Because most of us have only ever seen dried dead bone we have the impression that the bones in our bodies are the same dry chalky material. Not true! Our bones are living tissue just like our organs, muscles and skin. Similarly, bones are made of cells that are regularly replaced as they get old and weak. This process, called remodeling, is carried out by two specialized types of cells.
Before new bone cells can be built, old worn out cells are torn down by cells called osteoclasts. This is similar to tearing down a building so that a new one can be built on the same site. Once the body has resorbed the old bone material, specialized cells called osteoclasts begin building new cells. But just like building any new structure, raw materials are needed. Bones are made of mineralized collagen. The osteoblast first builds a collagen matrix, similar to cartilage, and then attaches minerals on this framework to make it strong and rigid. These minerals include calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus; however, the process also requires other minerals like zinc, copper, and sodium. Since collagen is a type of protein, the osteoblast must have access to the building blocks of proteins; these are amino acids that we get from proteins in our food.
We have been marketed to believe that the single answer to strong bones is a high intake of dietary calcium either from food or supplementation. However, as you can see from the above discussion, the creation of healthy new bone cells requires many other factors other than just calcium. Further, the whole rebuilding process can be limited by a lack of any one of them, even inadequate protein. The solution is a diet with a high nutrient density, which may include supplementation of more than just calcium.
Finally, many people have also been led to believe that osteopenia and osteoporosis can be “fixed” by taking pharmaceuticals that claim to increase bone density. In reality, although these drugs can increase bone density, they do so by preventing the destruction of old, weak, bone cells. If you don’t first tear down the old building on your site, where will you build a new one? Consequently although the density might increase, the percentage of unhealthy cells in the bone increases over time, ultimately leading to a weakened bone. This can lead to the unfortunate incident of spontaneous hip fracture you may have heard about.
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