How Diabetes Can Affect Your Bone Health

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how you process glucose, a form of sugar that is a vital source of energy for your body. Normally, the hormone insulin helps to regulate glucose absorption in the cells, but in people with diabetes, their bodies either do not produce enough insulin or their bodies are not able to properly utilize it, per the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). According to the institute, the two main diabetes types include type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is defined as an autoimmune disease. In this condition, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin are attacked by the immune system. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is a metabolic disorder that occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or is not able to use it effectively.

The symptoms of diabetes can vary depending on the type and severity of the condition, but most commonly include frequent urination, excessive thirst, fatigue, blurred vision, and slow wound healing. In some cases, diabetes can also lead to problems with bone health.

How diabetes can affect your bone health

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, there appears to be a link between osteoporosis – a condition characterized by low bone density — and diabetes. Bone quality in those with diabetes is often poorer than average, which can increase the risk of fractures and cause pain and disability. Bone health for those with type 1 diabetes, in particular, may especially be affected as the onset of the condition typically occurs at a young age, when bones are still maturing. Diabetes can also affect the body's ability to absorb calcium, a mineral essential for strong bones, per a 2017 study published in The Journal of Physiological Sciences.

Another factor affecting bone health in people with diabetes is the medications they take to manage their condition. Some diabetes medications, such as thiazolidinediones, can increase the risk of fractures by reducing bone density, according to a 2010 study published in Current Osteoporosis Reports.

How people with diabetes can improve bone health

If you have diabetes and are concerned about your bone health, there are several avenues you can take to reduce the risk of fractures and other bone-related complications. However, before making any lifestyle changes, consult your doctor first.

One of the most important strategies for improving bone health is to get enough calcium and vitamin D, as both are essential for strong bones (via WebMD). The recommended daily intake for calcium is 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day and 600 to 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods. Vitamin D can be obtained from sunlight exposure, egg yolks, fatty fish, like salmon and tuna, and mushrooms.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, regular exercise is also important for maintaining strong bones. The World Health Organization advises aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, such as brisk walking and cycling.