Have you noticed how people seem to shrink in height as they get older?
Between the ages of 30 and 70, men, on average, will lose 2.5 cm (1 inch) of height and women 5 cm (2 inches). That’s because we lose bone mass as we age1.
Bone is a more active tissue than it appears – you are constantly breaking down old bone and replacing it with new bone. Indeed, over about 7 years, you’ll have a new skeleton.
But as you get older, the rate of breakdown begins to outpace the rate of new bone formation, and bones become spongy, weaker and therefore compress, causing the loss of height.
Colin Rose is a Senior Associate Member of the Royal Society of Medicine, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is the Founder and Director of Research and Innovation of Uni-Vite Healthcare and author of a recent book: Delay Ageing: Healthy to 100, where he reveals how to slow ageing and, therefore, help prevent later-life illness.
Preventing osteoporosis (bone loss) and therefore reducing loss of height
Bone is an active tissue.
Specialist cells called osteoclasts constantly break down and re-absorb old bone. And other cells called osteoblasts form new bone.
Wasting of bone cells, cartilage and muscles
But over time, the rate of breakdown begins to outpace the rate of new bone formation. Bones become spongy, more fragile and start to look more like a honeycomb! They begin to compress. And this causes not only the loss of height, but other serious outcomes.
So it’s the imbalance between the functioning of osteoclast and osteoblast cells that leads to osteoporosis.
As the years go by, cartilage also gets worn away and compressed. This process, of course, is a factor in arthritis, and also occurs in the discs of the backbone, which adds to the loss of height.
Finally, muscles help maintain an upright posture, but as we age, muscle is lost at the rate of about 3% per decade – a condition called sarcopenia. This leads to poor posture, giving the illusion that even more height has been lost.
Women are more affected by height loss than men because men normally have more starting muscle mass than women.
Indeed, the whole height loss process is more noticeable in women because it is accelerated by the reduction in oestrogen after menopause. Consequently, by age 80 a woman can lose as much as 3”/7.5 cm, and a man almost 2”/5 cm.
Bone loss linked to fractures and even mental decline
This problem isn’t just a cosmetic one – hip fractures are often the trigger for a physical decline in older people and are caused by bone loss.
Additionally, and worryingly, research from Canada suggests a clinically significant causal link between osteoporosis and cognitive decline3.
Fortunately, there are several actions you can take – at any age – that can help you protect your bone health, and maintain as much height as possible. And one of them also helps reduce the risk of cancer.
A Healthy Bones Plan with food and supplements
Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2 to enable best calcium absorption
Of course, you need adequate calcium for strong bones. But most of that can come from the foods you eat – dairy, yoghurt, cheese and, less obviously, dark green vegetables like kale and spinach, figs and sardines.
Just as important is to make sure you have enough of the nutrients that ensure your body absorbs calcium properly and directs it to bone building. That’s the role of vitamins D and K.
In order to get an optimum level of vitamin D, which occurs in limited amounts in foods, it is recommended to supplement with at least 2,000 IU (international units) of Vitamin D3 in the winter and 800 IU in the summer.
The other essential vitamin for bone health is vitamin K2. This can be found in egg yolk, fermented cheese and leafy green vegetables. Or take as a supplement.
Vitamin K2 helps ensure that calcium is used for bone formation and not deposited in the bloodstream. If this happens, calcium can contribute to atherosclerosis – hardening of the arteries.
Vitamin K2, on its own, has been found to reduce the risk of fractures by almost 80%!5
Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit
Fruits and vegetables are sources of potassium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C and beta carotene – which have all been associated with higher total bone mass.
These plant foods also provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients which counter inflammation and oxidative stress, which are associated with ageing and almost all chronic diseases, including osteoporosis4.
A Swedish study published in 2015 in the Journal of Bone Mineral Research found that men and women between ages 45 and 83 who ate the least fruits and vegetables had almost twice the rate of hip fracture as those who ate the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
Omega 3 and anti-inflammatory plant extracts
Because chronic inflammation is strongly linked to osteoporosis, ensure you have adequate intake of Omega 3 – which is a major anti-inflammatory nutrient. So, too, are the powerful anti-inflammatory plant nutrients in grapeseed, green tea and curcumin.
Soy and soy extract (isoflavones)
Asian women, who consume far more soy than Western women, rarely suffer from osteoporosis after the menopause. Consequently, researchers have studied the effect of increasing soy isoflavones on osteoporosis6 through supplements. Isoflavones are the key nutrient in soy.
Their conclusion is:
“Soy isoflavones may prevent postmenopausal osteoporosis and improve bone strength, thus decreasing risk of fracture in menopausal women by increasing lumbar spine bone mineral density and decreasing bone resorption.”
There is another very good reason to increase your intake of soy isoflavones – they can reduce the risk of cancer, including breast cancer. This link is explored in the article: Soy anti-cancer, good for menopause, heart and bone health - NutriShield
Regular activity and exercise
Exercise is by far the most powerful method to build strong bones. Because humans are evolved to be active, not sedentary.
Weight-bearing exercise and exercises that strengthen muscles – like the "plank" – stimulate bone formation and slow age-related bone loss.
A 10-year-long study published in Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation showed that a 12-minute daily yoga routine increased bone mineral density in the spine, femur (thigh bone), and hips9.
Probiotic foods and supplements
Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, contain probiotics which improve gut health and may also positively affect bone. Research7 indicates that probiotic supplements and fermented milk products help increase bone mineral density.
But how? Certain probiotics increase the production of an important fatty acid in the gut – called butyrate. And butyrate increases the bioavailability of key minerals like calcium and magnesium. The strains that seem to have the best effect according to a 2016 study, include Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. reuteri, L. longum, and L. lactis7.
In another study, researchers at University of Gothenburg, Sweden, conducted a trial with 90 older women.
Half the group was given a placebo powder, while the others were given a powder enriched with probiotics. After 12 months, bone loss in the women who had the probiotic-enriched powder was halved as compared to the women on placebo.
So, a probiotic supplement might be a worthwhile addition to a long-term plan to prevent loss of bone density. You can see our own probiotic here - MicroBiotic Plus - Best and Most Effective Probiotic for Women and Men (uni-vite.com)
What to limit in your diet and lifestyle
Alcohol, caffeine, steroids and extreme dieting have all been linked to increased bone loss. Moderate and limit these.
The Delay Ageing Food and Lifestyle Plan
We have spent over a decade refining a diet and lifestyle plan that helps counteract age-related illnesses and slows ageing. It includes foods that are known to improved bone density.
We have also formulated our healthy ageing supplement NutriShield to contain all the bone preserving nutrients mentioned in this article.
NutriShield Premium Health Supplement
NutriShield Premium contains 6 different combination capsules. It is a supplement that can double the average person’s intake of phyto-nutrients, carotenoids and Omega 3 – as well as providing optimum levels of vitamins and minerals. It was originally designed by Dr Paul Clayton (former Chair of the Forum on Food and Health at the Royal Society of Medicine), and has been updated and improved every year since.
Delay Ageing book explains the ageing process and how you can postpone it
Medical researchers agree that if you slow ageing, you also delay the onset of age-related disease. And we know that it’s not just nutrition. Sleep, reducing stress and cardio and strength exercise are also essential to longevity and ageing well.
My book Delay Ageing: Healthy to 100, published in 2020, explains the latest ageing science in an accessible way.
It’s been rated 5-star and I am sure you will get a lot of benefit from it, as so many have already.
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- Longitudinal Change in Height of Men and Women: Implications for Interpretation of the Body Mass Index: The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging | American Journal of Epidemiology | Oxford Academic (oup.com)
- Osteoblast-n-Osteoclast: Making Headway to Osteoporosis Treatment - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Cognitive decline is associated with an accelerated rate of bone loss and increased fracture risk in women: a prospective study from the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study - Bliuc - 2021 - Journal of Bone and Mineral Research - Wiley Online Library
- PRO-INFLAMMATORY DIETARY PATTERN IS ASSOCIATED WITH FRACTURES IN WOMEN: AN EIGHT YEAR LONGITUDINAL COHORT STUDY - PMC (nih.gov)
- Vitamin K and the prevention of fractures: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials - PubMed (nih.gov)’
- Soy isoflavones for osteoporosis: an evidence-based approach - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Effect of Probiotics Supplementation on Bone Mineral Content and Bone Mass Density (hindawi.com)
- Metabolic Alterations in Older Women With Low Bone Mineral Density Supplemented With Lactobacillus reuteri - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Yoga for Osteoporosis: A Pilot Study : Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation (lww.com)