Most people only think of calcium when they consider maintaining or building strong and healthy bones, but new research shows that they should be thinking of probiotics. I’ll discuss the new study, explain the significance of gut health to bone health, and include suggestions for the best ways to get more probiotics into your diet.
New research conducted at the University of Gothenburg and published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that probiotics help to prevent bone loss, particularly in older people. The placebo-controlled, double-blind study found that the probiotic strain known as Lactobacillus reuteri (or L. reuteri) was effective in cutting bone loss in half.
As we age we tend to lose bone mass, but researchers found that when women over 70 were given either a probiotic supplement or a placebo, the difference was astounding. The women who took the probiotic supplement lost half as much bone density as the women who took the placebo pills.
While probiotics may have the same protective effect against bone depletion in women of other ages and men, this study focused on older women.
Osteoporosis is a condition that is characterized by low bone mass or loss of bone mass over time. The bones lose their minerals, become porous and are vulnerable to fractures or breaks. A person is vulnerable to bone breaks or fractures, or to osteoporosis if they experience excessive bone loss. Although we tend to think of osteoporosis as a calcium deficiency disease, the reality is that adequate amounts of calcium are just part of the issue. Gut health is also an important consideration.
Few people think that gut health could possibly play a role in bone health, but an increasing amount of research does, including the latest University of Gothenburg study. But, earlier research supports the link as well.
The gut has long been known to regulate calcium absorption. Most people don’t realize that after your mouth, stomach, intestines have extracted key nutrients from the food you eat, the nutrients pass through the wall of the intestines directly into the bloodstream. If you have an unhealthy gut, then the ability to absorb nutrients like calcium, boron, magnesium and others involved with building strong bones, simply won’t make it to the blood where it can then travel to the bones.
Conversely, supporting a healthy gut can help boost the absorption of critical bone-building nutrients to help keep them strong and prevent fractures and breaks. Research published in the medical journal Osteoporosis International found that eating yogurt on a regular basis helps slow bone loss. The study results were not linked to calcium, protein or energy content of the yogurt, suggesting the probiotic cultures found in yogurt are to thank for the results.
Even if you prefer to avoid dairy-based yogurts, or have an allergy or lactose intolerance to yogurt, you can reap the benefits of plant-based yogurt, such as soy yogurt. While soy has become vilified for being heavily genetically modified, research in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that fermented soy that includes the probiotic strains L. paracasei and L. plantarum resulted in a significant increase in bone density and thickness. In this study, the results were achieved after daily intake of soy yogurt for 8 weeks. Of course, if you choose soy yogurt, choose only certified organic varieties.
While I am not aware of any other studies of the effects of plant-based yogurt, like cashew, coconut or almond, on bone health or osteoporosis, it is quite possible that they would also yield similar bone-building results.
So, go ahead and eat a high calcium diet and pop any high quality nutritional supplements you’ve chosen for bone strengthening, but work on boosting your gut health through fermented foods and the specific probiotic strains mentioned earlier to ensure the gut-bone health link has been covered too.