Minced, sliced, roasted — garlic is one of the best ways to build flavor, and now new research suggests it might have potential in building stronger bones.   That’s great news this National Osteoporosis Prevention Month, as about 30 to 40 million Americans are at risk of the disease. Estimates suggest that about half of women – and a quarter of men — over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. The risk is greatest among post-menopausal women, as dwindling estrogen levels signal big losses in bone mineral density.

Fortunately, a new study shows how garlic – that fragrant, spicy bulb – might benefit bones. Forty-four postmenopausal women (ages 45 to 65) took the equivalent of two cloves of garlic or placebos daily for one month. The garlic group registered a 38% drop in certain blood markers linked to bone loss.  The markers are associated with the leaching of calcium from the bones into the blood, so scientists speculate a drop may help offer protection against this process.  These results may help explain why one twin study found that the twin who ate the most allium veggies (garlic, leeks, onions, shallots, etc.), enjoyed an 11% lower osteoporosis risk compared to their twin sibling.

If the flavor of garlic isn’t enough incentive to enjoy its myriad uses, what about potential heart benefits? Garlic oil was found to reduce diabetes-induced damage to heart cells in one animal study. Garlic and its cousins are also  under study for potential protection against certain cancers such as prostate.  We love garlic in Spicy Rapini with Garlic and Oregano.  Meanwhile, here are a few other dietary and lifestyle tips for building backbone (and the rest of your skeleton):

  • Reduce salt intake to curb calcium loss.
  • Don’t forget vitamin D — have your levels checked, and bone up with canned salmon and sensible sun exposure,
  • Favor watermelon, tomatoes and guava — all loaded with lycopene, linked to lower osteoporosis risk.
  • Add more carrots and cantaloupe to your cart — they’re tops in beta-carotene, linked to higher bone mass among female coeds.
  • All of these steps will help you maintain a healthy weight — a good thing, since higher fat mass is linked to lower bone mineral density.

Published May 1, 2013