Can too much sugar effect bone density?

With Halloween next week, what could be more appropriate than a discussion about Bones and Candy, right?!

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The Western diet, high in protein and sugar is associated with an increase in all kinds of metabolic conditions from cardiovascular disease and Type II Diabetes Mellitus to osteopenia and osteoporosis. As a Chiropractor, bone density is a very important topic and it deserves some discussion.

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Let’s take a closer look at how our bones function in the human body. Our bones provide a framework for our muscles to hang upon. They create a safe space for our organs to live. They act as levers to allow us to move. These are all things that we have been told about before. But, did you know that your bones are actually the largest mineral reservoir in the body? From Guyton and Hall’s Textbook of Medical Physiology[1] we know the following. Our bones are constantly in flux with minerals like calcium, phosphate, and magnesium being borrowed and stored to maintain our body’s pH. 99% of the body’s calcium and over half of it’s magnesium is stored in bone.

skull-778075_1920pH refers to how acidic or alkaline the body is. We live within a tight tolerance and have several systems that make sure that this is regulated. Body fluids can push the balance one way or another within a fraction of a second, the respiratory system can make changes in minutes by changing our breathing to either eliminate or preserve CO2, and the kidneys respond slowly but are the most powerful  buffers of pH in the body. This is where we will focus.

When the body has an acidic environment, our body fluids, breathing, and kidneys work to shift it back to the middle. Our body increases the free calcium in extracellular fluid to correct the imbalance which tells the kidneys to excrete magnesium in urine. These minerals are usually sourced from our bones.

Now that we have reviewed the physiology of the pH balance system, let’s apply it to everyday life.

When we have a diet that causes our body to trend toward acidity, this buffer system is continually pulling minerals from bone. Odds are, more quickly than we can effectively store it.

Think of your bones like a bank. There is a bank balance that is your bone density. When your body needs to borrow some, it makes a withdraw. When it takes in calcium and magnesium from food, it deposits. This system works well when it is balanced. However, osteopenia and osteoporosis happen when you overdraw the account.

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Therefore, it is important to balance the budget. Reduction in sugar consumption can help to reduce the withdraws being made from your bones. Improving absorption of dietary minerals helps you to build up your account.

Guyton and Hall [1] discuss the importance of Vitamin D in the absorption of calcium. They report the following mechanisms:

  • increases intestinal calcium absorption by helping the cells to form calcium binding proteins within 2 days.
  • helps to improve phosphate absorption (another important mineral in bone).
  • helps to decrease kidney excretion of calcium and phosphate.
  • promotes bone calcification by transporting ions through cell membranes

This lets us know that appropriate Vitamin D levels are important in healthy bones. Many people in the northern hemisphere do not make or consume enough vitamin D to have adequate levels when tested in the blood. This is an important conversation to have with your primary care physician.

x-ray-223836_1920Bone density is much more complex than just the biochemistry/physiology; however, there are some tried and true methods for helping to improve your bone density:

Improve your diet. Reduce acidic foods, especially grains and sugars. Consume more green leafy vegetables.

Get your vitamin D levels evaluated.

Start participating in weight bearing exercise! Bone responds to stress. If you do not ask your bones to do work, they do not store as many minerals.

As always, please remember: This blog is intended to provide you with tools and information about the human body. Please speak with your own health care provider before making major lifestyle changes.

Below is a citation for Guyton and Hall.

[1]Guyton, Arthur C., and John E. Hall. “Textbook of Medical Physiology.” Textbook of Medical Physiology, 11th ed., Elsevier Saunders, 2007, pp. 371–985.

For additional reading on the topic, check out these links:

Why is Sugar Bad For You?

Calcium and Osteoporosis

Effect of consuming different caloric sweeteners on bone health and possible mechanisms.

Fat, Sugar, and Bone Health

 

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