Did you know that a healthy skeleton regenerates completely every 10 years? Human bones are in a constant state of change, with old cells dissolving and new cells taking their place all the time.
However, when bone cells are lost more quickly than they are replaced, the bones become thin, weak and brittle, a condition known as osteoporosis. The effects of the disease can be limited by using medication to reduce bone loss, and many doctors agree that with medication and dietary supplements as well as a few lifestyle changes, patients can avoid developing this dangerous condition.
Osteoporosis is linked to a number of causes. A poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, excess alcohol consumption and aging can all contribute to bone being lost faster than it’s replaced. However, these factors all seem to pale in comparison to the effect of hormones on bone health. While researchers have long suspected that the decrease in the hormone estrogen significantly influences the regeneration ability of bones — thus the predominance of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women — a growing body of evidence is showing that the stress hormone cortisol may also be a detriment to our skeletons’ ability to stay strong and healthy.
What Does Cortisol Do?
Chances are you’ve heard the term “stress hormone” referring to cortisol. The widespread view is that cortisol is something harmful that needs to be controlled, or even eliminated, from your body.
While having too much cortisol in your bloodstream can have a harmful effect on your overall health, the hormone actually does play an important role in your overall health. When it’s produced in healthy amounts, cortisol helps keep blood sugar in check, manage blood pressure and support immune function and the body’s responses to inflammation. The adrenal glands can also produce small bursts of cortisol to help manage the body’s responses to stress; for example, cortisol helps the body have reduced sensitivity to pain or provides the burst of energy one needs to survive in emergencies.
The problem is that when the body is in a near-constant state of stress, the adrenal glands continue to produce cortisol — and like anything, you can have too much of a good thing when it comes to cortisol. Not only does an excess of cortisol contribute to the accumulation of fat, especially around the midsection, it also reduces the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar, both of which have serious consequences. Excess cortisol can also cause decreases in muscle tissue and bone density.
How Does Cortisol Hurt Your Bones??
Human bones are comprised of mineralized collagen, the connective tissue that forms the “scaffolding” for ligaments, tendons and skin. Comprised of several amino acids, collagen becomes mineralized and hard thanks to the calcium, phosphate and magnesium.
The problem is that cortisol breaks down amino acids in order to turn them into a type of glucose. It’s this glucose that gives the body the boost it needs to get through stressful situation. When you are almost constantly stressed, the cortisol runs out of amino acids to transform, and thus looks for “spare” cells. The most common target of the hormone then becomes the collagen in the bones. The cortisol essentially attacks the bones to find the amino acids it needs. When this happens, supplementation with calcium, magnesium and vitamin D is ineffective at restoring bone density because those minerals have nothing to attach to anymore. Eventually, if you do not give your body a chance to relax and regulate cortisol levels, the rate of bone depletion wit significantly outpace the level of replacement, eventually leading to severe osteoporosis.
How Can I Reduce My Bone Loss?
A healthy lifestyle overall is important for reducing the risk of osteoporosis, but keeping your stress levels in check will also help maintain strong and healthy bones. Stress is a fact of modern life, but you can chill out and keep your cortisol levels in check with a few simple changes.
Get plenty of sleep. Most people need at least 7 to 8 hours of quality shut-eye each night to reap the maximum health benefits.
Explore relaxation techniques. Ta’i chi, yoga, meditation and breathing exercises can all help even the most stressed out person relax and refocus. If nothing else, spend a few moments every day taking a few deep breaths and focusing on clearing your mind.
Find a hobby. Studies have found that people who engage in activities for pleasure on a regular basis are less stressed than those who don’t.
Have a laugh. Laughter increases endorphins, the chemicals that make us feel happy and relaxed. Watch a funny movie or read a joke book to get your laugh on.
Get help. If your stress levels are affecting your ability to function, get help. That could mean hiring someone to take on some of your tasks or seeing a doctor or other professional for help with coping skills to reduce stress. Either way, there’s no need to live life constantly on the brink of a meltdown.
Keeping your stress in check is an important way to manage your cortisol levels and maintain bone health. Take a deep breath, relax and watch your overall health improve, right down to your bones.