January 14, 2009

Building Stronger Bones

Adding bicarbonate to your diet through fruits and vegetables leads to greater bone density, according to new study

A recent study by Tufts researchers found that people who consumed bicarbonate, which is found in fruits and vegetables, have stronger bones. Bicarbonate helps boost alkali levels in the body, offsetting the effects of acidity from protein and cereal grains that lead to a significant reduction in bone loss through calcium excretion and bone resorption.

There is increasing evidence that the acid/base balance in your diet can affect bone loss, but it can be improved by eating more fruits and vegetables. Photo: iStockphoto

During resorption, bones are broken down to release minerals such as calcium, phosphates and basic salts into the blood. As bone resorption goes up, bone mass is reduced, and the risk of fracture grows, the research report says.

Participants in the double-blind study—171 men and women ages 50 and older—were divided into groups that received either a placebo or doses of potassium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate or potassium chloride for three months. The people who took bicarbonate showed significant reductions in calcium excretion and bone resorption.

According to lead author Bess Dawson-Hughes, M75, a senior scientist and director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, fruits and vegetables add bicarbonate when they are metabolized.

While low levels of calcium and vitamin D are often considered culprits in bone loss, “there is increasing evidence that the acid/base balance of the diet is also important,” the report says. On average, American diets tend to be slightly acidic, which has negative consequences for bone health.

People who eat substantial quantities of fruits and vegetables will add bicarbonate to their body, thus potentially reducing calcium excretion and bone resorption, the study says.

“Increasing intake of alkali merits further consideration as a safe and low-cost approach to improving skeletal health in older men and women,” the report concludes.

Other Tufts researchers involved in the study were Susan S. Harris, Nancy J. Palermo, Helen M. Rasmussen and Gerard E. Dallal. The study was published in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

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