Several health conditions increase your risk for osteoporosis and osteopenia, but one that many overlook is asthma. In this article, we’ll explain the connection between asthma and osteoporosis and provide tips to reduce risk and enhance bone health.
The Link Between Asthma and Osteoporosis
Asthma is a condition that affects the airways in your lungs, causing them to become inflamed and narrow, resulting in difficulty breathing.
But how does this lung condition relate to osteoporosis?
A handful of factors contribute to the link between asthma and osteoporosis, including medications, food allergies, and exercise habits. Let’s take a look at each in more detail.
Corticosteroids and Osteoporosis
Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory drugs prescribed to asthma patients to help calm their airways. Reducing lung inflammation is vital for people with asthma to ensure proper airflow and oxygen delivery. Unfortunately, one of the major drawbacks of corticosteroids is their impact on bone formation.
While these drugs do a fantastic job of reducing inflammation, they can also inhibit the function of osteoblast cells in your bones – the cells that are responsible for building and reconstructing bone.
Studies show that these anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce both the development and function of osteoblast cells while also enhancing the production of their counterpart, osteoclasts. With more osteoclasts breaking down cells and fewer osteoblasts rebuilding, bone health and integrity takes a serious hit.Corticosteroids can also inhibit the absorption of dietary calcium, which in turn weakens bone mineral density. This is why it’s suggested that patients taking these types of drugs also supplement with calcium and vitamin D to protect their bone health.
Limiting Exercise Leads To Weaker Bones
Physical activity is one of the most impactful ways to enhance bone mineral density — specifically, weight-bearing exercises like walking, jogging, weight training, stair climbing, and aerobics.
As you enhance your muscle tone by engaging in these exercises, it puts more pressure on your bones, increasing bone growth. Unfortunately, many people with asthma avoid physical activity because it can induce asthma attacks. As a result, they miss out on an excellent way to enhance and maintain bone health.
Avoiding Allergens Reduces Nutrient Intake
This is true for all types of allergies but can become a problem for bone health if you have food allergies that require you to avoid calcium-rich foods like dairy products or omega-3-rich foods like shellfish.
That said, some people with asthma will avoid allergens like dairy and shellfish out of caution, but this is not necessary. Unless you have an allergy to a specific food, dietary “allergens” shouldn’t impact your asthma symptoms.
How People With Asthma Can Protect Their Bones
Get To The Root Cause of Asthma
Asthma does not just occur on its own; there is always some type of trigger that instigates inflammation in your lungs and results in asthmatic symptoms. Getting to the root of your asthma can help you reduce your need for medication or even allow you to get off it altogether.
While everyone’s body is different, at the root, asthma is a condition that’s triggered by the immune system. This could be due to imbalanced gut bacteria, unrecognized food allergies, environmental toxins, and so on.
Working with a functional medicine doctor is a great way to gather information about what might be causing your asthma in the first place and how to treat it naturally.
Exercise Tips for Asthma
If you’ve been inactive for a while, starting with short walks is a great place to begin. You don’t want to push your lung capacity too far beyond what you’re used to, but you also want to ensure that you’re strengthening your body.
As you build up stamina, you can move to other activities like biking, hiking, and swimming. You’ll likely want to avoid activities requiring long exertion periods, like long-distance running or team sports like basketball and soccer.
Yoga is another fantastic weight-bearing exercise that also requires consistent deep breathing, which can benefit lung health. Research shows that regular yoga practice can decrease asthmatic episodes and reduce the need for asthma medications due to its ability to enhance lung capacity.
Consider Nutritional Support
Your bones require specific nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids, to stay healthy and strong. If you’re taking asthma medication, you may be interfering with the dietary absorption of some of these nutrients, which means that supplementing with them to enhance your overall intake is a good idea.
Getting enough calcium is crucial for bone density, but it also happens to be one of the nutrients most impacted by corticosteroid use. Finding a high-quality calcium supplement will provide the basic building blocks you need to enhance bone integrity.
Look for a calcium supplement that includes vitamin D, as vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of both osteoporosis and asthma. Research also shows that vitamin D supplements may improve the response to corticosteroid treatment.
You may also want to consider adding fish oil to your supplement regimen as it not only enhances bone health, but studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and difficulty breathing in people with asthma.
Get a DEXA Scan
If you’re taking corticosteroid medications for asthma, it’s a good idea to get a DEXA scan to evaluate your risk for fractures and osteoporosis.
A DEXA scan is an imaging test that measures bone density by allowing you to see the mineral content in your bones. With this information, your physician can assess any bone loss as well as your current risk for osteopenia or osteoporosis.
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While it’s true that having asthma can enhance your risk for osteoporosis, this does not necessarily mean you’re destined for poor bone health.
Regular exercise can enhance bone density while also improving lung capacity, and supplementing with a high-quality calcium supplement and fish oil will provide your body with the nutrients it needs for optimal bone formation.
That said, the best thing you can do for long-term quality of life is to get to the root cause of your asthma. Asthma doesn’t just appear out of nowhere, so knowing your triggers can give you information on how to treat your asthma and potentially reduce your need for medications.
Can asthma cause osteoporosis?
Medication prescribed for asthma, such as corticosteroids, can negatively impact bone density and increase your risk for osteoporosis. Furthermore, many people with asthma avoid weight-bearing exercise, which is crucial for maintaining bone strength. And finally, some people with asthma will avoid foods like dairy and fish out of fear of allergic reactions. These foods are rich in bone-building nutrients.
Do inhaled steroids affect bone density?
Both inhaled and oral steroids can impact bone density by inhibiting the activity of osteoblasts (bone-building cells) and increasing osteoclast (bone resorption cells) activity. Some steroids may also impact dietary calcium absorption, leading to reduced mineral density in your bones.
Does dairy aggravate asthma?
Dairy should not aggravate asthma unless you have an allergy or sensitivity to dairy. With that being said, people with asthma are more likely to experience food allergies, so if you notice dairy aggravates your asthma, you should get an allergy test.
What kind of exercise is good for asthma?
Medication prescribed for asthma, such as corticosteroids, can negatively impact bone density and increase your risk for osteoporosis. Furthermore, many people with asthma avoid weight-Exercises like yoga, walking, and hiking are good choices for people with asthma. These types of physical activity increase lung capacity without putting too much pressure on your body. With these activities, you can slowly build up the time and intensity of your workout.
Can I do weight training if I have asthma?
Yes, as long as your asthma is under control and you’re not pushing yourself past your limits. Weight training is an excellent choice for people with asthma because it enhances bone density, which can be a concern for asthmatics that use corticosteroids.