By now, most of us have heard about the need for probiotics, those friendly bacteria in our digestive tract, to help support healthy digestion and enhance our immune system. But did you know that these beneficial bacteria in your belly also play a powerful role in maintaining strong, healthy bones?
You have somewhere between 500 and 1,000 different types of bacteria in your digestive system. These bacteria help to support bone health in several different ways. Researchers at Michigan State University have discovered that probiotics increased bone formation and strength in male mice. It is thought that the probiotics helped by reducing inflammation in the gut. This is important because inflammation increases the production and activation of osteoclasts, the cells that break down bone. It has been shown that inflammation increases the production of serotonin from the cells of your intestines. Excessive serotonin has a negative effect on bones by both interfering with new bone formation and causing bone breakdown.
The healthy bacteria in your digestive tract also manufacture many key bone building nutrients, like vitamin K and several of the B-complex vitamins. Vitamin K comes in two forms, K1 and K2. K1 is found in green vegetables and K2 is primarily synthesized by the conversion of K1 to K2 by bacteria in the small intestines. Vitamin K2 is essential to bone health because it activates a hormone called osteocalcin which is necessary for the binding calcium to your bones. Both forms of vitamin K also help to reduce the production of pro-inflammatory compounds, thus lowering overall inflammation.
The B vitamins are essential for strong bones because they help to reduce a harmful compound call homocysteine. Homocysteine is formed in the body during protein metabolism and can interfere with the formation of the collagen matrix of bone, leading to defective bone formation and increased fracture risk. Several studies have shown that patients with elevated homocysteine levels have a higher risk for osteoporotic fractures. Vitamin B12, B6 and folic acid are three B vitamins produced by your intestinal bacteria which can help reduce homocysteine levels.
A healthy probiotic colony in the GI tract is also suspected to increase absorption of minerals such as calcium and magnesium as well as aid in digestion. Improving digestion increases the absorption of all nutrients necessary for forming and maintaining strong bones.
Your gut flora can be negatively affected by aging, diet, disease, drugs, poor health or stress. Adding cultured or fermented probiotic rich foods to your diet can help to restore and maintain the beneficial bacteria in your intestines. Such probiotic-rich foods include:
• Black tea, oolong tea
• Cottage Cheese
• Fermented vegetables
Kefir and yogurt are personally my favorite probiotic-rich foods. Not only do they contain potent probiotics, they are also good sources of vitamin K2, calcium, and phosphorus. Kefir and yogurt also contain a glycoprotein called lactoferrin. Studies have shown that lactoferrin enhances both the growth and the activity of osteoblasts (the cells that build bone) and reduces the rate of bone cell death by 50% to 70%. To get the maximum benefit from kefir and yogurt, start with the full fat, plain products and add natural fruit if necessary. If you have trouble digesting cow milk proteins, you can try kefir and yogurt made from goat’s milk.
Building and maintaining strong, healthy bones starts in the belly! Without abundant beneficial bacteria in your intestines, you can suffer from poor digestion, inadequate nutrient synthesis and absorption, and inflammatory conditions that can all have detrimental effects on the health of your bones.