by Susan Brady
Most people are familiar with the inflammation that occurs when we injure a joint, cut ourselves or develop an infection. This swelling, redness, heat and pain is one of our body’s most important mechanisms to heal an injury or fight infection. This acute inflammatory process generally lasts a few days and is the body’s way of recovering naturally. However, it is also possible to develop chronic inflammation, not related to injury or infection, which causes continual low-level inflammation throughout the body. This type of inflammation can result in damage to healthy tissue leading to many diseases, including osteoporosis.
Chronic inflammation has been found to be a culprit in a wide array of health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, dementia and age-related macular degeneration. There is mounting evidence that suggests chronic systemic inflammation can also contribute to osteoporosis and increase the risk of fractures in aging adults.
Ongoing systemic inflammation may contribute to loss of bone mass and bone strength by affecting the bone remodeling process; the process where old bone is re-absorbed and new bone is laid down. Inflammation causes an increase in osteoclast activity (cells that break down bone) resulting in accelerated bone loss. Over time, this will lead to a decrease in bone mass leaving them weakened and more susceptible to breaking. Studies, including a 2013 article from the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, have linked a commonly used inflammatory marker called a C-reactive protein (CRP measured in the blood) with decreased bone strength and an increased risk of fractures in postmenopausal women.
Another commonly tested biomarker for chronic inflammation is homocysteine. Although homocysteine is produced naturally in the body, if it is not broken down properly, it can lead to oxidative stress and inflammation. High blood plasma levels of homocysteine have long been considered as a risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease and now there is emerging evidence suggesting it is also related to bone-mineral loss in post-menopausal women. Elevated homocysteine levels can impair bone mineralization, as well as disrupt osteoblast function (cells that make new bone) and increase osteoclast activity, as noted in 2010 in the European Journal of Internal Medicine.
Unlike acute inflammation which results from an injury or infection, chronic inflammation can result from daily living. Damaging lifestyle choices (smoking, excessive alcohol consumption), poor dietary habits, gastrointestinal distress, hormonal imbalances, stress, toxicity and even the aging process can all cause chronic inflammation. A recent Harvard Women’s Health Watch reported on research out of Ohio State University where they found that women following a lower inflammatory diet had less bone loss than those eating a higher-inflammatory diet.
Diets that cause inflammation include baked goods, high sugar foods, fried foods and meat. An anti-inflammatory diet is abundant in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains and fatty fish. These foods provide nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols and anti-oxidants—all known to have anti-inflammatory effects and may contribute to reducing inflammation when included in the diet. Polyphenols are compounds found in foods such as tea, cocoa, vegetables, fruit and extra-virgin olive oil which may help to control inflammation.
Antioxidant-rich foods fight cellular damage that can lead to inflammation. Colorful fruits and vegetables are known to be abundant in the three most important antioxidant nutrients: beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, flaxseeds and walnuts also play an important role in controlling inflammation. Adding foods that reduce inflammation to your daily diet and avoiding foods that contribute to systemic inflammation, you can limit the damaging effects of inflammation to your bones.
Although the mechanisms of developing osteoporosis are numerous, the adherence to an anti-inflammatory diet can help dampen the destruction that chronic systemic inflammation can have on your bones. Beyond consuming an anti-inflammatory diet, making sure you get moderate weekly exercise and practice stress reduction activities also help to put out the inflammatory flames. Combating osteoporosis truly takes a comprehensive approach.
Susan Brady, MPT, nutrition consultant and doctor of Integrative Medicine, has developed her BONES Method, a five-step approach aimed at addressing bone loss by optimizing nutrition, enhancing digestion, incorporating bone healthy lifestyle habits, learning how to exercise effectively and taking appropriate supplements.
Brady will be offering a free webinar: Living Life without Fear of Fracturing: A Holistic Approach to Building Strong, Healthy Bones, from 6:45 to 7:30 p.m. on May 7.
Add these foods to your diet to reduce inflammation:
Green leafy vegetables
Wild caught salmon or sardines
Nuts and seeds
Add these top anti-inflammatory herbs to your diet:
Avoid these pro-inflammatory foods:
Baked products that have partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
Vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, safflower and soy
Fried foods such as french fries and potato chips
Soda and high-sugar juices
Food or drink with artificial sweeteners or food additives, such as MSG and aspartame
Fatty red meat
Processed meats such as hot dogs, sausage and luncheon meats