Building strong bones: factoids and other advice

By Marjorie Wells, M.D. Aug 1, 2015

Did you know there are more than 200 bones in your body when you reach adulthood?  As an infant, you are born with more than 300 bones which then join together.

The longest bone in the body is the femur and responsible for about a quarter of your height. The smallest bone in the body is the stirrup bone of the ear (the stapes), and it is about a tenth of an inch long.

Read on for more bone factoids and some advice for keeping your bones healthy and strong.

  1. BONES ARE ALIVE: Bones are not lumps of inactive calcium and phosphate like a statute; they are active and responsible for hearing, flexibility, protection of your internal organs and home to our blood making cells.
  2. NOT A KID THING: Bone mass peaks in the late 20s, although the long bones typically stop growing in length in our teens.
  3. BONES ARE BANK ACCOUNTS: Poor nutrition and illness can affect bone health. Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, copper, gold, nickel and others can become permanently stuck in the bones. Bed rest and immobility (like when you have a cast) cause significant bone loss.
  4. YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT: Caffeine seeps calcium and other nutrients out of bones so drinking less than one caffeinated beverage per day on average is recommended for people in their youth.  The same can be said for alcohol since it typically robs your body of healthy nutrition and therefore calcium.
  5. ANOTHER REASON TO AVOID NICOTINE: Smoking is detrimental to the bones since nicotine causes decreased blood flow to the bones and they starve for nutrients.
  6. HATE MILK? Calcium is found in other things besides dairy products. Almonds, molasses, broccoli, figs, leafy green vegetables, sesame seeds, soy and fish with bones, such as canned salmon and sardines, are all good sources of calcium. It is also added to help our nutrition to soy milk, almond milk, some breads and orange juice.
  7. A PILL WON’T FIX EVERYTHING: In general, calcium from food sources is better absorbed  than taking it from a pill or supplement.
  8. SWEAT IS GOOD FOR YOU: Resistance training and weight bearing exercises are very important for building bones. Think of your bones like a rubber band: The more sports, weight lifting and running that you do, the more bone tissue you deposit into these organs. When astronauts are in space, they avoid the 2 percent-per-month of average bone loss from living without gravity by doing two hours per day of high intensity resistive exercise and taking calcium and vitamin D supplements.
  9. ON HORMONES: For young women, adequate estrogen plays a big factor in the health of your bones. Not having your cycle until after age 16 or having irregular cycles can lead to thinner bones over the lifetime. So no period is a big problem for your bones and can lead to stress fractures even in your youth.
  10. AND MORE HORMONES: For men, testosterone is also a big factor in your bone health.  Osteoporosis (very thin bones) is more common in men who have low testosterone at a young age due to glandular failure.
  11. WHAT DOES SUN HAVE TO DO WITH IT? Vitamin D is related to diet and sun exposure.  Most kids who experience growing pains are found to have low blood vitamin D levels with our altitude and northern climate. There is controversy about the amount of Vitamin D you absorb from the sun, especially if you are dark skinned or wearing sunscreen. You should get at least 600 IU daily from food and your doctor may need to check blood levels. Some population studies of people in Casper, like the Blue Envelope Health Fairs, have shown more than one third of Casper people with dangerously low levels of vitamin D.

Marjorie Wells M.D.

Dr. Wells is a board-certified in family practice physician at Sage Primary Care. She grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and was interested in science from a young age. She earned her medical degree at State University of New York at Stony Brook. She became interested in rural primary care after hearing stories about her mentor’s residency and practice around Greeley, Colo. Dr. Wells completed her residency at the University of Wyoming Family Medicine in Casper. She returned to Casper in 2002 and joined Sage Primary Care in 2013. Dr. Wells has special interests in hospice care, pediatrics and well family care.

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