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February 2, 2023
Your Brain & Bones Are Talking to Each Other. Here's What They're Saying
Remember tin can phones? You know, the DIY "telephone" you would make as a kid with two tin cans and a string? You'd pull the string tightly and start talking into the can, and to your surprise and delight, the person on the other end could hear you loud and clear!
What if I told you that your brain and bones are doing this right now—talking to each other?
Well, according to a 2020 study, they are. And they’re telling each other some important things (1)...
In the following article, you’ll learn how your brain and bones talk to one another, and what it means for your bone health, mental health, and more.
How Your Brain & Bones Talk to Each Other
Your skeleton is constantly remodeling itself and building new bone tissue to replace the old. In fact, every ten years your bones will almost entirely replace themselves (2). (And your brain is what regulates this whole process.)
Researchers first started honing in on the brain-bone connection in 2000, when an animal study made it clear that the brain and bone both play important roles in energy regulation and the metabolism of the bones as they remodel (3).
Since then, researchers have ramped up studies on the brain-bone interface. Here are just a few of their fascinating findings:
- Peripheral nerves (AKA the ones outside your brain and spinal cord) communicate directly with your skeleton to regulate bone formation and bone resorption (4).
- Mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and PTSD have been shown to decrease bone strength (5).
- In times of immediate or sudden danger, the brain signals bones to release osteocalcin—a unique protein produced by bone cells that helps the body have a fight-or-flight response. Without osteocalcin, we’d stay in a “rest and digest” state (6).
Researchers are still digging deeper into exactly how all of these connection work, but what we do know is that the mind-body connection is more than your yoga teacher’s favorite topic—it’s a very real thing that experts are still uncovering every day!
What’s especially fascinating is that this isn’t the only unexpected brain connection with the body: your brain and your gut are also in constant communication through what’s called the gut-brain axis (7, 8). The gut is home to millions of neurons that connect largely through the vagus nerve, and the gut and brain communicate and influence each other in both directions (9, 10, 11).
Osteoporosis and the Brain-Bone Connection: Is There a Correlation?
This conversation between your brain and bones can make an important impact on your bone density…And because bone density is such an important health indicator as you age, this connection could be the key to unlocking a healthier aging process.
After age 50, your body’s natural process of rebuilding new bone starts to lag. In other words, you start losing bone faster than your body can create it (12, 13). Around this stage of life, many people start regularly checking their bone density, doing special exercises for strengthening bones, and taking supplements like collagen that help replenish some of the bone density they have lost.
But many people still end up developing osteoporosis, a common bone disease caused by a decrease in bone density (14). This weakens your bones and increases your risk of a fracture (15). When you have osteoporosis, the brain-bone connection can make a difference in how the disease progresses, as low bone density and cognitive impairment often occur or progress together (16, 17).
Others have proposed that age-related changes in inflammation may simultaneously contribute to bone loss and slow cognitive processing (18, 19, 20). Some experts have theorized that the mineral concentrations created by osteoporosis may even form some of the brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease (21, 22, 23).
And then, of course, there’s stress. Did you know that older adults have a higher level of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline? This stress not only impacts your brain but can also interfere with bone metabolism and contribute to the development of osteoporosis (5).
Experts have found that a wide range of brain-related health issues, including stroke, epilepsy, depression, addiction, vertigo, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others can lower your bone density and increase your risk of fractures (24).
In short: By keeping your bones healthy and strong, your brain could be more likely to stay healthy and strong, too. And vice versa!
How to Protect Your Brain and Bone Health
These new findings are a lot to take in…
Aging can feel like a daunting sentence, but it doesn’t have to be. There are simple lifestyle changes you can make that will help slow the aging process of both your brain and bones. Here are a few to get you started:
- Develop healthy outlets for stress like exercise, breathwork, or a creative hobby.
- Focus on exercises that strengthen your bones.
- Avoid smoking or excessive drinking.
- Take a daily collagen supplement to help replenish the bone density you’ve lost with age.
- Aim for 8 hours of quality sleep each night.
- Get regular check-ups on your neurological health. If you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health hurdles, talk to a pro who can help—it will benefit both your overall quality of life, and your bones!
- Take a daily krill oil supplement for a healthy dose of omega-3s, the building block of the brain.
- Consider trying meditation or yoga—or both! Thanks to the power of the mind-body connection, it can have powerful benefits for gut health and bone health in addition to the peace of mind it provides (25, 26, 27). (At yoga class, be sure to let your instructor know about any bone fracture concerns so she can help you modify any risky poses.)
Lean into healthy habits, and remember that they are helping your body in more ways than just one!
- Research indicates that our brain and bones are regularly communicating with each other.
- This isn’t the only system of the body that is connected with the brain: we also have a gut-brain connection.
- The brain plays a role in our bone density, and vice versa, as we age.
- Neurological disorders could increase the risk of bone fractures, and worsening osteoporosis could increase the risk of cognitive decline.
- Help keep both your brain and bones healthy with bone-strengthening exercises, collagen supplements, krill oil supplements, meditation, yoga, and caring for your mental health.
As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.