I was diagnosed with osteopenia at the age of 35, which is a condition where reduced bone mineral density causes fractures without a serious reason. I fractured bones in both my feet, one each year, and spent lots of time hobbling around in a moon boot. I was told that although I can prevent further bone loss and development of osteoporosis, I couldn’t reverse osteopenia at my age. That was a bit scary. I knew that to stop my bone density from declining any further I had to focus on the following:
- Getting my hormones in balance (enough oestrogen)
- Ensuring adequate levels of vitamin D and Vitamin K
- Adequate Calcium
- Doing lots of weight-bearing activities such as walking and weight lifting
- I don’t smoke and barely ever drink, which was a huge advantage as these two are the biggest bone slayers for many different reasons. Did you know, for example, that alcohol robs your body of calcium?
I started doing everything right when it comes to training, resting and nutrition and a scan in 2018 showed that my bones had remained the same since 2015. That was promising. Around that time, we released Chief Collagen bar and based on the research we used for the product development, I started taking collagen every day for my ongoing hamstring tendonitis as well as to stop my skin from aging too much.
Reversing the Osteopenia
I was scared of the big 40 and expected to fall apart. Surprisingly - just having turned 40 - I've been feeling better than ever in my life and so I started to investigate. I went to see an integrative doctor and get everything checked. I got another bone scan even though you are supposed to scan your bones only once every three years to see any difference, the results blew me away. I had managed to reverse the osteopenia and my bones were now on the top of the healthy range!
The only two things I have done differently since 2018 to try and reverse osteopenia were:
- Taking daily collagen supplementation (10g of bovine collagen per day)
- Lifting really heavy weights regularly 2-3 times a week.
I did not take any other supplements and instead tried to cover my vitamin D and calcium requirement from diet and spending time outdoors.
Collagen Supplementation Research
So what does the research say about collagen supplementation for bone health? 50% of the bone is formed by collagen and the other 50% by calcium. And that’s why we need both to have strong bones. After I went through hoards of studies on rodents stating that collagen peptides supplementation inhibited bone loss and improved bone composition, I found research on postmenopausal women with osteopenia and osteoporosis who had significant improvements in their bone health following supplementation with 5-12g of hydrolysed collagen peptides per day. The supplementation was associated with a positive shift in bone markers, demonstrating increased bone formation and reduced bone degradation.
Based on the research results and my personal experience, my best bone health tips are:
- Take 10g of hydrolysed collagen peptides every day. On your weight training days, take it 30-60min before the session as some science trials reported increased tendon strength from pre-workout collagen supplementation.
- Eat foods that contain vitamins and minerals necessary for collagen synthesis and bone health such as vitamins C, D and K as well as calcium and magnesium. Such a diet consists of lots and lots of veggies, especially the green leafy and cruciferous ones with the right dose of animal-based foods which is about 80g per serving of fish (have a variety and include sardines, mackerel and salmon and other fatty fish and fish with bones), meat (including organ meats) and eggs (eat the yolk!). You don’t need dairy to cover your calcium intake. I never drink cow’s milk and eat yoghurt or quark only as an occasional treat (instead of a cake). Nuts and fermented soy products both are a great addition to your diet. Oh and ditch processed food and junk food. It’ full of sugar and other collagen destroying additives.
- Avoid all ‘collagen slayers’ such as smoking, alcohol, sugar, excessive UV rays and stress
- Get a healthy dose of sun rays. Instead of baking yourself in the midday sun throughout the summer or reapplying sunscreen hundred times a day (both damaging to your skin), get out for a sunrise walk without sunscreen and sunglasses. Expose your face and arms at least to maximize vitamin D synthesis.
- Lift heavy weights every week.
- Get enough sleep and learn to de-stress or manage your stress. A good way to switch from fight-and-flight to rest-and-digest is cold exposure. A cold shower every single morning is my number one health tip! I could write a whole article on just this one thing. It helps to reduce inflammation, stimulates your vagus nerve (gut-brain communication), helps you keep focused but calm, improves blood flow to your skin, makes you more resilient and boosts your immune system just to name few.
Here are links to some human research and research review