When we think about our bones, we commonly assume that healthy bones are strong bones. While this is true, the “strength” of our bones really comes from their ability to be flexible. This is a critical factor when it comes to osteoporosis and fracture prevention.
The easiest way to understand why flexibility is important is to consider tree branches. While there are obvious differences between the biology of a tree branch and that of bones, the underlying concept is the same. Let’s assume you have two tree branches of equal size in front of you, however one is living and the other is dead. Which one is easiest to snap in half? The dead one of course! But why is this so?
When the tree branch dies, it becomes dehydrated and loses the vital fluid components that contribute to its strength. A living branch is quite different. It is supple and flexible and when we apply a force to try and break it, often we simply end up bending the branch rather than completely snapping the branch in half. This is because the fluid component of the branch allows it to be flexible. It is this flexibility that allows force to be absorbed and dispersed without impacting on the structural integrity of the branch.
Our bones are very similar in that their fluid component is vital for bone health. Just like the tree branch, if our bones are dehydrated they are more likely to break and even shatter when they are exposed to stress. Our bones are broken down into the mineral component which ultimately gives our bones their stiffness, and the collagen matrix which gives our bones their “toughness”.
The mineral component of our bones is composed of calcium and phosphorus, as well as small amounts of magnesium, sodium and bicarbonate. Dietary management of osteoporosis almost always targets calcium in particular as well as vitamin D which is needed to effectively absorb the calcium. The matrix on the other hand is primarily composed of collagen fibers that exist within a liquid called ground substance. Up to 90% of this extracellular matrix is made up of water!
So how do we keep our bones hydrated? The answer is as simple as it seems – drink more water! This is such a simple yet overlooked part of managing osteoporosis. How much water do you drink?