Years ago, in the podcast episode “The One New Book That Every Healthy Grocery Shopper Should Have In Their Cart“, I interviewed Mira and Jayson Calton about their book “Rich Food, Poor Food,” which I still consider to be an essential go-to for healthy grocery shopping.
But since then, plenty has happened, including Mira's osteoporosis diagnosis. An osteoporosis diagnosis can feel like a debilitating life sentence—one that leaves you feeling stuck with a future of prescription drugs that only might keep the condition from worsening. Mira Calton, CN and Jayson Calton, PhD have discovered a better way to prevent and even reverse the disease through the power of micronutrient therapy. The secret to building strong bones lies in the right combination of micronutrients—the vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and amino acids in the foods we eat and supplements we take.
In their new book Rebuild Your Bones, the Caltons reveal how our diet, lifestyle, and even supplementation routines may be depleting these essential micronutrients, and share the 40 healing habits scientifically proven to increase bone density. They also provide an easy-to-follow plan to reverse these effects, including recipes and meal plans, exercise advice, and supplement recommendations. If you’re looking for a pharmaceutical-free way to restore your bone health, look no further—this is the definitive guide to safely and naturally stave off osteoporosis and reclaim your health.
When I read the book, one of the more intriguing sections was the “Seven Sinister S’s” that the Caltons detail in their writing. I asked them if they’d be willing to expound upon this for my readers, and they graciously agreed, so prepare yourself for a fascinating exploration of why you lose bone density and what you can do about it.
Increase Bone Density By Avoiding The Seven Sinister S’s
Picture a bucket in your mind—think of that bucket as your body. If your body is sufficient in all of your essential micronutrients, your bucket is full. When you think about your sufficiency bucket, we want you to see a bucket that is full right up to the brim with water.
However, if you are deficient in even one vitamin or mineral—one essential micronutrient—then we want you to picture the water level of the bucket going down.
The more deficient you are, the lower the water, got it? Your objective is to end each day with a full bucket so that your body has everything it needs to maintain your health. Every day that you do not accomplish this objective, your body is forced to allocate the available micronutrients to high-priority functions and leave other functions compromised in some way, opening the door to potential health issues. Seems pretty easy, right? Just fill up your bucket and *poof,* your body has everything it needs to keep you healthy. And although this is true, in an overly simplified way, keeping your bucket filled to the brim is not as easy as it sounds.
So what does this analogy have to do with strong, healthy bones?
Your bones are made of nutrients, maintained by nutrients, and respond to the levels of available nutrients. If you have been losing bone density over time, chances are you are a victim of everyday micronutrient depleters that rob you of essential micronutrients you need to maintain and rebuild your bones! Luckily, you can protect yourself from losing micronutrients so you can use them for a healthy metabolism that nurtures bone health.
Want to keep your bucket full?
Read on to learn more about our three-step plan for rebuilding bone, then dive in deep with us to learn how to reduce micronutrient depletion by avoiding the Seven Sinister S’s!
Increasing Bone Density In 3 Smart Steps
To help you meet your goal of improved bone health, we have identified three key steps to take: dietary changes, lifestyle habits, and smart supplementation.
They are all equally important on your path to success, and we will cover each of these steps in detail in Rebuild Your Bones, identifying forty healing habits along the way that will help you beat osteoporosis.
Your first step toward reaching micronutrient sufficiency and achieving healthy bone density is to switch to rich foods, which means to eat a micronutrient-rich diet based on the specific whole-food options that we call “Rich Food” (you can read our book Rich Food, Poor Food to learn more about this).
This essential first step will fill your body with the vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and amino acids it needs to function at its best. But be warned: today our food is fighting a losing battle, not only against depleted mineral levels in the soil and ever-increasing CO2 levels, but also against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), global distribution, factory farming, and food processing and cooking methods, which all further deplete the few micronutrients that are left. Even some of the “healthy” foods you love may be adding to your nutrient depletion by making it so that you can’t absorb your micronutrients. There is a lot to learn about finding Rich Foods that can help you reach sufficiency.
Although eating a rich food diet increases your micronutrient levels, everyday life contains many roadblocks that can stand in your way of achieving optimal health, and there are many ways in which you may unknowingly be causing your own micronutrient depletion.
Your second step to beating osteoporosis is to drive down depletion by being willing to address seven key lifestyle factors. Some of your everyday habits, even ones you think are healthy, may be causing you to use your vitamins and minerals faster, leaving you running low. From stress to pollution, medications to toxins, your life is filled with what we call everyday micronutrient depleters that reduce the amount of micronutrients in your body. Driving down depletion involves learning to identify these micronutrient thieves that are keeping you from thriving.
Take a good look at your life and become aware of how your lifestyle habits may be contributing to your bone loss. Unless we become aware and hold ourselves accountable for our actions, we never push ourselves to do better, and chronic disease, not limited to osteoporosis, can take hold and limit our capacity to live happy, healthy lives.
We acknowledge that most bone-building supplementation falls short of delivering the desired outcomes and in the third and final step we will help guide you toward smart supplementation for beating osteoporosis. Read Rebuild Your Bones to learn our ABCs of smart supplementation and how to avoid the four major flaws common to most supplements so you can guarantee that micronutrient sufficiency is met!
Sounds pretty simple, right?
These are the steps we took to reverse Mira’s osteoporosis. But remember—your health depends on your willingness to make these small but strategic changes in your life. And you have to be in it for the long haul; your osteoporosis did not show up overnight, and neither will any reversal or prevention.
Introducing The Seven Sinister S’s
Although reducing your toxic load is important, you are not through dealing with life’s micronutrient-depleting curveballs yet.
We will now shift our focus to the Seven Sinister S’s to uncover how stress, sleep, smoking, smog, sunscreen, smartphones, and sweat can cause micronutrient depletions that threaten your bone density.
We can't possibly dive into all of the research on the effects of these depleters on human health in this short post, but we know that if you are like us, you want to see more of the science, which we share in Rebuild Your Bones. That being said, let's introduce these everyday micronutrient depleters.
Have you ever considered whether stress may be at least partly responsible for your osteoporosis? Although studies have shown that the cumulative impact of stress has been linked to a host of chronic diseases, there has been little research until recently on the effects that stress might have on fracture rates. In a 2018 study published in the journal Menopause entitled “Anxiety Levels Predict Fracture Risk in Postmenopausal Women Assessed for Osteoporosis,” lead scientist Dr. Antonino Catalano determined that women who had the most anxiety and stress in their lives faced a noticeably higher fracture risk (four percent over a ten year period) as well as lower bone mineral density (BMD) scores, compared with women with the lowest degree of anxiety.
In the study, researchers determined that this decline in bone density was caused by three distinct factors: micronutrient depletion, hormone disruption, and poor health behaviors.
Let’s start with our dear friend micronutrient deficiency. In times of stress, certain metabolic reactions occur, and this causes certain micronutrients—like vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids—to be used up at a faster rate by the body. The water-soluble micronutrients like B vitamins and vitamin C are generally excreted at a faster rate during stress but are not stored to any great extent in the body. Because stress-induced-deficiencies can develop rather quickly, the B vitamins have come to be known as anti-stress nutrients.
While vitamins B1 and B5 help fight off stress by maintaining proper function of the stress-fighting adrenal glands, vitamins B6 and B9 help equip you to better deal with experiential stress by aiding in the formation of neurotransmitters—chemicals that are necessary for balancing emotions. Similarly, the demand for vitamin C, which assists in the formation of bone-building collagen, increases tenfold during stressful periods! And much like the B vitamins, when you quickly deplete vitamin C, you are depleting the same micronutrient that can help eliminate the stress in the first place. Similarly, stress causes all of the minerals to be used quickly, resulting in rapid depletion.
Stress further reduces micronutrients by harming your friendly gut bacteria. A reduction in the beneficial organisms in your digestive tract can lead to both digestive upset and malabsorption of the micronutrients taken in through your food.
With malabsorption and all of these depletions occurring, you can see that stress can really take its toll on your bone-building micronutrient levels. However, a 2013 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, “Effects of Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation on Stress, Mild Psychiatric Symptoms, and Mood in Nonclinical Samples: A Meta-Analysis,” concluded that individuals taking a multivitamin supplement for at least twenty-eight days enjoyed at least a 65 percent reduction in stress! So, instead of getting stressed, rest assured that micronutrient sufficiency is possible.
The second link that researchers identified between osteoporotic fractures and stress was changes in hormone levels.
When everything is fine and you’re feeling relaxed, your body will use the multitasking hormone pregnenolone to make both the sex hormone progesterone and just enough of the stress hormone cortisol. However, when you’re stressed, your body makes substantially more cortisol than progesterone. That means your progesterone comes up short when it would normally contribute to bone-forming activity by binding to receptors on osteoblasts (bone-building cells). In the Michigan Bone Health Study, premenopausal women with the lowest bone density mass had the highest rates of progesterone deficiency. So when stress levels rise, your progesterone falls, which causes decreases in bone mass.
Stress not only diminishes progesterone production but also increases cortisol levels in the bloodstream. Cortisol indirectly acts on your bones by blocking your calcium absorption, which decreases your bone cell growth. The disruption increases bone resorption and can ultimately reduce BMD. Even a short bout of elevated cortisol secretion may cause a decrease in BMD.
Furthermore, when too much cortisol is present in the body for an extended period of time, your immune system is weakened.
This causes your body to use your immune-boosting micronutrients, including your antioxidants, at a more feverish pace, reducing your natural defenses against inflammation and further compromising bone health. Luckily, certain nutrients can clobber cortisol, such as vitamin C and omega-3s!
Finally, let’s discuss the third link between stress and bone fracture rates, something the researchers called “poor health behaviors.” Dr. Catalano’s study determined that just as stress caused micronutrient depletion and hormonal changes, it also caused unhealthy habits, like making poor dietary choices for sweet and salty treats. These foods delivered fewer nutrients, caused weaker bones, and resulted in a greater number of fractures.
Making matters worse, certain deficiencies can drive further cravings. For instance, calcium and magnesium deficiency drive a craving for sweet foods. Make sure to supplement smart, and the stress, cravings, and bone loss will all be things of the past. Consider actively cultivating a daily stress-reduction routine such as meditating with a mantra or a few minutes of deep, focused breathing to cultivate success!
Sleep deprivation causes deregulation of two appetite-regulating hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Sleep deprivation leads to lower leptin (the hormone that tells you that you are full) and higher ghrelin (the hormone that tells you that you are hungry), which often stimulates hunger and appetite for poor food choices. Obviously, the advice to sleep a good eight to nine hours a night makes sense if our goal is micronutrient sufficiency.
But this advice is even more important when we look at other ways that sleep influences bone growth. During sleep, your body works to repair itself and cortisol levels decrease. Lowered levels of cortisol during sleep are beneficial—studies have shown that sleep restriction leads to old bone breaking down without as much new bone being formed. Decreased sleep duration has also been closely associated with lower BMD, especially in middle-aged and elderly women, and sleep apnea and insomnia are also associated with a much higher risk of osteoporosis.
For the ultimate guide on enhancing sleep, you can click here to read Ben’s latest big article about sleep.
Hey, there are some habits that are simply bad for you—no sugarcoating this one. Smoking cigarettes has no benefit to your health. And although you have probably heard that smoking causes osteoporosis, cancer, and accelerated aging, and wrecks your teeth and skin, you might never have considered the micronutrient-depleting aspects of cigarette smoke: rapidly depleting vitamins A, C, and E, causing oxidative damage that uses up your antioxidants, and even reducing the amount of calcium your bones can absorb!
Now that we recognize the micronutrient-depleting effects of smoking, let’s look at how it directly affects bone health as well. As we stated earlier, cigarette smoke generates huge amounts of free radicals that cause a chain reaction of damage throughout the body—including cells, organs, and hormones involved in keeping bones healthy.
The nicotine and toxins in cigarettes affect bone health from many angles. The toxins upset the balance of hormones (like estrogen) that bones need to stay strong. Smoking also triggers other bone-damaging changes, such as increased cortisol levels, which leads to bone breakdown.
Research also suggests that smoking impedes the hormone calcitonin, which helps build bone density. Furthermore, nicotine and free radicals kill osteoblasts—the bone-making cells. When you consider all of smoking’s deleterious effects on bone, it proves that it’s time to put down your pack!
Need to reverse the effects of smoking? Here are some tips from Ben:
First step: stock up for the moment you quit. When you quit smoking, your adrenal glands must adapt to the lack of nicotine and other addictive chemicals you’ve grown used to. You can support your adrenals with adaptogenic herbs, or supplements such as St. John’s Wort or ginseng.
Research has shown you can minimize the damage to your arteries by taking a taurine supplement once a day for two months. Since smoking also damages skin collagen and elastin, you should also eat a diet rich in proanthocyanidins, a phytochemical also found in red wine, grapes, apples, blueberries, blackcurrants, hazelnuts, pecans, and pistachios.
The polyphenols found naturally in kale and sprouts can also repair your lungs’ alveoli and bronchioles, so a former smoker’s diet should contain high amounts of these compounds too. When it comes to risk of smoking-related diseases such as esophageal and lung cancer or cardiovascular disease, Dr. William Li’s excellent book “Eat To Beat Disease” points out specific antioxidant-rich compounds that can lower risk of these diseases, such as black raspberries, extra virgin olive oil and even fermented forms of soy such as miso, natto and tempeh.
In addition, one study examined the effects of drinking four cups of green tea per day on the stem cells and blood vessel health of smokers, and noted a 43 percent increase in endothelial stem cells over two weeks, along with a 29 percent increase in vascular function.
Other dietary strategies that can help to reverse the effects of smoking include consuming:
- Foods high in vitamin E, like eggs, nuts and dark leafy greens
- Foods high in CoQ10, like salmon, beef, broccoli and avocado
- Vitamin-C rich foods that contain high amounts of bioflavonoids, like grapefruit, spinach, and citrus fruits (especially kiwi)
- Vitamin-B complex-containing foods, like dark leafy greens, eggs, fish and liver
- A full spectrum multivitamin rich in antioxidants
The polluted air you inhale—which can be caused by high ozone levels, smog, and car exhaust—is also acting as an oxidant. Luckily, the surface of the lungs is covered with a thin layer of fluid containing a range of antioxidants that appear to provide the first line of defense against pollutants. Studies show that supplementation of antioxidants, as well as vitamins B6, B9, and B12, helps prevent damage from air pollution, and the EPA suggests antioxidant supplementation for those living in large, polluted cities.
Beyond the effect that smog has on your micronutrient levels, it also has a direct effect on your bones by reducing levels of parathyroid hormone, which strengthens bone density by boosting calcium levels. A recent study of 9.2 million Medicare enrollees between 2003 to 2010 in the United States published in The Lancet Planetary Health, “Association of Air Particulate Pollution with Bone Loss Over Time and Bone Fracture Risk: Analysis of Data from Two Independent Studies,” determined that exposure to higher levels of PM2.5 (fine particles that can come from power plants, motor vehicles, airplanes, and agricultural burning) and black carbon (which is a component of air pollution from automotive emissions) caused lower levels of parathyroid hormone. Even a small increase in the concentration of tiny particulates contained in vehicle exhaust and other smoke can reduce a bone’s density, making it more likely to break.
Obviously, if smog is a factor in your life then we aren’t going to suggest that you move to a new city while you are rebuilding your bone density. However, because your environment is not going to change, you need to recognize the inevitable micronutrient depletion and bone-hindering effects that your habitat invokes. You might want to consider purchasing a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter for your urban home, which can capture ultrafine particles, or check the air quality forecast in your area on days when you know you’ll be spending a lot of time outside.
For more tips on combating air pollution, read this article “The Big Problem With Gyms, Why You Need to Exercise Outdoors & What To Do About Air Pollution.” from Ben.
You have likely been conditioned to believe that it’s essential to use gobs of sunscreen to keep you from burning up in the sun and developing skin cancer. We’ve all heard the risks of getting too much sun. An estimated 9,320 people will be found to have died of melanoma in 2018, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, with every year bringing in more new cases of skin cancer than the combined diagnoses of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, and colon.
Obviously, there is definite cause for concern when it comes to stepping out into the sun, which is why our first instinct is to hide away in the shade and cover ourselves from head to toe in sunscreen. But in doing so, we actually rob ourselves of vitamin D, an essential micronutrient that we just cannot afford to lose.
Vitamin D reduces the risk of osteoporosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis, supports our immune system, acts as an anti-inflammatory, and has been scientifically linked to maintaining a healthy body weight. We could actually give osteoporosis the upper hand if we decide to stay out of the sun completely— and thanks to our modern lifestyles, many of us do.
After getting direct exposure to sunlight, your body will naturally generate ample amounts of bioavailable Vitamin D (calciferol), which is great if you happen to be outside. But we usually aren’t, and almost no one in the United States consumes enough vitamin D from food to meet his or her needs. And the scariest part is the effects that start to unfold in the wake of this micronutrient deficiency.
Remember, vitamin D is essential in the complex interplay between magnesium, calcium, and your bones. So if bone growth is your goal, then depleting your body of sunshine should be avoided, but burning isn’t the answer, either. So be smart about your time in the sun and follow these three rules.
- Load up on these superheroes, your antioxidants, that act as your natural sunscreen, such as beta carotene-rich orange and dark green vegetables.
- Allow your skin to be exposed to the sun (vitamin D time!), but stop or apply sunscreen before burning.
- Finally, choose a safe, healthy mineral sunscreen such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide so you don’t add to your toxic load. (You can learn more about these on our website!) Now get outside, get some sunshine, and build that bone density!
To learn more about how to harness the many benefits of sunlight, check out this latest podcast with Ben Greenfield and Matt Maruca.
While the invention of the cell phone has made our lives a bit easier, where your bones are concerned, it has also made things worse. Whether you love them or hate them, cell phones emit potentially harmful electromagnetic fields (EMFs), which are areas of energy that surround electronic devices. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), EMFs affect us because our bodies have their own electric and biochemical responses (e.g., nervous system, digestion, brain function, heart function).
Possible side effects include disrupted sleep patterns and changes in DNA. These days, most people cannot function without their cell phone, so understanding how cell phones affect our micronutrient levels and our bones is essential.
Many studies indicate that your intracellular calcium (calcium in the cells) increases with exposure to EMFs. The problem here is that when intracellular calcium is elevated, so are your levels of free radicals—molecules that attack and overwhelm the body’s natural defenses, causing cellular damage. Antioxidants, like vitamins A, vitamin C, and vitamin E, alpha-lipoic acid, and selenium, are extremely important because they help reduce cellular damage. Keep in mind that these antioxidants will be depleted more quickly because they are used in the fight against your cell phone rather than for bone-building tasks.
Also, being sufficient in magnesium has been shown to be extremely important in counteracting EMFs. This is because studies have revealed that high magnesium levels can block the elevated intracellular calcium, thus reducing the EMF-induced creation of free radicals.
You may be surprised to learn that keeping your smartphone in your pocket on one side may modestly accelerate hip and pelvic bone loss on that side. We aren’t going to ask you to give up your smartphone, don’t worry—we aren’t about to give up ours either. We will, however, make the point that sufficiency in antioxidants and magnesium will help you curtail any side effects caused by your cell phone. Try to keep your phone out of your pockets and in a purse or drawer across the room whenever possible.
For more tips, listen to Ben’s big EMF/smartphone podcast with Nick Pineault, author of The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs: How to Fix Our Stupid Use of Technology
The faster and harder you work out, the more micronutrients you lose through sweat. Yes, electrolytes are essential minerals! Because these micronutrients play key roles in energy metabolism, their utilization rate may be increased by up to 20 to 100 times the resting rate during intense physical activity. For example, those exerting themselves for over six hours a week need to be cautious of iron-deficiency anemia.
Are you a cardio king or queen?
As an individual perspires, calcium is released, but the body leaches calcium from the bone to replace it. This means that as you increase intensity, you could be causing your own bones to weaken because of the large amount of calcium that escapes via your sweat. The great news is that findings presented at the 2013 meeting of the Endocrine Society found that fitness enthusiasts may be able to offset some of this bone loss by simply supplementing with calcium.
Zinc and magnesium can also be depleted through strenuous exercise. USDA research shows that marginal magnesium deficiency can both impair exercise performance and amplify the oxidative stress that exercise can cause. Antioxidants—like vitamins A, vitamin C, and vitamin E, alpha-lipoic acid, and selenium—are extremely important for individuals who choose to sweat at the gym because they are fabulous free-radical scavengers and can help reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress and cellular damage. Reduced oxidative stress not only results in a lower likelihood of bone loss but also shortens recovery time and improves athletic performance.
Don’t be misled. Although exercise is an everyday micronutrient depleter, draining you of a wide variety of essential vitamins and minerals, we are in no way saying that it should be avoided. Where bone building is concerned, exercise is absolutely essential. In fact, individuals who don’t exercise, or don’t do the correct form of exercise, will have a much harder time improving their bone density.
Although you might feel like bed rest is the safest thing for your diminished bone density, the exact opposite is true. In fact, after only one week of complete bed rest, your muscle strength can decrease as much as 20 to 30 percent, and bone loss can be seen in as little as 3 weeks. Even with adequate calcium and protein intakes, your body can’t build bone without weight-bearing activity.
Exercises such as running, jumping, and weight lifting put stress on the bones, and this stress stimulates bone building. The weight that you put on your bones compresses the bone matrix, telling the matrix to gather more essential minerals in order to increase bone density. The amount of weight or “load” that is required for bone building is called osteogenic load, and inducing osteogenic load has been shown to be an extremely effective tool against osteoporosis. A 2015 study, “Axial Bone Osteogenic Loading-Type Resistance Therapy Showing BMD and Functional Bone Performance Musculoskeletal Adaptation Over 24 Weeks with Postmenopausal Female Subjects,” published in the Journal of Osteoporosis and Physical Activity found that when women with osteoporosis or low BMD did osteogenic loading for only twenty-four weeks, they were able to increase BMD by nearly 15 percent in the hip and nearly 17 percent in the spine. It is so effective that in the spring of 2015, the World Congress on Osteoporosis announced its official recommendation of osteogenic loading as a viable, drug-free method of treating osteoporosis.
So should you start jumping rope right away? Maybe not—it all depends on what’s safe for your stage of osteoporosis and your fitness level.
Driving down depletion is just one step toward healthier bones
You may have noticed a theme to the Seven Sinister S’s. Not only do they all deplete essential micronutrients, but they have their roots in everyday lifestyle choices that we can change right now.
If you were a thoughtful parent, you might already work to curb lifestyle habits in your child like staying up all night, constantly worrying, smoking, excessive use of technology, and even spending time in less polluted places in nature.
Why wouldn't you do that for yourself?
Whether you are becoming more aware to improve your overall metabolism or to join us on a journey to Rebuild Your Bones, we know that just changing your exposure to one of these seven depleters will change your life for the better—today!
Do you have questions, comments or feedback for Jayson, Mira or Ben? Leave your thoughts below and one of us will reply. And be sure to grab the Caltons' new book, which takes an even deeper dive into beating osteoporosis and building bone density fast.