Boost bone density with good bacteria

Yesterday, I mentioned that your own microbiome has a role in generating bone-building vitamin K2 — one that scientists haven’t quite figured out yet. And if you’ve been a reader of mine for a while, then you knew it was only a matter of time before I came back to the microbiome — the all-important environment in your gut where trillions of healthy probiotic bacteria thrive.

The incredible benefits of good bacteria are hands-down among my favorite topics to both write about and discuss with my patients. And whenever science uncovers a new way to put this naturally-occurring friendly flora to work for you, I jump at the opportunity to share it with you.

I’m not going to be saying any more about K2 — at least not today. But I’ve still got bone health and probiotics on the brain, thanks to some recent research that’s uncovered a critical connection between the two…

A risk-free way to slash bone loss in half

Researchers at Emory University gave lab mice a supplement of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG for four weeks. And they found that this probiotic boosted the production of a metabolite called butyrate.

You may recall butyrate as a key inflammation-fighter and cancer preventer. But as it turns out, it also triggers the release of bone-building proteins within marrow. Well… in mice, at least.

As you know, animal studies aren’t worth the paper they’re written on when it comes to crafting recommendations for actual, live humans. Which is why I don’t usually write about them… But there are exceptions to every rule — and this is one of them, thanks to a different double-blind, randomized study that also made the rounds this past summer.

Swedish researchers gave nearly 100 older women (with an average age of 76) a probiotic powder featuring a strain of Lactobacillus reuteri or a placebo every day for a full year. They took CT scans to measure the bone density of subjects’ lower legs at the beginning and end of the study.

And guess what? By the end of the trial period, women in the placebo group lost double the amount of bone as their counterparts who took the probiotic. Clearly, probiotics offer a protective, potentially lifesaving perk when it comes to bone health. And unlike prescription drugs, they don’t come with any adverse side effects.

Picking the right probiotic

The role that your microbiome plays in bone health is really just beginning. While this latest study identified one potential way they intertwine, the connection is almost certainly more complex.

And while the research I just mentioned utilized a singular bacterial strain, that’s not the best strategy to apply as far as your gut health is concerned.

The most important thing is achieving the right balance of bacteria — which means you can’t have too many of the same kind. Microbiome diversity is essential for good health, and that’s why you should look for products with multiple strains of probiotics. With trillions of different types of bacteria cells in your body, a supplement that only has a single strain (or only just a few) won’t offer you the maximum benefit.

Another factor to keep in mind is that bigger isn’t better when it comes to probiotics. A lot of products will try to wow you with the number of colony forming units (CFUs) they deliver. But billions of CFUs are not good for you. In fact, ingesting too many of any one type of bacteria can trigger an autoimmune response and wreak havoc in your body.

Finally, you want to choose a probiotic that also contains prebiotics, which are basically “food” for probiotics. Prebiotics make probiotics more effective and longer lasting.

Keep this checklist in mind when you’re shopping for a probiotic. (The product label should include all of this information.) But of course, if you want to save yourself the time, you can always opt for the probiotic formula I’ve recommended for years: Dr. Ohhira’s.

To read more about how the microbiome can benefit other facets of your health and well-being, simply head to my October 2018 issue of my Logical Health Alternatives newsletter (“The key to good health lives in your gut”). Not a subscriber? No problem. Click here to learn more, or sign up today.

You can also check out my free e-letter archives via and type “microbiome” or “gut health” into the top right search bar.