The list of benefits for probiotics is already extensive, including being key to proper digestion and nutrient absorption, supporting a healthy immune system as well as playing a role in healthy metabolism, blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, upper respiratory health, weight management and in mood stability. Now, however, it appears that we may be able to add healthy bones—particularly increased bone density—to the benefits of probiotics.
In a study published in the Journal of Cellular Physiology, it was determined that probiotics—specifically Lactobacillus reuteri—decreased intestinal inflammation and increased bone density in healthy male mice, but not in female mice. And while the results didn’t show increased bone density for female mice, the University of Michigan State researchers believe that the females may need a variation of the probiotic to be effective. This calls for more research after discovering the promising link of probiotics and bone density—to find out which probiotics will work for each person to ensure bone health. In fact, the researchers are looking to additional findings to help combat osteoporosis and other bone anomalies.
Study researcher, Laura McCabe, a professor at Michigan State University, says, “We know that inflammation in the gut can cause bone loss, though it’s unclear exactly why. The next thing we found is that a probiotic can enhance bone density.”
These results have yet to be played out in humans, of course, but the scientists are hopeful that probiotics (in whatever variations) can be used for future use in bone density pursuits, especially since current osteoporosis drugs come with dangerous side effects. Among the negative side effects of one particularly popular family of osteoporosis drugs called bisphosphonates, ironically, is that their use may actually lead to the weakening of bones. That includes increasing the risk of fractures—such as the breaking of thigh bones while simply walking, going down stairs or participating in low-impact exercises.
Why all the unwanted side effects? Those drugs are designed to disrupt the body’s natural bone maintenance mechanisms and researchers believe that, over time, this undermines the skeleton’s ability to regenerate.
And that’s the last thing we need, since bone health is already a serious public health concern. Statistics indicate that there are currently over 200 million people worldwide who suffer from osteoporosis. The United States is not exempt, either. It’s estimated that 44 million Americans—55 percent of those who are over 50—are targets of this health threat. Here’s how that figure pans out: 10 million U.S. individuals already have osteoporosis, while nearly 34 million more are believed to have low bone density, putting them at high risk for developing osteoporosis and/or broken bones. Of the 10 million who already have osteoporosis, eight million are women and two million are men.
The future doesn’t look bright for bone health, either, unless drastic changes are made. By 2050, the worldwide incidence of hip fractures in women is projected to increase by 240 percent. For men, it’s projected to increases by 310 percent.
And while we’re waiting on further news about probiotics and their role in bone health, there are other nutrients that help to build strong bones, including calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin B12, strontium and other minerals, such as boron, copper, phosphorous, iron, manganese, silicon, vanadium and zinc.
So, stay tuned. We’ll most likely soon have more information on the role of probiotics in bone health. In the meantime, be sure to build your bone health through smart nutrition.