Many people think of their bones as little more than structure to their body, and give them very little consideration until they are damaged. Bones are more than just a structure which the rest of our body hangs off, they are vital for our health. This article will explore the role bones play in our health and the importance of maintaining healthy bones.
The majority of human bone is made up of minerals, particularly calcium and phosphate which are bonded together to from a compound called hydroxyapatite. Bone also contains a significant amount of magnesium, and combined these three minerals can account for up to 70% of the bone mass. The other 30% of the bone mass is made up of specialized cells, collagen and bone marrow. There are two particularly important cells found in bones, and these are osteoblasts and osteoclasts, which are responsible for bone mineralization (which increases bone density) and bone re-absorption (which removes minerals from the bones) respectively. It is these cells which are largely responsibly for reshaping our bones as our body grows.
How bones affect your health
Aside for providing structure and protection for the body, bones have a number of other roles in the body. Their primary role is acting as storage units for calcium and magnesium, as the body can require relatively large amounts of these nutrients in a short period of time (e.g. experiencing stress). These minerals are vital of a large number of biological functions such as:
- Maintaining strong bones
- Production of energy from carbohydrates and fats
- Transmission of nerve impulses
- Regulation of body temperature
- Blood pH balance
- Release of nerve tension
- Absorption and utilization of phosphorus, sodium, potassium, vitamins C, E, & D
- Blood clotting
- Muscle contraction & relaxation
- Enzyme activation for the production of gastric enzymes
- Stress management
As the bones store these minerals they allow the body to have access to them when the body requires them. This ensures that deficiency is rare, and avoids potentially fatal disorders such as fluctuating blood pH. Bone marrow is the only location for the production of red blood cells and platelets, which are responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body. If the bone marrow is damaged the production of these cells can be reduced, which can result in anemia and an increase in bleed time from wounds.
One of the biggest demands on the mineral stores in bone is stress, which requires both calcium and magnesium to be released into the body to reduce the symptoms. If stress is a regular occurrence, or if magnesium and calcium levels deplete faster than they can be replenished, the bone density will reduce. This makes the bones weak and brittle, which increases the change of them breaking or fracturing.
Maintaining healthy bones
In order to maintain a high bone density and healthy bones, it is important to ensure you are obtaining enough vitamin D. This is because vitamin D is required in regulating levels of calcium in the body, and is needed in osteoblasts to fix calcium in the bones. Vitamin K is also essential, as it prevents too much calcium being leached from the bones, which prevents bones becoming porus and weak. Vitamin K and D work closely together to ensure optimum bone mass is maintained. It is also important to ensure that dietary calcium is obtained in a 2:1 ratio with magnesium. This is because these minerals work so closely together that your body cannot utilize one without the other.
Exercise is also required to maintain healthy bones, but only in moderation. Too much exercise especially high impact or weight training can put too much stress on the bones and damage them. If you are starting to exercise, it is important to begin gradually, to allow the bones to strengthen and adapt.
Bones are important for the protection and structure of the body, but their function doesn’t stop there. They are essential in maintaining homeostasis (consistent biological functions), as they act as storage for calcium and magnesium, which make up a large amount of the bone mass. These minerals are required in different amounts at different time of the day, and so a large storage facility is essential.
In order to maintain healthy bones you need to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D, and your calcium/ magnesium ratios are 2:1. It is also important to exercise to keep bones strong.