The bones are the foundation for our sexy shape. Without them, we would be just a blob. Today, we will learn tips for building beautiful bones.
In 2011, I experienced an accident that broke both of my legs. Faced with the possibility that I might never walk again, I set out on a journey to learn as much as I could about how to heal broken bones as fast as possible.
It was difficult to find a doctor who was a comprehensive bone guru. My primary care doctor advised me to "take calcium and Vitamin D," and that was it. One doctor said, "I wish there was something more I could do for you. Here is a prescription for a wheelchair."
It feels like a miracle that I am now back to walking, hiking, and even dancing. It took a near-singular focus on health. It was the most brutal experience of my life. If I can help others heal their broken bones faster as a result, then it will have been all worthwhile.
If you have a broken bone, stress fracture, or stress reaction, here are my tips for how to heal bones more quickly. If you have thin bones in general, then these tips can help you build stronger bones for life.
Hack Your Bones For Healing
Calcium: Take a bioavailable source of calcium daily such as Bone Restore with Vitamin K2 from Life Extension or Solaray Cal-Mag Citrate plus D3 & K2 with both breakfast and dinner. This supplement contains calcium plus all of the cofactors needed for absorption including vitamin K2, magnesium, and vitamin D3. This enables the mineralization of your bone collagen matrix. This product also contains other important minerals for the bones such as zinc, manganese, and boron. You can also take water-soluble Calcium Citrate or Calcium Citrate Malate and then add in the vitamin K2, magnesium, and vitamin D3 yourself at the same time.
Not all calcium supplements are created equal. In fact, most calcium pills are not absorbed well because they are missing essential cofactors like vitamin K2 and magnesium. This is a reason why calcium can end up in the wrong place, such as in the arteries or in kidney stones. If a person is low in vitamin K2 for example, calcium may deposit in tissues other than bone. Calcium in hard tablet forms like calcium carbonate, oyster shell, or coral calcium are often not absorbed well. Water-soluble forms like calcium citrate and calcium citrate malate have been shown to have higher absorption rates. Taking a highly-bioavailable calcium capsule with vitamin K2, magnesium, and vitamin D3 with a meal makes all the difference.
Always take your calcium with a small amount of fat like coconut oil because vitamins K and D are fat-soluble. Note that your body can only absorb 500 mg of calcium at once. Do not take more than this at one time.
It is very important not to take too much calcium in general! Add up all of your calcium throughout the day from foods, drinks and supplements and aim not to exceed 1,000 mg - 1,200 mg. If you take too much calcium, it can end up in the wrong place. Also, calcium and iron compete for absorption so try to take them at different times. Capsules are preferred over tablets.
Magnesium: Take 1 capsule with your calcium for added absorption and to prevent muscles from cramping. My favorites are magnesium glycinate, asporotate, and citrate. Try to avoid magnesium oxide, which is the cheapest form of magnesium.
Vitamin K2: I really started noticing a difference in my bone healing when I added an additional Vitamin K2 capsule to my calcium at night in the form of Jarrow Formulas MK-7.
Silica: Take 1 serving of silica daily. Silica aids in the flexibility of your bone collagen matrix. Biotin can also be helpful.
Vitamin C: Take vitamin C daily in the form of calcium ascorbate, a buffered non-acidic form of vitamin C. For an extra boost, add in quercetin or bioflavonoids. Quercetin has been shown to increase bone formation (1). Combine vitamin C with complete protein to help build the collagen matrix of your bones.
Alkaline pH: Staying alkaline in the pH range of 6.8 – 7.3 provides a healing environment for your bones and your body. Strive to balance acidic foods with alkaline ones. Acidic foods/drinks and sugar can cause bones to break down over time if not buffered by alkaline sources such as greens, green juice, avocados, sweet potatoes, or bananas. Avoid highly acidic drinks like colas, diet sodas, coffee, black tea, cranberry juice, and alcohol. Potassium is your new best friend. Green tea is a great alkaline alternative for caffeine.
Sodas including diet cola have an extremely acidic pH of 2.5. You would have to drink 32 glasses of alkaline water to bring your pH back to a neutral 7.0, and who can do that? So your body leaches calcium and other alkaline minerals out of your bones to rebalance your pH and stay alive. Hence, bone breakdown.
You can test your pH level throughout the day with pH test strips. A great supplement to help keep the body alkaline is pH Basic by Enzymedica.
One of my favorite books is called "The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide - A Quick Reference to Foods & Their Effect on pH Levels". It is a fabulous pocket guide where you can look up your favorite foods, see if they are acid or alkaline, and formulate an action plan.
Whey Protein Powder + Greens Shake: There is evidence that whey protein stimulates bone-building osteoblast cells. If you are not allergic to dairy, try making a delicious whey protein shake with greens. If you are sensitive to whey, you can try a shake with pea protein + rice protein and greens. You can also take amino acids or collagen supplements on an empty stomach in the morning and wait 20 minutes before eating to help build collagen and prevent muscle wasting.
Bone Broth & Bone Foods: Bone broth is an amazing healer packed with collagen and trace minerals to help bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons recover. Roasted bone marrow is another healing option. Great bone-building foods include canned salmon with bones, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, broccoli, canned sardines with bones, nuts, seaweed, and plain yogurt. Taking a multivitamin is a good insurance policy and complement to eating wholesome food daily.
Complete Protein: The optimal meal for bone repair consists of complete protein + vitamin C + alkaline support. Complete protein contains all 9 essential amino acids and is critical for building your underlying bone collagen matrix in which the mineralization then takes place. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, please make sure that you are having complete protein, not incomplete. Sources of complete protein are meat, fish, eggs, dairy, quinoa, soy, buckwheat, hemp, chia seeds, spirulina, and moringa. You can combine incomplete proteins like the most famous duo, rice and beans, to obtain all of the essential amino acids. Please note that eating almonds or drinking almond milk is not enough to build bone. Getting enough protein throughout the day is one of the most important things you can do to speed bone healing.
Digestive Enzymes: Take digestive enzymes with your meals and supplements to ensure nutrient absorption if you feel you might have digestion challenges. Treat digestive issues very seriously. If you experience bloating and abdominal pain on a regular basis, seek to discover what you are allergic to and eliminate it. Dairy is a frequent culprit. If you have taken antibiotics many times in your lifetime, then you can also try probiotics (the refrigerated kind) to reseed your microbiome. Peppermint gels have been shown to be very effective in soothing the stomach.
Hyaluronic Acid & Omegas 3-6-9: These are both very helpful for the bones and joints, and it is recommended to take them both daily. Please try to avoid gimmicks like krill oil, which is detrimental to the ocean.
Pain Relief: Steer clear of Advil and other NSAIDs for the first 2 weeks of any broken bone as the bone actually needs to go through the inflammation phase to heal. Combine herbs proven to relieve pain including cloves, ginger, rosemary, turmeric (curcumin with black pepper), boswellia, tart cherry, cat's claw, devil's claw, and arnica montana. Taking two of these herbal remedies together can amplify the pain relief, and combining with omega 3s amplifies the effect further. Ice is excellent for reducing acute soft tissue swelling.
Bone Density Test: You can take a bone mineral density DXA (dual emission X-ray absorptiometry) test to understand how healthy your bones are overall. It is painless, and they will measure the bone mineral density of your hip and spine.
In your DXA test, you will receive a T score that compares you to a healthy 30-year-old and a Z score that compares you to someone your own age. A T score between −1 and −2.5 indicates that you have low bone mass or osteopenia. A T score of −2.5 or lower indicates that you have osteoporosis, which literally means "porous bone." The goal is obviously to prevent osteoporosis by building and keeping healthy bones for life.
A DXA bone test can provide an important clue to your bone healing situation. At some locations, you can now ask for a Trabecular Bone Score (TBS) as well which measures the quality of your bone, not just the quantity. Ask your doctor about this advance.
Remarkably, there is a new service called BodySpec that offers a DXA scan in a mobile truck for a very affordable price. In my experience, their spine reading is almost exactly the same as the reading from the DXA machines in the hospitals. The BodySpec pelvis reading overstated the bone density of the critical "femoral neck of the hip" area because it is aggregating the entire pelvis and not just isolating the hip. It can be useful to get a BodySpec scan every year so you can see whether you are building or losing bone on a relative basis.
Forteo & More: For stress fractures or bones that are slow to heal, the prescription Forteo can be a lifesaver. It is parathyroid hormone, and it speeds up the entire bone remodeling process. Maximum bone building occurs while you are sleeping when melatonin is high, so you can take Forteo at night to potentially maximize its effect. Taking melatonin before bed has been shown to help increase bone density (2). A prescription bone stimulator like EXOGEN can also be valuable. They are used by many professional athletes to speed up bone healing.
Beware of Fosamax: If you get a bone density test and it shows osteopenia or osteoporosis, then your doctor might be tempted to prescribe the drug Fosamax or another bisphosphonate. Two popular versions are called alendronate and Prolia. These drugs stop the bone turnover process, often by suppressing osteoclasts. This can be beneficial in the short term because it stops bone from breaking down, but it also stops new healthy bone from growing. Long term, bisphosphonates can be dangerous because you are left with old brittle bone that can break easily. That is why after 5-7 years of being on bisphosphonates, some patients have experienced spontaneous fractures in their thigh bone after Fosamax (3) and now in 2017, in the spine after Prolia (4). Bisphosphonates are also not recommended for patients who might need dental work or implants because once a tooth is extracted, you can get osteonecrosis of the jaw where the jaw bone fails to heal. In contrast, Forteo is a prescription hormone (not a drug) that increases bone turnover and can lead to impressive bone density improvements.
On a side note, beware of Prenisdone and other steroid medicines which can lead to rapid bone breakdown. See “Medicines that may cause bone loss”.
Exercise: Bones grow in response to weight-bearing exercise. Where there is a strong muscle, there is likely to be a strong bone. This is obviously challenging to do when you have broken bones or any mobility challenge, but it bears keeping in mind for the future. Swimming, although not weight-bearing, is a wonderful way to get the heart pumping and stimulate human growth hormone (a healing powerhouse) if you are temporarily mobility-constrained.
Stress Reaction | Stress Fracture | Bone Bruise
If you have a stress reaction or bone bruise, please be very careful. This is the beginning of a stress fracture, which is the beginning of a broken bone. This can be a sign that you are overdoing your sport and need to increase rest time. Some doctors cannot even recognize a stress reaction on an MRI. It looks like a white area in a place where the bone should be darker or black. A stress reaction could signal that your underlying bone quantity or quality is compromised and that you may have osteopenia or osteoporosis. A DXA bone test would be a good next step.
Standing desks are potentially dangerous for people with thin bones. The body is not meant to stand in one place for hours on end, especially on a hard surface like concrete. Just like too much sitting is unhealthy, too much standing in one place is hard on the leg bones. A treadmill desk or adjustable sitting/standing desk would be recommended over a pure standing desk.
Hormones & Peak Bone Density: Hormones (estrogen and progesterone for women -- testosterone for men) are essential for bone growth. Have your hormones tested if you suspect a deficiency. Ironically, the pill can shut down hormones after long periods of time. Prescription bioidentical hormones in cream form can help to boost levels. Amenorrhea is a very serious condition for female athletes. If you are a woman and you don’t have a monthly cycle, then your bones are suffering. You reach your peak bone density for life around age 25, and then you have to keep what you have. As we will discuss below, the early years are critical.
The first 5 years after menopause are a very dangerous time for bones. A woman can lose up to 1/3 of her bone density due to the drop in estrogen. Taking compounded bioidentical hormones during this time can help to mitigate bone loss.
A Message to Young Female Athletes: The Time to Build Bones is Now
Osteoporosis is Preventable
Based on my research and personal experience with bone transformation, I have come to the conclusion that almost all cases of osteoporosis can be prevented. The hunched over elderly women and men with curved spines are not a foregone conclusion. These are actually stress fractures in the spine. The broken hip that can lead to deterioration and death is not inevitable. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Most health insurance policies encourage people to start getting bone density tests at age 65, but by then, it can be too late. The time to start building bones is now.
According to the Osteoporosis Foundation, one in two women over the age of 50 will break a bone in her lifetime from osteoporosis. Men are sadly not exempt. Worldwide approximately one in five men over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. This is completely unacceptable and shows a failure to focus on bones early enough in life. We can stop the epidemic of osteoporosis. We must empower all people with the information they need to build and keep strong bones.
Osteoporosis can be prevented if you start early enough in life
Bones are miraculous. They are not static and are in fact quite dynamic. Right now, osteoclasts are eating away at your old and damaged bone. Osteoblasts are building new bone. People can get in trouble because there is a lag time between when osteoclasts clean up and osteoblasts rebuild. Hence, you can end up with a net bone deficit which adds up over time. If you hack your bones and give them what they need, they will grow.
The good news is that the tips we used to heal broken bones quickly can be used to build strong bones for life.
Your bones are constantly surveying the landscape to determine whether to grow or break down. How acid or alkaline are you? How much collagen can they make from the protein, vitamin C, and other nutrients you consumed? Do they have enough bioavailable calcium to work with? Is there enough magnesium and vitamin K to actually chaperone the calcium into the bones? How are your hormone levels? You can turn your bone situation around starting today.
Bones need frequent nutrition to grow and be healthy. If you are starving, then your bones are starving too. If you see someone who is far too skinny, then their bones could be suffering under the surface. Remember -- healthy fats don’t make you fat -- carbohydrates and sugar do!
Peak Bone Density at Age 25
People rarely talk about bones when we are growing up. This is a serious omission, especially for young female athletes like ballet dancers, gymnasts, track and field stars, and anyone under weight pressure. The most critical time to build bone begins in childhood and ends around age 25. If you haven’t built beautiful bones by age 25 and reached a high Peak Bone Density, then you will likely be bone-challenged for life. This means when you get older, you can run the risk of breaking bones easily by doing simple things. And you don’t want to experience this! Through the simple steps outlined above, you can build strong, healthy bones now and keep dancing through life.
Many female athletes are not building enough bone, and yet they don’t know it. This has been a silent epidemic for decades. Let’s shine a light on this situation and help people build the most gorgeous bones around.
Who is at risk for un-sexy and precarious bones?
If you answer Yes to any of the questions below, then you may be at risk:
- I am an extreme athlete such as a dancer or gymnast
- I do not have a regular monthly cycle (No. 1 risk factor)
- I limit my fat calories to near-zero and stay as thin as possible
- I don’t take calcium pills with vitamin K, vitamin D and magnesium daily
- I might be anorexic or bulimic
- I sometimes eat frozen yogurt for my meal
- I drink soda or diet soda often instead of water
- I drink alcohol or smoke
- I am petite naturally
If one or more of these statements describes you, then you could be at risk for thin bones, but please do not despair. Through a few easy actions, you can build good-looking bones that will sustain you for life, and you don’t need to get fat to do it. But time is of the essence. You must start increasing your bone mass now or else you could end up with porous bones ("osteoporosis") by the time you reach 30 and beyond. So let’s bone up on bones, and get started. Proceed back to the top of this article, and start doing the bone-healing tips daily.
Bones are incredible living systems, and they will respond positively. Don't give up, and let us know how you are doing!
Doctors & Great Sites:
Kenneth Akizuki, MD, San Francisco
Elaine Lambert, MD, SOAR Medical, SF Bay Area
Joseph M. Lane, MD at Weill Cornell Medical College and Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Lane is renowned for his cutting-edge research and advanced orthopedic procedures that treat fractures and metabolic bone disease.
"Better Bones, Better Body" by Susan Brown, Ph.D.
Instagram @healthy_ballerina by Alexandra Pullen
1. Quercetin Study: J Orthop Res. 2008 Aug;26(8):1061-6. doi: 10.1002/jor.20638. A total of 556% more new bone was present in defects grafted with quercetin in a collagen matrix than those grafted with a collagen matrix alone. See the full study here
2. Melatonin Study: J Pineal Res. 2015 Jun 3. doi: 10.1111/jpi.12252. Melatonin improves bone mineral density (BMD) at the femoral neck in post-menopausal women with osteopenia: A randomized controlled trial. See the full study here
3. Bisphosphonates & Femur Fractures: Geriatrics. 2009 Jan;64(1):18-23. Schneider JP1. Bisphosphonates and low-impact femoral fractures: current evidence on alendronate-fracture risk.
"Several recent medical articles have described multiple cases of unusual low-impact subtrochanteric stress fractures or completed fractures of the femur in patients who have been on the bisphosphonate alendronate for several years for osteoporosis or osteopenia. Some patients have experienced such fractures in both femurs. The fractures are often preceded by pain in the affected thigh, may have a typical x-ray appearance, and many have delayed healing. It has been hypothesized that in some patients, long-term alendronate causes oversuppression of bone turnover, resulting in bones that are brittle despite improved bone density. In patients with atypical or low-impact fractures of the femoral shaft, consider the possible connection with alendronate use. Some bone specialists now recommend stopping alendronate in most patients after 5 years."
Low-energy femoral shaft fractures associated with alendronate use:
Journal Orthop Trauma. 2008 May-Jun;22(5):346-50. doi: 10.1097/BOT.0b013e318172841c. Neviaser AS1, Lane JM, Lenart BA, Edobor-Osula F, Lorich DG. "Increasing evidence suggests long-term alendronate use may overly suppress bone metabolism, limiting repair of microdamage and creating risk for insufficiency fractures."
4. Denosumab [Prolia] in clinical practice : beware before, during and after, April 19, 2017.
Please note that while I earned degrees from Stanford University and Harvard University, I am not a medical doctor. These were my findings and experience which led to my personal recovery.
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