As people age, it's normal to lose a certain amount of bone density. At around the age of 30, our bones have reached their maximum strength and density. From then on, we begin to lose more bone tissue than our bodies make.
Postmenopausal women are at particular risk of bone density loss because their levels of oestrogen – a hormone which helps keep bones strong – decrease after menopause. This can lead to osteoporosis, making bones vulnerable to breaks.
Now, a large US study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research has revealed that an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce the loss of bone mineral density in some postmenopausal women.
Usually when we hear the word 'inflammation', we think of red, hot and painful swelling. However, the inflammation in this case is an invisible process driven by the immune system, in which the cells that break down bone go into overdrive, causing more bone loss.
In the US study, a team from Ohio State University analysed data from over 160,000 women, aged between 50-79 years.
Each participant completed a questionnaire about their usual diet in the previous three months. The research team then compared each woman's bone mineral density (BMD) and also their risk of fracture of the hip, lower arm and other parts of the body over six years.
Each woman's diet was then given a score. To compare each woman's diet, the research team used a Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII) to assess each diet item, from the most anti-inflammatory to the most pro-inflammatory.
The study revealed that women with the lowest DII scores (least inflammatory diet) lost less hip-bone mass density than the women with the highest DII scores (higher inflammatory diet).
While it was thought that the research would show that a higher DII score (more inflammatory diet) was associated with an increased risk of hip fracture, this increased risk was only observed in younger Caucasian women, less than 63 years old.
A diet rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients is typically high in vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, omega-3 fatty acids (found in foods including oily fish, linseeds/flaxseeds and walnuts), beans, nuts, legumes, herbs and olive oil.
Jean Hailes naturopath Sandra Villella says growing evidence has shown that higher quality diets are associated with stronger bones (better bone mineral density) and reduced risk of fracture in older adults. A dietary pattern that focuses on the intake of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, and low-fat dairy products are thought to be beneficial for bone health.
To help achieve an anti-inflammatory diet, Sandra suggests you eat an abundance of vegetables – "fill half your plate with a variety of quality vegetables" – and make sure your diet also includes colourful fruits, fish 2-3 times per week, a small handful of nuts every day, wholegrains and olive oil.
Having your bone mineral density checked with a DXA scan – like a low-dose radiation X-ray – is an accurate way of determining if you are at risk of developing osteoporosis or having a bone fracture.