Patients going in for bone health evaluations are often surprised when they are asked about their stress levels and emotional wellness. But stress and emotions do have a powerful impact on bone health.
Effect of stress on body
Stress releases powerful neurochemicals and hormones that make the heart pump harder, increase breathing and tense the muscles in preparation for taking action. One of the dominant hormones releasd during times of stress is cortisol. Cortisol activates the relaxation response so that the body’s functions can return to normal. However, prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream have shown to have negative effects that include:
- Impaired cognitive performance
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Decreased bone density
- Decrease in muscle tissue
- Suppressed thyroid function
- Higher blood pressure
- Lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body
- Increased abdominal fat
Effect of stress on bones
A high stress lifestyle has always been suspected as one of the contributing causes of osteoporosis and other major health problems. Continued high stress levels can also lead to depression. There are studies showing that people with major depression have a lower bone mass density compared to non-depressed individuals. Other studies have found that an extended loss of social interactions and pleasurable activities may have an impact on bone density as well. In light of these findings, it is important to consider two important trends:
- First, stress appears to be more important than once thought in the healthy functioning of our bones.
- Second, depression should be considered as another important risk factor for osteoporosis.
Impact of stress hormones on bones
Constant stress promotes an unhealthy hormone shift, increasing cortisol and reducing serotonin levels. Higher cortisol levels increase total body inflammation decreasing calcium absorption and increased calcium excretion. Osteoblasts (bone-building cells) are reduced in number, impairing the bones’ ability to renew, which is essential to maintaining normal bone density.
Impact of depression on bones
The depressed brain sends signals to your internal organs and bones that are different from those sent by a healthy brain. The brain uses the sympathetic nervous system to increase the secretion of a chemical compound called noradrenalin and interleukin-1 protein. Noradrenalin literally has a depressive effect on the osteoblasts. The interleukin-1 protein, which has been known for many years as a stimulator of the immune system, increases the number and activity of osteoclastic cells (bone break-down cells). Stress causes less bone to be created and more bone to be destroyed resulting in osteoporosis.
Bone balance destroyed
Chronic stress can now be physiologically traced as a significant player in the creation of osteoporotic bones. By reducing the ability of the osteoblasts to form new bones and speeding the osteoclasts into bone breakdown – the natural balance of bone growth and repair is altered. Effective osteoporosis treatments must consider stress reduction, so bone formation and repair can return to normal.
A new direction for healthy bones
In light of these discoveries, it is not enough to just discuss diet, exercise, supplements and medication for the treatment of osteoporosis. The research indicates that effective treatment programs for healthy bones must include mechanisms to reduce the negative effects of stress on your body. Reducing the negative effects of stress on your body helps the cells responsible for healthy bones to begin functioning normally once again. In a nutshell, the time spent promoting good mental wellbeing is as important as that spent on good physical health.
Advice for good physical health and mental wellbeing
- Eating fresh, nutrient-rich foods is good for your health. But eating fresh, nutrient rich foods while feeling emotionally balanced and at peace is even better.
- Move your body. Doing regular exercise is one of the best habits you can adopt that will help you avoid depression and stay emotionally balanced. It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do. What is important is to be active and use your joints and muscles on a regular basis.
- Your nutritional status can make all the difference between coping with stress or breaking down with stress. While it is important to your overall health that you eat a well-balanced and nutrient-dense diet, for emotional health specifically, it is important to ensure adequate intake of B vitamins, vitamin D, and two long chain omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA.
- Breathe deeply and regularly. It helps reduce the tone of your sympathetic nervous system and increase the tone of your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the portion of your nervous system that promotes relaxation and good digestion.
- Spend some quiet time every day in prayer, meditation, or a purposeful relaxation session. All three have been scientifically proven to facilitate a relaxation response in your body that can decrease blood pressure, decrease pulse rate, and improve blood circulation. Meditation and relaxation sessions can be greatly enhanced by listening to audio CDs that are designed to facilitate optimal relaxation and mental clarity.
- Practise visualisation. Spend some time each day visualising yourself going about your day in a balanced and emotionally poised manner. You can include visualisation in your prayer/meditation/ relaxation sessions.
- Go for osteoporosis risk assessment and treatment.
- Women, ageing, Asian, parent or sibling osteoporosis.
- Hormone levels: Osteoporosis is more common in people who have too much or too little of sex hormones, or hyper or hypothyroidism.
- Dietary factors: Low calcium intake, eating disorders, or weight-loss surgery.
- On steroids, seizures, depression, gastric reflux, cancer, or transplant rejection.
- Lifestyle choices such as leading a sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption or tobacco use.
- If you have any of the above risk factors, then consult your doctor for a possible DEXA scan to establish osteoporosis and get treated accordingly.