, recognizing that the foundation for optimal health and healing begins with a health-promoting diet. As a practitioner of integrative nutrition, Reardon takes a holistic approach to wellness, recognizing that the foundation for optimal health and healing begins with a health-promoting diet.

Yes, it can: You can't turn back the clock on bone density already lost, but it's possible to slow further losses and strengthen remaining bone. A healthy, plant-based diet is critical.

Focus on consuming more:

  • Healthy calcium. Choose low-fat milk, low-fat cheese, low-fat yogurt, sardines, salmon, green leafy vegetables (like spinach and broccoli). Aim for 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium from all sources per day.

  • Vitamin D. We know that having adequate vitamin D is important for bone health , but did you know that it helps maintain muscle strength as well? Good muscle tone is important to help avoid falls as we age. Check vitamin D levels annually (the doctor will order a simple blood test). In the meantime, look for supplements containing D3 (cholecalciferol); 1,000 to 2,000 IU's (international units) of D3 per day is the maximum recommended in supplement form, unless you're advised otherwise. Also check the label to be sure the vitamin has been extracted from sardines, herring, or other fish sources.

  • Protein. This can be a challenge for older adults who don't cook for themselves. Ideally, protein should be lean (lean beef or poultry), fish (preferably cold-water varieties, such as wild salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines), or soy-based (edamame, roasted soy nuts, soy nut butter, tofu, tempeh). Try substituting at least one or two meat meals per week with soy-based meals, or have at least one serving per day of edamame or roasted soy nuts as a snack.

  • Whole soy. Edamame, tofu, and other whole-soy sources contain an isoflavone compound that seems to have a bone-protective effect.

  • Green tea. Like soy, it contains compounds that inhibit osteoclasts (bone cells that cause bone to dissolve and be reabsorbed). Start by replacing a cup of coffee or black tea each day with a green or white tea variety; work up to two to four cups per day of green or white tea. (White tea has similar nutritional properties to green.)

Focus on consuming less:

  • Alcohol. When you do drink alcohol, choose wine. Keep in mind that one glass of wine per day for women and two glasses per day for men is the recommended upper limit. Red wine is a good source of resveratrol -- a powerful plant compound with many health benefits.

  • Animal protein. Try experimenting throughout the week with more plant proteins in place of animal protein, or try to reduce how much animal protein you eat in a given meal. Limit portion size of meats to four to six ounces.

  • Nicotine (smoking). There's a direct relationship between tobacco use and reduced bone density. Cigarette smoking exposes the entire body, including blood vessels, tissue, and bones to the damaging effects of nicotine and toxins. When blood vessels are damaged due to smoking, they're not able to supply the nutrients, including oxygen, necessary for bone health. As a result, smokers aren't only at increased risk for osteoporosis and fractures, but when fractures do occur, they heal less well due to the impaired blood flow. Adding insult to injury, smoking triggers an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which leads to bone loss through its inhibiting effects on calcitonin, the hormone responsible for bone building.

Community Answers

Suzana answered...

As an ethical vegan, I believe that eating no animal products is the way to go. I am healthier and I cause no food animals suffering. The way they are raised today in cruel cafos is unconscionable. I am 79 -don't use drugs but I do use vitamins and supplements. In my opinion drugs have too many side effects but most of all I hate the way the pharmaceuticals used animals in often cruel ways to create them. No Fosamax or Boniva for me, thank you.

Claudiajoy answered...

I have Osteoporosis probably because I am lactose intolerant and have been since adulthood. This disease is extremely painful and I found out just how painful on Memorial day in the Emergency room. My first and hopefully last time of this flair-up. The x-rays showed only "thin bones" as the doctor said but I have had the bone density test done which was how I found out about my thinning bones called Osteoporosis. I do take a Boniva pill once a month.

Though one of my adult children I learned about Soy Milk. I buy the Silk Soy Milk in the red and white container. I tried it and found out I could drink it without any side affects. I now drink two glasses every day. I'm sorry I did not know about this many years ago. I also stop eating red meat but still eat poultry as it takes time to withdraw from a lifelong habit. I hope to be off poultry by September. I do light exercising like walking. I eat dark leafy veggies such as broccoli, collards, kale and mustard greens. I love spinach and eat carrots for vitamin A. I have a Vita-Prep Mixer and make fruit and veggie smoothies. To change ones eating habits is not easy but it can be done. I do not smoke or drink. I am learning more and more each day how to stay healthy. I am 71 years young. We all have different ways of dealing with health problems. Whatever works for a person is what will get them through the problem and on to a solution. I wish everybody the best as they travel the road to better health.

Eternal optimist answered...

Is it OK to eat whole soya beans rather than soya milk? I did not like the additives in commercially available soya milk. I tried to make my own soya milk but gave up after a year as it is too cumbersome. I settled on eating whole boiled soya beans instead! Now I just wonder if it is any use or not!

Curlydeb01 answered...


Sunnysouth answered...

I would like to add that people who have thyroid disease should not eat soy. I have limited dairy and stay confused about the effect on bone health because I have read that people in countries where they do not drink milk are actually less likely to have bone loss. I have read that leafy greens help, but I am not too wild about eating them.

Houstonhome answered...

In Dr. Colin Campbell's book, The China Study, there is a graph that shows a direct correlation worldwide between dairy consumption and hip fractures. Yep, not in inverse correlation, but a correlation. That is, the more dairy consumed, the higher the incidence of hip fractures, the best indicator of osteoporosis. A comprehensive study in China involving about 6000 people proved beyond a doubt that a plant-based whole foods diet is the best diet for good health and longevity. How long will the cattle and dairy industries have a stranglehold on Americans?

Tater answered...

Wanted to add another comment regarding people with thyroid disorders and osteoporosis. People taking doses of thyroid replacement hormone in excess amounts are at heightened risk of osteoporosis. Particularly those with Hasimotos thyroiditis may be receiving "TSH suppression" doses of replacement hormones. Therefore it is essentail that peopel who are taking thyroid replacement hormone to be aware of this, talk with thier physician, and if needed, have more regular assessments of bone density than other people (not necessarily bone scans). One of my best friends has severe osteoporis at a young age, due to the dose of her thyroid medication being (perhaps) too high.

Retdet answered...

lift weights ,i raced motor cycles for years i always maintained a strengh training routine for bone density ive fallen off more times then one can count ,now in my late sixtys still in the gym and never suffered a bone break.