Coral calcium, Tums, dairy. The list of miracle compounds to increase bone density can be found easily on the Internet.
And if you read it on the Internet, it’s got to be true, right?
Just how many times has it been drilled into your brain that 3 servings of milk, cheese and yogurt per day will make your bones, teeth, nails and nasal hair stronger? Ok, so maybe you missed the nasal hair ad, but you get the point.
So, given all the hype (and BTW, yes the whole dairy = strong bones thing IS way more hype than reality), how can you piece together what’s good for bone health.
Luckily for you, on I’m a plane heading to dreary Chicago as I write this to teach a 12 hour class on the relationships between the gut, bone health and diabetes. So I couldn’t be more brushed-up on this topic.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Healthy bones are not about talking calcium supplements. This couldn’t be further from the whole story. Rather, you need to view this in the context of “bone health,” understanding that bone is not an inert tissue that we happen to attach our bones, tendons and ligaments to. Rather, bone tissue is an incredibly active tissue being affected by the health of your GI tract and, in turn, affecting your risk of diabetes. It also plays a critical role in producing immune cells, platelets and red blood cells. Do you really think calcium alone can handle this enormous task?
The list of things playing a positive or negative role in bone health are quite long, but the short list includes:
- Optimal levels of vitamin D
- Eating a plant-based diet loaded with natural calcium sources like green leafies
- Weight bearing exercise
- Avoiding drugs that affect serotonin levels (like SSRIs)
- Avoiding drugs that block acid production in the stomach (like Nexium)
The long list is enough to take up an entire eBook (which is in the development stages).
So what does all this have to do with this particular article? In it, researchers looked at the ability of a high dose of resveratrol (the protective compound found in red wine from the skin of the grapes as well as from peanut skins) to have an impact on bone density. They specifically looked at 74 middle-aged obese men who were pre-diabetic (Metabolic syndrome, or MetS) because being pre-diabetic is bad for your bones.
Here’s the details of the study:
- They were given either 1,000 mg or 150 mg of resveratrol a day or a placebo daily for 16 weeks.
- Bone alkaline phosphatase (BAP) was measured to look for how fast bone was being remodeled (higher = more bone turnover).
- BAP increased the most with the highest dose (around 4%).
- The volume of the bone in the lumbar spine increased 2.6% in the high dose group.
Before you go digging around in your “Principles of Bone Density” textbook you’ve right by your side, I can tell you can a 2.6% increase in bone volume in just 4 short months is pretty amazing. And all without breaking a single drop of sweat or drinking liquid from a cow’s udder meant to raise its young to an independent heifer.
Not quite in that same breath I can also tell you that 1,000 mg of resveratrol is a pretty high dose. It’s not that you’d have GI upset or grow a third limb; it’s just that this would be a pricey proposition to increase your bone density. This much resveratrol, from a good quality source, is likely going to run around $100 / month or more.
Of course, when compared to the cost of drugs used to treat bone density, it’s still a very cheap bet. As way of comparison, the newest drug used to treat osteoporosis, Denosumab (Xgeva), runs about $2,000 per monthly injection. Makes the resveratrol look like quite a bargain.