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Nutrition and Joint Health in Seniors – Improve Mobility and Reduce Pain
Shaina McQuilkie

by Shaina McQuilkie, Licensed Chiropractor

Last Updated On May 31st, 2023, Published On April 28, 2023

Food & Nutrition

Nutrition and Joint Health in Seniors – Improve Mobility and Reduce Pain

Bone and joint health is an important factor to consider among seniors because bone and joint conditions often affect the elderly. Bones are a type of living and growing tissue that stay healthy through a continual process of repair, renewal, and mineral release. As you age, this remodeling process can become unbalanced—leading to weakened bones that are more likely to break—a condition known as osteoporosis. Another common condition that can happen as you age is osteoarthritis, which is a degenerative joint disease that causes symptoms such as joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation. Both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis can lead to significant morbidity and have a negative impact on your quality of life.

One of the ways to support optimal bone and joint health as you age is to review your diet. You should not forget that there is an important link between the food you eat and your health, including your bone and joint health. Making simple changes to your diet can help protect your bones and joints as well as support the functioning of many other areas of your body, including your brain, heart, and skin. 

Basics of osteoporosis 

Osteoporosis is a chronic, and often debilitating, bone condition that occurs when the body loses too much bone, doesn’t make enough new bone, or both, resulting in weakened bones that are more likely to break following minor injuries. While osteoporosis can impact any bone in the body, those of the hip, spine, and wrist are most commonly affected. Moreover, the condition is referred to as a “silent disease” because there are often no symptoms until a fracture occurs. 

Basics of osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis among senior citizens. It is a chronic, degenerative joint disease that happens when the tissues that cushion the ends of the bones within the joints of the body gradually break down, leading to symptoms like joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and decreased range of motion. While any joint in the body can be affected by osteoarthritis, joints of the lower back, neck, hands, hips, knees, and feet are most commonly affected.

Eating the right nutrients

You reach peak bone density in your 30s and then it gradually declines as you get older. While what you eat growing up has a significant impact on your bone health later in life, following the right nutrition regime as you age can help slow down bone loss and protect your bones, minimizing your risk of developing osteoporosis and the associated risk of fracture. Additionally, including foods that are healthy for your bones in your daily diet can help protect the joints and reduce inflammation in the body, relieving symptoms of osteoarthritis. 

Importance of calcium

About 99% of the body’s calcium is found in the bones and teeth, making calcium crucial for optimal bone and joint health. It is recommended that elderly individuals have a calcium intake of 1000-1200 mg/day for the maintenance of optimal bone health. There are some obvious sources of calcium, including low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. However, there are other sources of calcium including dark, leafy green veggies such as spinach, collard greens, and kale, as well as nuts and seeds, beans, tinned sardines, tofu, broccoli, Bok choy, oranges, hummus, figs, and salmon.

Supportive vitamins and minerals

There are various other vitamins and minerals that are needed for bone and joint health, including:

  • Vitamin D
    Vitamin D is particularly essential because your body cannot absorb calcium without it. A limited number of foods, including fatty fish such as tuna, sardines, salmon, and mackerel as well as liver, egg yolks, and some fortified foods contain vitamin D. But, most of your vitamin D comes from sunlight, and unfortunately, many seniors don’t get enough sun exposure. If you’re looking to increase your vitamin D levels, the best way is to get at least 2 to 25 minutes of sun exposure to bare skin. However, if you’re over the age of 65, you should consider taking vitamin D3 supplements, about 25 mcg, every day. Vitamin D3 is recommended over D2 because it is better absorbed in the body. 
  • Magnesium
    Magnesium is another crucial nutrient that supports the absorption of calcium in the body. It is also one of the most common mineral deficiencies, especially in the elderly. If you’re looking to increase your intake of magnesium-rich foods, consume dark, leafy green veggies such as kale, spinach, and cabbage, as well as seafood, seeds and nuts, beans, avocados, yogurt, prunes, raisins, and dark chocolate
  • Vitamin K
    Vitamin K is an important vitamin that supports the absorption of calcium in the bones of the body. There are a limited number of foods that have vitamin K2, which is the type of vitamin K needed in the bones, including fermented foods such as blue cheese and sauerkraut, soft and hard cheeses, kidney, chicken liver, chicken breast, and minced beef. 
  • Boron
    An important mineral for bone and joint health, boron is essential for the growth and maintenance of bone. Food sources packed with this nutrient include apples, bananas, pears, peaches, broccoli, avocados, nuts, beans, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, almonds, peanuts, grape juice, and raisins.  
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
    Omega-3 fatty acids help to prevent joint injuries and also have anti-inflammatory properties. Salmon, tuna, anchovies, nuts and seeds, tofu, and Brussels sprouts are some foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Foods to avoid for improved bone and joint health 

Just as there are foods you should incorporate for healthy bones and joints, there are some foods that you should avoid for optimal bone and joint health.

  • Sugar
    Research has found that increased sugar intake is associated with increased inflammation and risk of obesity. Both these conditions can wreak havoc on the joints of your body, so minimizing your sugar intake is essential for healthy bones and joints. Added sugar is found in many processed foods, including baked goods and candies, as well as various sauces and salad dressings. 
  • Salt
    While salt is an important part of your diet because it helps your body function properly, consuming too much salt can lead to fluid retention, causing inflammation and joint swelling. Make sure to check the nutrition labels on the foods you eat, and make sure you’re not exceeding the recommended daily allowance. 
  • Trans and saturated fats
    A diet high in trans and saturated fats is associated with increased inflammation in the body. So, you must limit your consumption of sources of trans and saturated fats such as full-fat dairy products, processed and fried foods, butter, and red meats. 
  • Omega-6 fatty acids
    While omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory. Minimizing the intake of omega-6-rich foods like certain vegetable oils can help to decrease inflammation in the body and associated joint pain. 
  • Alcohol
    Alcohol consumption is associated with increased inflammation in the body. The CDC recommends moderate alcohol intake, no more than one drink per day for women, and no more than two drinks per day for men to minimize health risks.

All in all, incorporating foods that are rich in calcium, vitamin D, and other important nutrients that are essential for optimal bone and joint health in your daily meals can help to improve mobility and reduce pain. Moreover, following a balanced, bone-healthy diet, combined with regular physical activity can help improve the health of your bones and joints as you age and maintain your quality of life.