Bones – Why I love them
It has dawned on me that bones are awesome.
Seriously! They amaze me.
All of the fake bones we see around Halloween and on TV crime shows, the skeletons in museums, or even the real ones I’ve seen and touched in food or my biomedical university labs just don’t cut it.
They give the impression that bones are simply hard structures, in cool and unusual shapes, that help prop us up from being a blob of skin and organs on the ground.
This is NOT true!
Bones are alive, they constantly rebuild themselves, and they are way more than just storage of our body’s calcium.
Bones are alive, constantly rebuilding themselves, and are WAY more than just calcium storage. #bones #calcium Click To Tweet
I’ve spoken about the “amazingness” of the entire skeletal system on the blog, but for now, I want you to know why they’ve got my attention more than even the “blow my mind” functionality of the liver (which is why I studied the liver for my Master’s degree – the liver’s abilities blew my mind in university, and I still think it’s one of the most amazing organs).
Why I love bones
1. My daughter’s broken bone
A few years ago (Father’s day weekend 2015) my then 6 year-old daughter, who is an avid climber and has a membership at the local climbing gym, fell out of our maple tree and broke her humerus (above the elbow).
The amazing thing is that after months of x-rays, a cast, surgery to implant temporary pins, pin removal, and more x-rays – her bone is normal!
From the last x-rays, the orthopedic surgeon can’t even tell exactly where the fracture happened!
Her bone is straight, healthy and strong. She is good as new!
How can that amazing ability to heal happen to a lifeless chalk-like structure?
I’ll tell you – it’s because it can’t.
Lifeless chalk-like structures don't heal - Bones can! #bones #heal #physiology #alive #fracture #skeletal Click To Tweet
Bones are alive. Bones are constantly rebuilding and remodeling themselves. They are strong, but can break; and as with many “broken” body parts, they have the innate ability to heal themselves if you give them what they need.
And while that may mean immobilization (along with x-rays and pain meds, etc.), that also means nutrients!
As a nutritionist, this speaks to me.
2. Bones need proper nutrition
You can end up with low bone density if you do not supply your body with a nutrient-dense diet, and absorb and use the nutrients they need.
Malabsorption of nutrients is definitely a risk factor for osteoporosis.(1)
And this is beyond just calcium. Your bones need a variety of minerals (magnesium, phosphorus, boron, etc.).
Your bones need vitamins too. You probably know that vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, but it’s not the only critical vitamin for bones. In fact, vitamin C is required for your body to produce collagen that forms the bone matrix to which the minerals are added for strength.
Some people say that osteoporosis is “scurvy of the bones” (but I’ll get into that in another blog post).
And these are just a couple of examples of the complex nutrition bones need.
3. Bones need exercise
Even though I have a Master’s degree in Biomedical Toxicology and Nutritional Science; I eventually decided to go back to school to study Holistic Nutrition.
In learning how to look at a person’s health holistically, I learned to incorporate not just nutrients, but lifestyle factors.
Factors such as the effects of stress, sleep, and exercise, for example.
And of course, these things all affect your bones too.
Exercise is now well-known to contribute to better bone density. In 1971 we first discovered that exercise, specifically “weight bearing” exercise, is what triggers your bones to increase their density.(2)
We also know that astronauts lose a lot of their bone density because they are subject to microgravity, and so those bones are not being “tugged on” by muscles to maintain balance here on earth.(3)
4. Osteoporosis is in my family – my grandma
My paternal grandmother lived with osteoporosis for years. Her back slouched (kyphosis) more and more over the years, and I remember her showing me the medication she took for her bones.
She still remained fairly active well into old age (she died at the age of 92, not from osteoporosis or complications of it).
I remember her grabbing me to run to catch the Toronto subway (TTC) well after retiring. Even after that, she was in a seniors’ bowling league, and took Tai Chi lessons.
But then one day at Easter she was at our house having dinner, dropped her napkin on the floor, reached down to get it and slipped off her chair. Right afterwards, her hip was in pain, but she could walk with assistance. I thought to myself that she’s probably not broken because she only fell from chair height.
Well, my uncle took her to the hospital and she had broken her hip.
Wow – the fact that a bone could break from a fall at chair height blew my mind!
5. Osteoporosis is in my family – my aunt
Memories come back to you when you start thinking about things.
I remember back when I was a kid, we used to go tobogganing down snowy hills in the winter.
We had a big toboggan, it could fit both my sisters and I, plus two adults. And it was really fun to feel the adrenaline rush of going so fast down a snowy hill.
One day we were at the hill by the Keele Street subway station in Toronto. My mom didn’t want to go (she did other non-sporty stuff with us), so my dad invited his sister.
We had fun on the smaller hill, but the three of us girls kept watching the bigger kids go down the higher, steeper hill on the other side of the small park.
We kept asking if we could go down that bigger hill.
Eventually, my dad let us.
So, the 5 of us piled on to the toboggan (adults in the back) and we went down.
If you know toboggans, it’s not that easy to steer them. Ours slightly changed direction and we ended up going over a bump. We got slightly airborne and our butts landed back on the toboggan with some force.
Us kids and my dad were a bit sore, but my aunt was in serious pain.
She was a nurse and told us she needed to lay down flat on the toboggan. We called an ambulance and she went to St. Mike’s hospital.
After x-rays, her diagnosis was a shattered L1 (lower back).
I remember visiting her at the hospital later that day, but even weeks later she was using a walker to walk.
She didn’t know she had osteoporosis until breaking her back tobogganing with her 3 nieces that day.
She eventually healed and could walk again and returned to nursing (thank goodness!).
6. I’m at risk
There are several risk factors for osteoporosis(4,5), and I have lots of them.
Not only is it clearly in my family, but am I a small-framed woman who has never been terribly athletic.
Also, I’m now in my 40s which means my hormones might start changing in the next 10 years or so, which puts me at even higher risk.
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