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Have Crohn’s Disease? Protect Your Bones with These Tips

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Crohn's disease can be hard on many of your systems, but it can be particularly hard on your bones. Find out how to ease your Crohn's symptoms and improve your bone health in the steps outlined below.

Do you suffer from Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)? If the disease itself was not enough, there are also several serious complications that can lead to other problems in your body.

One of the most dangerous side effects is bone density loss. When you have Crohn’s disease, you cannot absorb nutrition like healthy people do. Crohn’s disease patients are often deficient in many vitamins and minerals, according to Health.com.

The vitamins and minerals commonly lacking in Crohn’s patients include vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, iron, folate, vitamin B12, zinc, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin A. Vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K are essential for normal bone growth and development, according to Cornell Medical College.

How Bones Grow

Although many people think of bones as dead, they are actually alive and living, growing tissue. The bones are made up of three components, according to Cornell University. The first components are the minerals that make up the bones, including phosphate, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K, and potassium. The second component of bones is the cells that build or break down bones. These cells include osteoblasts and osteoclasts, which repair minor cracks and breaks in bones that occur every day. The final component of bones is collagen, which is a protein that keeps bones flexible and strong. Without any of these components, the health of bones suffers.

The Role of Vitamins in Bone Health

The vitamins and minerals in your diet are responsible for how efficient your bones are at building new tissue and repairing existing bone tissue. When a disease like Crohn’s interferes with the absorption of nutrients in the body, this quickly causes your bone density to drop. Getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet is essential for your bones. You need a variety of vitamins in your diet for healthy bones, including magnesium, vitamin D, calcium, phosphate, potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin A.

Crohn’s Patients Have Lower Bone Density

A 1995 study from the Finnish Foundation for Gastroenterology Research looked at 152 patients with irritable bowel disease (72 had Crohn’s disease specifically) and 73 healthy patients. The healthy patients were used as a control group. Of the persons with IBD, they showed lower bone density than healthy patients. However, patients who had extended use of high lifetime corticosteroids showed the lowest bone density. The combination of reduced nutrition absorption with the bone-stealing properties of corticosteroid use led to a significant bone density loss in IBD patients.

A 1997 study conducted by Aker University Hospital in Norway compared Crohn’s patients with healthy individuals to view bone density differences. Each group consisted of 60 patients. This study found similar results to the 1995 study. Individuals with Crohn’s disease had reduced bone density- in part due to the use of corticosteroids. Women were more likely to have lower bone density than men.

In 2010, researchers from the Children's Nutrition Research Centre in Australia looked at children diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Children with Crohn’s disease, and adults as well, are more likely to suffer fractures. The researchers determined that Crohn’s disease can limit the development of healthy bones in children and young adults by preventing the absorption of nutrients during formative bone development years.

Protecting Bone Density with Crohn’s Disease

If you have Crohn’s disease, you probably have trouble absorbing nutrients. This can lead to a reduction in immune system function, as well as an increased risk for bone problems like osteoporosis. The best way to protect your bones from early decay is to employ the following practices into your daily life. With these strategies, you should be able to maintain efficient bone health. Before starting any supplement or lifestyle change, discuss the potential changes with your doctor, particularly if you take corticosteroids. These steroids can eat away at bone density faster than anything else, and additional bone supplements may be necessary if you are on these medications for IBD symptoms.

Supplements for Bone Health

According to Cornell University, the following minerals and vitamins are essential for healthy bones (and teeth). A person with Crohn’s is likely to be deficient in many of the following minerals and vitamins, particularly vitamin K, calcium, and magnesium. Adding the following bone-friendly vitamins and minerals to your daily supplement routine can help you maintain healthy, strong bones.

Bone-Building Supplements 
  • Manganese
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin K
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorous
  • Protein

Supplements for Digestive Health

If you have Crohn’s disease or any other form of irritable bowel disease, there are several supplements that can provide relief and reduce painful symptoms. Web MD recommends adding the following digestive supplements to your diet to ensure your intestines function properly:

Probiotics: A probiotic can help provide essential bacteria and yeast lacking in the stomach of someone with an irritable bowel disease. Probiotics help with digestion and can help relieve common Crohn’s side effects like diarrhea and IBS.

L-Glutamine: This essential amino acid is necessary for supporting normal intestinal function. L-glutamine can relieve diarrhea, and can help absorb nutrients.

Peppermint: Peppermint is a stomach-helping herb that can reduce feelings of nausea and may also provide other soothing effects for Crohn’s disease. Peppermint oil capsules provide the most benefit in the intestines where they release a soothing coating that eases pain and discomfort from IBS symptoms.

Licorice: Licorice treats a variety of conditions including heartburn and acid reflux. Licorice can also help soothe side effects of painful Crohn’s disease episodes. Licorice can have side effects, so consult with your doctor before use.

Protein: If you find that you cannot eat enough protein in your daily meals, or if protein irritates your stomach, you may want to try supplementing with protein powder. Many protein powders are made from milk, egg, pea, or rice proteins. 


According to several bone studies, exercise is one of the best ways to maintain healthy bone density. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases states that weight-bearing exercises are the best for maintaining and restoring bone health. Weight-bearing exercises can include walking, jogging, lifting weights, and any other body-powered exercise (like Pilates or Yoga). Exercise is particularly important for individuals with Crohn’s disease, as bone health can deteriorate faster in Crohn’s patients. Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day, 3 to 5 times a week will provide optimal benefit.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

While many people have trouble keeping their weight in check and approach levels of obesity, many patients with Crohn’s disease are underweight. Chronic bowel inflammation can lead to an inability to gain weight. According to the Cleveland Clinic, individuals with a low BMI are more likely to develop osteoporosis, perhaps due to a lack of bone-building nutrients in the body. It is important to ensure you add enough healthy fats and foods to your diet to ensure you gain enough weight to maintain a healthy BMI. The Center for Disease Control states that a healthy BMI is between 18 and 25 for adults over 20.

Healthy Weight Gain Methods with Crohn's Use full-fat dairy products Use cream in soups, beverages, and desserts Cook with healthy oils- including animal fat, fish oil, nut oil, and olive oil Eat nutrient-dense meals 5-6 times a day Avoid empty calories like processed grains and sugary foods Snack on healthy calorie-dense foods like nuts, dried fruit, eggs, and cheese

Foods for Bones

To protect your bone health, you should try to add as many bone-building foods to your diet as possible. If you notice that any of these foods particularly cause flare-ups, you may want to eliminate that foods and stick to supplements for that form of nutrient. The following foods provide essential bone-building nutrients:

Bone-Healthy Foods
  • Calcium: Full-fat dairy products, white, black, and kidney beans, leafy greens
  • Vitamin D: Fatty fish including sardines, mackerel, cod, sole, and salmon
  • Magnesium: Dark leafy greens, beans, okra
  • Vitamin K: Leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, brussels sprouts, beans including black, white, and kidney
  • Protein: Beef (particularly liver, bones, and organ meat), shellfish, beans, dairy, nuts
  • Phosphorus: Cheese, barley, nuts, lentils
  • Potassium: Orange fruits and vegetables, avocado, tomatoes, almonds, apples

Reduce Bone-Eroding Habits

Certain habits are known to cause bone density problems even in healthy people. A person with Crohn’s disease should be extra careful in avoiding these bone-destroying habits.

Smoking: Certain chemicals and ingredients in cigarettes can lead to bone density losses. For example, nicotine is known for blocking calcium absorption. According to the Cleveland Clinic, Crohn’s patients have a higher rate of smoking than the general population, perhaps due to the pain-deadening effects of nicotine. However, if you want to maintain optimal bone health, smoking is not an option.

Drinking: Excessive drinking is also bad for bone health. According to Web MD, alcohol use can lead to a reduction in bone density. As little as two drinks a day can contribute to bone density loss. Alcohol also interferes with calcium absorption, just like smoking. According to a 2007 study from Vejle Hospital in Denmark, Crohn’s patients who drank alcohol with a high sugar content showed the most side effects from the drink, which led to stomach pain after the event. Most doctors recommend that patients with Crohn’s disease avoid alcohol as it can irritate the stomach.

Protecting Your Bones with Crohn’s Disease

When you have Crohn’s disease, it can interfere with a variety of functions of the body. Individuals with Crohn’s are at risk for a deficiency in many essential vitamins and nutrients that are necessary for bone health. An inability to absorb nutrients combined with the fact that many foods irritate the stomach lining can lead to a chronic lack of essential vitamins and nutrients.

The best way to protect your bone health as well as the other functions of your body is to ensure you practice healthy habits that lead to bone health and avoid practices that further reduce bone density, such as drinking alcohol and smoking. When you follow these practices, you will find that your body is healthier overall, and your bones will stay safe from increased fractures, cracks, and you will see a reduced risk for developing osteoporosis.





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