• By Jane Hart, MD

Olive Oil for Bone Health?

As people age, bone mass and bone strength decrease. The good news is that experts are researching foods and nutrients that may help keep bones healthy, even as people age. A study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests that older men who eat a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil may be taking a step in the right direction toward protecting their bones.

A person’s diet and what they choose to eat is an important part of bone health

Olive oil linked to increased bone markers

In this study, 127 men, ages 55 to 80 years, were randomly assigned to a low-fat control diet, a Mediterranean diet enriched with nuts, or a Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil (at least 50 ml of olive oil per day), for two years. Blood markers for bone health were measured before and after the dietary intervention.

Results showed that the men who ate a Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil had higher levels of total osteocalcin and procollagen I N-terminal propeptide—both markers for bone formation—compared with men who ate the Mediterranean diet and nuts, or the low-fat control diet.

The study authors comment that, along with animal reports. their findings lend additional information that “associate the consumption of olives, olive oil, and oleuropein [a plant chemical in olives], with the prevention of bone mass loss in animal models of osteoporosis.”

These findings open the door for further research, but firm conclusions must be interpreted with caution, since, though osteocalcin and procollagen I N-terminal propeptide are both markers of bone health, they are not indicators of bone density or fracture risk. The authors point out the need for further research, noting that another study limitation was that participants’ bone density was not measured.

Keeping bones healthy

A person’s diet and what they choose to eat is an important part of bone health. Calcium and vitamin D along with other nutrients are essential for bone growth and strength. But along with diet, there are other steps a person should take for bone health, such as:

Exercise. Regular exercise may help keep bones healthy and reduce a person’s risk of falling and fracturing a bone as they age. Strength training and weight-bearing exercises such as walking can help maintain bone mass. Balance training, such as practicing Tai chi, can also help reduce a person’s risk of falling and thereby avoid fractures. People with osteoporosis—a bone disease where significant bone mass is lost and bones are vulnerable to fracture—should talk with a doctor about appropriate exercise programs.

Don’t smoke and don’t drink in excess. Along with many other health risks, smoking leads to bone loss. And while drinking within the recommended guidelines (one alcoholic beverage a day for women and two for men) may have beneficial effects on bones, drinking more than that can decrease bone mass and muscle strength and increase a person’s risk of falling.

See a doctor. Various medical conditions and medications can lead to loss of bone mass. Talk with a doctor about your risk for osteoporosis and appropriate monitoring for bone density based on your age and medical history.

(J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2012;97: doi:10.1210/jc.2012-2221)

Jane Hart, MD

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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