In this article:
- Understanding Bone Health
- Gut Microbes Regulate the Availability of Nutrients Important for Bone Health
- Probiotics can increase your bone mass, density and development
- Antibiotics may affect your bone marrow
- Your gut affects your immune system
- One yogurt a day keeps the [bone] doctor away
Could there be a gut-bone axis, too?
Science tells us that the delicate balance of microorganisms in your digestive tract influence an almost alarming number of bodily systems; affect your risk for chronic disease; and alter your mood, sleep, and overall well-being.
Scientists discover new links between the microbiome and health every year — one of those newer links is bone health.
Understanding Bone Health
You might wonder why bone health matters — out of sight, out of mind, right?
Your bones protect your brain, heart and other organs from injury; they allow you to move and play; they support your muscles; and they store important minerals throughout your body.
Your bones constantly remodel themselves by removing mature bone tissue in a process called resorption and forming new bone tissue in a process called ossification. This constant remodeling helps to reshape your bones after injuries, such as bone fractures, and responds to new stimuli, such as the mechanical load your bones experience when you start a new exercise regimen.
When your bones can’t complete resorption and ossification, you risk developing painful and degenerative bone diseases, like arthritis and osteoporosis.
You can keep your bones as healthy as possible in a number of ways. You should eat foods rich in vitamin D and calcium, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and refrain from smoking to support your skeleton.
There’s another possibility you may not have considered yet: take care of your gut microbiome.
Gut Microbes Regulate the Availability of Nutrients Important for Bone Health
To remain strong, healthy, and free of fractures, your bones require ample calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, and vitamins K, A, and D. Newer research also suggests your bones need many of the B vitamins, along with vitamin C for optimal strength and health.
Your digestive tract is primarily responsible for absorbing the nutrients in the food you eat, and an imbalanced gut affects the way your body absorbs and utilizes those nutrients. Digestive bacteria and enzymes break down your food into molecules that fuel your body via your bloodstream.
Picture it this way:
- You eat a meal.
- The food travels into your stomach, and then to your small intestine.
- The microorganisms in your stomach and small intestine feast on the food, taking some for themselves and turning the rest into particles that the rest of your body needs.
- Your microbes send the particles into your bloodstream and they travel to whatever part of your body needs them — in this case, your bones.
Of course, that’s not everything that goes into the breakdown and absorption of nutrients, but you get the idea. If your gut doesn’t contain enough helpers (or if it contains too many bad guys), your bones won’t get the nutrients it needs.
Here are four big ways the trillions of microbes in your gut influence the structure and integrity of your skeleton.
1. Probiotics can increase your bone mass, density and development
Now you know that not enough good bacteria — or too many bad bacteria — keep your bones from absorbing the nutrients they need. The good news is that the opposite is also true.
Research shows that the gut microbiome influences bone formation (ossification), and studies in both animals and humans suggest that supplementing with probiotics directly affects bone mass and density, the two main measures of bone health.
Some scientists even promote probiotics as a potential therapy for osteoporosis.
2. Antibiotics may affect your bone marrow
Bone marrow is the soft, spongy tissue found inside some bones, and it contains immature cells called stem cells, which are essential for forming new cells. Red bone marrow produces new blood cells and yellow bone marrow produces fat, cartilage, and bone cells.
Healthy bone marrow is essential for a vast range of systems and processes in your body; damaged or insufficient bone marrow leads to diseases like anemia and even certain cancers.
In a study where scientists treated animals with antibiotics, the results showed that the antibiotic treatment disrupted the animals’ gut microbiomes and caused inflammation in the animals’ bones. The scientists pinpointed the cause of the inflammation as a disruption in the bone marrow, which suggests that the gut and bones communicate through some chemical or physical pathways.
3. Your gut affects your immune system
It’s well-known that the state of your gut microbiome relates to the state of your immune system. Your gut helps your body absorb the nutrients your immune system needs to function; it suppresses or promotes inflammation; progresses or inhibits disease; and communicates with immune cells.
And your immune system affects everything, including your bones!
Certain cells in your immune system can regulate bone density, and discrepancies or imbalances in that regulation can lead to bone and joint diseases, including arthritis, osteoporosis, and even some cancers.
So it’s safe to say that by caring for your gut microbiome, you care for your immune system, and thus care for your bones.
4. One yogurt a day keeps the [bone] doctor away
Though the bone health-gut health connection represents a relatively new area of research, some findings offer incredibly interesting and promising implications — like that one serving of yogurt per day could lower your risk of bone fractures by 10 percent.
What the yogurt study results and other findings tell us is that by optimizing our microbiomes, we could treat or prevent a number of bone complications, including arthritis and osteoporosis.
While factors other than gut health certainly affect your bones — genetics, physical activity, occupation, and other environmental factors all contribute — your microbiome does seem to play a crucial role in keeping your bones strong and healthy.
Some simple ways to protect your gut and your bones include:
- Eating probiotics: Eat fermented foods, including kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and yogurt.
- Eating prebiotics: The beneficial bacteria in your gut can’t flourish without the proper nutrition. Eat foods with prebiotic fibers, including dandelion greens, bananas, and onions. Prebiotic fibers in dandelion greens, plantains, and other foods promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics have been shown to have a beneficial role in mineral metabolism, enhancing calcium absorption in both rodents and humans (29, 30).
- Adding bone broth to your diet: Bone broth supports a healthy microbial community, and it provides vitamins, minerals, collagen, and glucosamine, all of which promote healthy joints, bones, and cartilage.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated for relevancy. Its first publish date was October 18, 2019.