Boosting Bone Density May Prevent Heart Disease

Thin bones may be more harmful to women than they might think - beyond a higher risk of fractures and osteoporosis (brittle bone disease). A study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, has shown that having low bone density can actually raise a woman's risk of heart disease.

In the study, researchers examined data from over 1,200 women and over 800 men who participated in The Framingham Study. All the subjects were free of heart disease when the study began in 1967 when bone density was recorded through X-rays of a hand. Scientists then followed the subjects through the end of 1997 at which time the rate of heart disease was assessed. According to the data, adults with the thickest bones had a lower incidence of heart disease than their counterparts in the study who had the thinnest bones. The rate of heart disease ranged from 11.76 cases per 1,000 persons per year compared to 15.65 per 1,000 persons per year, respectively.

Interestingly, the rise in heart disease appeared only in women and no association between heart disease risk and bone mass was seen in men, according to lead author Dr. Elizabeth J. Samelson from Harvard Medical School. "The presence of this relationship in women only may reflect gender differences in how bone is mineralized, how heart disease evolves, or both," she says.

The results of this study suggest that women who take steps early in life to keep their bones strong, or boost their bone density once weakness appears, may not only prevent osteoporosis but may prevent heart disease as well. Simple lifestyle changes, like not smoking, eliminating alcohol and getting enough physical activity (in particular, weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, jogging and lifting weights) are very effective steps you can take to protect your bones and keep them strong. You also need to get the proper balance of the essential nutrients needed for healthy bones. The National Academy of Sciences recommends 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day for adults under age 50 and 1,200 milligrams for those over 50. In addition, other minerals such as magnesium, potassium, boron, manganese, zinc, copper and silicon - along with vitamins C, D and K and a combination of isoflavones - are needed to strengthen and support all the components of bone tissue.