While osteoporosis may not be on your mind at the moment, it’s good to know how to minimize your risk, since according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, this condition is estimated to affect 200 million women worldwide. Who faces the highest risk? White and Asian women—especially those past menopause. Osteoporosis, which literally means “porous bone,” is a disease in which the density and quality of bone are reduced, inviting debilitating fractures. While it’s commonly thought to be a condition mainly afflicting older women, the reality is that our lifestyle as young people has a very strong bearing on our state of bone health over time.
The reason it’s never too soon to consider the health of your bones is that they’re in a constant state of renewal. Old bone is broken down, and new bone is created. When we’re young, we make bone more rapidly than we lose it, typically reaching peak bone mass in our 20s. You could think of this reserve as your bone “bank account.” The more bone you deposit when you’re young, the lower your risk of osteoporosis in your elder years. While there are numerous risk factors to consider when it comes to osteoporosis─the best known being a shortage of bone building nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D─here’s one that might surprise you: depression. One research team identified 23 studies that address the relationship between depression and bone health. Although we need to learn more about the mechanisms involved in brain-to-bone signals, their findings were clear: depression is a significant risk factor for low bone mineral density.(1)
Other research confirms that depression is associated with measurably reduced bone mineral density, and promotes an increased fracture risk over the course of our lifetime.(2),(3) The big question is why. One study demonstrated a causal relationship, finding that depression-induced bone loss is associated with stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.(4) If this is the case, as these studies suggest, it stands to reason that we had better take steps now to protect our future bone health and our mental well-being. Can you do both simultaneously? While many factors play in, we do know that bone building nutrients are crucial, and that naturally anti-inflammatory fish oil can help prevent and treat depression. Along with helping to minimize inflammation, omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil─such as EPA and DHA─combat depression by influencing serotonin activity in the brain. Low DHA levels lead to reduced concentrations of serotonin, which has been shown to promote depression.(5) On the flip side, EPA and DHA fatty acids are highly “brain protective.”(6),(7)
1Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Sep 1;66(5):423-32. Epub 2009 May 15.
2Horm Metab Res. 2010 Jun;42(7):467-82. Epub 2010 May 7.
3Osteoporos Int. 2009 Aug;20(8):1309-20. Epub 2009 Apr 3.
4Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010 Mar;1192:170-5.
5Lancet. 1998 Jul 4;352(9121):71-2
6Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1999;56:407-412
7J Clin Psychiatry. 2007 Feb;68(2)