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You’re pretty special. On this planet, it’s rare to have bones. Only two percent of the animal species living on Earth have an internal skeleton. The rest of the living creatures here are invertebrates like insects, shellfish, and arachnids. But you have 206 bones inside your body making up this important structural component. Your hands and your feet contain more than half of the bones in your body—in two hands and two feet alone, there are 106 bones. How do you take care of this important body system?
Diet and exercise are important. But stress is also a factor that can literally eat away at your bones. Let’s look at why this might be.
How Your Bones Work
Your skeletal system has many jobs. Here are a few:
- Provides locomotion
- Protects your brain and other vital organs
- Manufactures blood cells
- Stores and regulates minerals
We don’t often think of them this way, but bones are living, growing tissue. About every 7 years, you have a new skeletal system as your bones are constantly being replaced. Bones are made of calcium and other minerals and a protein called collagen. Bone tissue comes in two different types—cortical and cancellous. Cortical bone is the outer layer of bone; the hard, protective layer. Cancellous bone is the inner layer, where bone marrow is manufactured and stored. Bones also store calcium and other minerals so that when other parts of the body need minerals to function correctly, they release these minerals into the bloodstream.
Your bones are constantly under construction. Osteoclasts are busy absorbing old bone cells while osteoblasts are building new bone to take their place. When you’re young, the osteoblasts are hard at work building lots of bone cells. But as you age, the osteoclasts start to take over, leading to a general loss of bone mass. When a certain level of bone mass is lost, you develop osteoporosis, a condition where your bones are very brittle and more likely to break. In some cases, when the bone becomes very porous, it’s possible to break a bone with just a sneeze!
When you break a bone, your body immediately starts to heal it by sending connective tissue cells. These cells produce collagen and work to bridge the gap in the bone. New blood vessels start to form to help grow the new bone cells produced by the osteoblasts. These tissues are soft at first, but eventually harden into new bone.
How Stress Affects Your Bones
Stress is one factor that is believed to interrupt your skeletal structure. But why?
Remember from the Stress & Your Health blog post that the cells in your body work best when the environment surrounding them is kept constant. Stress (from either external or internal sources) disrupts the environment around the cells. If not kept to a minimum, stress can challenge the body’s ability to correct the disruption. This places cells under stressed conditions (called “oxidative stress”) and interrupts their ability to function normally. Over time, cell malfunction leads to a disruption of entire body systems which impacts your ability to function optimally.
When you’re under a lot of stress, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. When this happens, cortisol levels increase which reduces the body’s ability to absorb calcium, a nutrient the osteoblasts need to build strong bones. Additionally, your body concentrates on the systems that are necessary to fight the perceived danger, making it difficult for your bones to perform their reconstruction duties, maintain a healthy density and regulate the minerals that your body needs.
So what can you do to optimize your bone health? KEEP OXIDATIVE STRESS TO A MINIMUM!
Boost Your Bone Health
Here are some tips to keep your skeletal structure functioning at its best:
- Get moving! Weight-bearing exercises are good for bone health. Walking, jogging, dancing, aerobics, weight lifting, and climbing stairs can help slow bone loss. Even if all you can do is walk for a few moments each day, get out and do it! Exercise may also help the glands in your body continue to produce the hormones that are necessary to maintain your bone density.
- Include good sources of minerals and vitamins in your diet. Good sources of calcium are green veggies like spinach, kale, cabbage, and broccoli. Get your vitamin C from bell peppers, oranges, pineapples, strawberries, and Brussels sprouts.
- Get some sun. Your body uses vitamin D to absorb calcium, so a few minutes in the sun each day can help your body manufacture the vitamin D it needs.
- Watch what you drink. Don’t drink carbonated beverages, especially colas. These have been shown to interfere with the mineral balance in the body and can keep your bones from absorbing the minerals they need. Avoid drinking more than two alcoholic drinks a day.
- Quit smoking. Smokers have lower bone mass and a higher risk of fractures. The reasons for this are not yet understood, but the risks get higher with the increase in years smoked and number of cigarettes smoked.