For the first time in the world, researchers have demonstrated that probiotics can be used to affect the human skeleton. Osteoporosis predominantly affects older adults, but bone loss can start at as early as age 40. Recently, scientists have found that probiotics might be a safe and effective tool to help fight bone loss.
Bones do not just grow once and then stay the same for life. Instead, bone is made up of living tissue that is constantly being broken and remodeled into new bone. This process is more efficient when we are young. By around age 30, the body stops increasing bone mass, and once we reach our 40’s and 50’s, more bone might be being broken down than we are replacing. Over time, this can result in osteoporosis. Bones gradually become thinner, which can lead to fractures — even from a simple fall.
Today there are effective medications administered to treat osteoporosis, but because bone fragility is rarely detected before the first fracture, there is a pressing need for preventive treatments. This is the first time that researchers have shown that it is possible to cut age-related bone loss if they receive health-promoting bacteria, known as probiotics.
Probiotics stimulated the growth of gut bacteria that produce a particular metabolite called butyrate. Butyrate, in turn, prompted T cells in bone marrow to produce a protein called Wnt10b, which is vital for bone growth.
Weight-bearing exercise and healthy living habits (proper diet, no smoking, limited alcohol) can help with improving bone health. But, you must have a healthy gastrointestinal tract in order to have strong, flexible bones.
Healthy gut bacteria can positively influence the health of your bones by:
- Improving absorption of nutrients such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates in many ways, one of which is to keep the intestinal barrier intact and the small intestinal villi healthy. Since the insides of bones are made up of a protein matrix, proper protein digestion and absorption allows sufficient protein access for bones.
- Improving vitamin D absorption from the GI tract and improving the health of the liver and kidneys for vitamin conversion to its active form. Vitamin D is important in bone health.
- Improving production of vitamin K2 by gut bacteria. K2 helps to keep calcium in the bones and teeth and out of the arteries.
- Improving production and/or absorption of B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin A, all of which are important for bone health.
- Producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) which help with the absorption of minerals. Many probiotic bacteria produce SCFA’s or influence bacteria that do. Minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, boron and many others either form the hard outer surface of bones and teeth.
- Decreasing inflammation in the body and the production of inflammatory chemicals. Inflammatory chemicals cause bone breakdown.
- Converting a portion of inactive thyroid hormones into the active form.
We see that probiotics are so much more than just gut health. There have been many studies supporting the use of probiotics for protecting bone health and preventing osteoporosis.
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