In recent years, it’s become more and more evident that our gut microbiome is an unsung mastermind behind our general wellness. A thriving GI colony has been linked with all sorts of benefits, including lower diabetes risk, better mental health, and easier weight management. Should we really be surprised, then, that a new study has found that gut health and bone health are connected?
The study, recently published in Nutrients, offers some new and insightful revelations about the interplay not just between the gut and bones, but the brain, too. Researchers are beginning to understand how these three critical components influence each other.
Before this study, other research had confirmed a correlation between gut microbiota and bone disease. The researchers behind this particular Nutrients study set out to pin down a more detailed understanding of how the two are connected. They began with the theory that the gut-brain axis (the neurological highway between belly and brain) can affect neurophysiological issues like cognition, depression, and insomnia. This was confirmed using large population datasets from the U.K. Biobank and Cognitive Genomics Consortium.
In turn, this study revealed that these aspects of brain health could impact the skeletal system in some significant ways. Insomnia, for example, could lead to unsteadiness during the day, leading to slips and falls. There’s also evidence that suggests people with depression are at higher risk of osteoporosis. And since cognitive impairments increase the risk of falls in older people, it only makes sense that better cognition could lead to fewer bone fractures.
There’s more to the bone-brain-gut story than these logical links, though. “It’s not just the types of microbes in the gut, but what those microbes produce that can lead to better bone health,” says Kim Kulp, R.D.N., gut health expert and owner of the Gut Health Connection in the San Francisco Bay area. “Certain microbes produce butyrate, which is fuel for the cells that line the colon, strengthening the intestinal barrier. This then reduces inflammation, increases nutrient absorption, and helps to regulate immune function.” What does that have to do with your bones? Well, immune cells travel to the bones, where they help break down and rebuild bone tissue, Kulp explains.
Another byproduct of good gut bugs: “Gut microbes also produce vitamin K, which is needed to make the bone protein osteocalcin,” she adds. “With less osteocalcin, bone is more prone to fractures.” Again, it’s a three-way street between bones, brain, and gut. “Osteocalcin is secreted by the bones, and impacts brain function, while the vitamin K needed to create osteocalcin is secreted by gut microbes,” she explains.
Though they might seem like totally different bodily systems, this research reveals that the belly, brain, and bones are intimately connected. So what does that mean for everyday lifestyle choices? Kulp says a top takeaway is to eat more foods that promote a flourishing microbiome. “For better gut health, eat more plants,” she says. “Research shows that the greatest mix of healthy gut microbes comes from including more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes in the diet.”
Since different microbes have different “favorite” foods, eating from a variety of plant food groups will fuel a broad spectrum of good bacteria. “This will provide you with vitamins and compounds that can reduce inflammation, protect the lining of your intestines, and lead to better bone health,” she says. Not sure how to get started? Here’s a guide to making that whole “eat the rainbow” thing more realistic!
Supplementing with a high-quality probiotic is another solid way to support a healthy microbiome. Use this guide to find a good probiotic match for your needs.