Fitness Files: Tea may be the answer to weak bones

At 3:30 p.m., my fourth-grade classroom quieted. Students, parents, staff cleared out, and I would collapse behind my desk, confronting the next day's plans and pile of student papers.

Shattering the first moments of silence, Arnie, the custodian would blast through the door with his turbo-charged vacuum cleaner. Once finished with his nerve-jangling chores, Arnie would take a break to chat. He liked the casinos, horse races and cards. He found out I drank green tea and brought me a bag of genuine Japanese green.

I miss Arnie's rakish grin, though not his clanging, roaring vacuum. And he had a lasting influence on my drink preference. I'm hooked on green tea's grassy taste and hearty vege/fresh hay aroma.

Yet, in the midst of researching last week's coffee article, I gave zero credibility to one line — "tea builds bones." No reason for disbelief except I'm naturally skeptical.

So I expected a disclaimer when asking Google, "Does tea build bones?" Instead I ran into CL Shen's 9,000-word National Institutes of Health abstract with 185 footnotes: "Green Tea and Bone Metabolism." The article says, "Ingestion of green tea and green tea bioactive compounds may be beneficial in mitigating bone loss. … In general, tea … might decrease the risk of fracture by improving bone mineral density (BMD) and supporting osteoblastic activities while suppressing osteoclastic activities." Osteoblasts build bone, while osteoclasts are involved in the breakdown of bone tissue.

My reading regarding bone mineral density suggests the superiority of dietary solutions to osteoporosis over calcium supplementation. So I was happy to read that green tea's antioxidant effects come in part from ascorbic acid naturally present in the drink.

Bone loss is caused by an "imbalance between bone formation and bone resorption." Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, kidney malfunction and age-related estrogen loss contribute to bone loss.

Shen's article says, "Over half of postmenopausal women will experience a bone fracture as the result of osteoporosis. Similarly, one out of four osteoporosis patients is male and 30% of hip fractures occur in men."

So it is significant that, in many studies, tea drinkers had higher bone mass than non-tea drinkers. Authors quote a United Kingdom study that found that tea drinkers showed "a decline in fracture risk of approximately 10% to 20%.

A positive relation between tea drinking, regardless of the type of tea, and bone mineral density has also been reported among postmenopausal women in the United States, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Japan.

However, because of some conflicting human results, perhaps from problems in study design, the "Green Tea" article resorts to heavily controlled animal studies. In these studies, "Green tea polyphenols have been found to counteract inflammation-induced bone loss.... Specific compounds in green tea have been found to mitigate bone lost through antioxidative stress action, mitigating bone loss through anti-inflammatory action and enhancing bone growth and suppressing bone loss probably due to [the interface between the skeletal system and the immune system.]" The article goes on, in technical detail, to explain the "mounting evidence that green tea contains many bioactive ingredients that support some protection against osteoporosis."

The NIH article describes more scientific details than I can include, supporting the interaction of green tea's particular chemical composition with mammals' various bone-building pathways.

After Shen's dense technical discussion, I retreated to WebMd's Jeanie Lerche Davis' easy-to-read "There's Something to be Said for Having 'Tea Bones.' " She begins, "Ladies, start your teapots," selecting an English study also described by Shen.

"Tea drinkers had significantly greater bone mineral density measurements."

It says the United Kingdom study suggests that tea has components that weakly mimic the effect of the female hormone, estrogen — namely maintaining bone mineral density in postmenopausal women.

Thanks, Arnie. Your gift of pungent loose tea leaves may have helped me stave off osteoporosis for a few years. Your love of the races, casinos and poker? Who knows, I have more time now.

Because, dear readers, I must bid you adieu. I love writing "Fitness Files," and am grateful to those who contacted me, met me on the road saying they read the column and all Pilot subscribers I've never met but who exist in my thoughts. The Pilot's new format debuts without my column. Starting in October, please find my weekly writing on or friend me on Facebook, Carolyn Slayback. Stay in touch!


Newport Beach resident CARRIE LUGER SLAYBACK is a marathoner in her 70s who brought home first places in LA Marathons 2013 and 2014 and the Carlsbad Marathon 2015. She lives in Newport Beach.