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Why Your Bones Are Impacted by Keto and Low Carb Diets

The goal of a ketogenic, low-carb diet is to reduce the number of carbs in your diet. The theory is that because carbs are the main source of energy for your body, cutting them out will force your metabolism to burn other nutrients for energy, primarily fat. So far, this diet has shown promising results, and many people have lost inches around the waist and pounds on the scale.

However, while cutting carbs out does indeed force your body to burn fat, it also has some negative side effects. In addition to providing energy, carbs are important for maintaining your gut, gastrointestinal, and bone health. Therefore, when you eliminate carbs, it could have a negative impact on your bone health.

If you’re curious and want to know more, you’ve come to the right place. This article will look at how ketogenic and low-carb diets impact bone health, as well as what to do to mitigate any negative side effects.

Why Does a Reduction in Carbs Affect Your Bone Health?

Most people don’t realize that carbs play an integral role in your bone health. When most people think of bones, they think of calcium and Vitamin D, which are the two most important nutrients when it comes to healthy bones. However, in order for your body to use these nutrients, it needs energy. It just so happens that carbohydrates are the main and most efficient energy source when it comes to using Vitamin D and calcium to create and maintain healthy bones.

While your body learns to burn fat instead of carbohydrates through a process known as ketosis, this process takes time. Additionally, metabolized fat used for energy isn’t as efficient, fast, or readily available as glucose from carbohydrates. Therefore, there’s a growing concern that ketogenic diets are harmful to your bone health.

The Australian Study

In 2020, there was a study in Australia performed on elite athletes and runners. This study was largely what set off the suspicion that ketogenic diets might be harmful to bone health. Here’s how it went.

  1. The study took 30 elite runners and put them on a low-carb diet that was high in fat and protein, aka a ketogenic diet.
  2. Within several weeks, doctors found that the runners had less ability to construct new bones and that their bones were breaking down faster than before.
  3. The control group of runners who maintained their normal high-carb diet didn’t show any increase in bone breakdown or a reduced ability to build new bones.

Positive Effects of Low-Carb Diets on Bone Health

While most of what we’ve looked at so far shed a negative light on ketogenic diets in regard to bone health, there is one potential benefit.

Less Inflammation Around the Bones

Sugar and carbohydrates are two of the biggest culprits when it comes to causing inflammation in the body. Because ketogenic and low-carb diets mostly cut out sugar and carbs, the result is that there’s less inflammation around your joints and bones. This can reduce the chances of getting arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Negative Effects of Low-Carb Diets on Bone Health

While less inflammation in the body is a good thing, the negative side effects of a low-carb diet may outweigh the positives.

Faster Bone Breakdown

The main concern with ketogenic diets is that cutting out carbs results in faster bone breakdown. This, in turn, can lead to bone loss and painful conditions that accompany it.

Less Ability to Build New Bones

Most people don’t realize that bones in adults are living, growing things that can rejuvenate and develop within the body. For example, if you suffer bone loss due to an accident, surgery, or medical condition, your body gets right to work creating new bone material to replace what you lost. While calcium and Vitamin D are the main players in this job, carbohydrates also play a significant role.

Therefore, when you remove carbs from your diet, your body struggles to create new bones. Combine that with the fact that fewer carbs also lead to bone loss, and you have a recipe for disaster. 

How to Maintain Bone Health on a Low-Carb Diet

Because of the harmful, negative side effects that removing carbs from your diet has on your bones, it’s important to protect them if you’re on a ketogenic diet. Here are some of the best options.

Eat Plenty of Protein

The good news is that ketogenic diets contain moderate amounts of protein, which is beneficial to bone health as is adequate calcium intake.*  However, while protein is a good start, it isn’t a complete substitute for carbohydrates, and you’ll need to incorporate other things into your diet and lifestyle.

Exercise

In addition to helping you lose weight, studies have shown that exercise is extremely important for cardiovascular and bone health. Lifting weights, strength, and resistance exercises are great for building bone density and preventing bone loss. While exercise is always beneficial, it’s especially important if you’re on a low-carb diet.

Take Supplements

Finally, the best thing you can do to maintain bone health on a ketogenic or low-carb diet is to take supplements. Calcium, Vitamin D, collagen, Vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium all promote healthy bones and are great natural supplements to take when you’re on a low-carb diet. *