New Study Says Taking Care of Your Bones Can Help Prevent Dementia—Here's How to Do It
AN ORTHOPEDIC SURGEON SHARES HER BEST TIPS FOR KEEPING BONES STRONG.
Dementia is a frightening condition—and one that's on the rise. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 55 million people across the globe are currently living with dementia, and nearly 10 million new cases are diagnosed each year.
This is particularly alarming given that there is no cure for dementia, which is an umbrella term for a range of diseases that cause cognitive decline. Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for roughly 60 to 70 percent of cases, the WHO reports. Other causes include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, strokes, and frontotemporal dementia. Dementia affects memory and thinking, and can greatly impact people's ability to perform daily activities.
A study published by the journal Neurology in March 2023 showed a correlation between bone health and dementia, and Best Life reached out to Meredith Warner, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and founder of Well Theory, to find out what we can take away from this new research. Read on to find out what she said—and how you can take care of your bones and your brain at the same time.
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Bone health is linked with overall wellness.
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Warner stresses that this new study does not say that poor bone health causes dementia: "What this study does is show a strong correlation between a lack of good-quality bone and dementia. This is not a causal link. The authors are careful to point that out," she explains.
So what does bone health have to do with dementia? "Bone health is tightly linked to overall health," Warner says. "As people age, many develop frailty and sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass). Many also develop osteopenia or osteoporosis. These conditions develop not so much because time has passed, but because people engage in less and less exercise as they age."
She notes that people who stay active and continue to exercise as they age are likely to preserve most of their bone mass, which not only keeps them from becoming frail, but boosts their brainpower. "When bone is used, particularly for resistance exercise, it will release certain hormones that promote brain health.
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Medications and supplements for bone health will not lessen dementia risk.
Prescription medications are available to help treat osteoporosis, which causes bones to become weak and brittle. However, Warner says they won't help prevent dementia. "Taking an osteoporosis drug will certainly help with the loss of bone structure, but will not really do anything for the brain," she tells Best Life. "Simply taking medications like bisphosphonates, which stop bone loss from osteoporosis, or anabolic bone medications that can add bone will not lessen dementia risk."
As for the various supplements touted to improve bone health, Warner says that although they may not directly affect cognition, it's still worth taking them. "Some supplements are wonderful for bone health, and I recommend them constantly," she says, adding that they'll also strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, and help prevent vascular calcifications. "The ones I love are vitamin D3, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, and Omega-3 fatty acids."
Exercise is "the most powerful treatment available" for dementia.
Warner's main takeaway from this new study is less about bones and more about exercise. "The study shows a correlation between poor bone health and dementia risk. In my opinion, this is really showing a correlation between a lack of activity and dementia risk," she explains. "The brain has a tremendous amount of space devoted to motion. Those that maintain movement and activity as they age will have not just better bone and muscle health, but will retain brain connections to the body and will also improve cognition."
In fact, she says that exercise is the best thing you can do to prevent cognitive decline. "Many in the anti-aging and wellness world have advocated for years now that exercise is the most powerful treatment available to prevent and treat dementia. This is true and will always be true."
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Lifting weights strengthens your bones—and your brain.
If you want to keep your bones strong and your brain sharp, Warner says exercise is essential—but not just any type of exercise. "Using load and muscle pull on the bone will allow the release of osteocalcin, promote more BDNF (brain-derived nootropic factor), and reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain. This will help cognition."
In other words, pump some iron! "I find that with many women, particularly older ones, once I suggest weightlifting they are interested and willing to try," Warner says. "Nobody usually tells women they should be lifting weights. Certainly, they get no guidance. My clinic and physical therapists have developed fast and effective methods to improve strength for older women, and this is the ultimate tool for both bone and brain health."
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.