Your Skeletal Anatomy & Bone Health

Your Skeletal Anatomy, Bone Density and Bone Health

By Jon Barron-Baseline of Health Foundation

Your skeleton is the supporting structure for your body and the attachment for all your muscles. Or another way to look at it is that your skeletal system provides the levers that your muscles use to lift weight and do work. It also protects all of your major organs. In this issue of the newsletter, we’re going to make no attempt to teach you the names of all the bones in the human body. Unlike learning the names of the muscles, there is no inherent advantage to the lay person in learning those names. Instead, we’re going to focus on:

  • The divisions and functions of the skeletal system.
  • The anatomy of the bones.
  • The cells and minerals that make up those bones.
  • The various injuries that can affect your bones.
  • The primary diseases of bones.
  • How to optimize bone health.

The Divisions and Functions of the Skeletal System

In the adult human body, there are 206 named bones–many in pairs–ranging from the very large, such as the pelvis and femur, to the very tiny, such as the ossicles of the inner ear. Anatomists divide these bones into two main categories: axial and appendicular.

Axial bones are lined up vertically for support. They form the longitudinal axis of the body and are parallel to the center of gravity. They basically function as a place to hang our appendages. In sum, there are 80 bones in the axial skeleton, roughly 40% of the bones in your body. The axial skeleton is also known as the “trunk”–your spine, ribs, skull, etc. In humans, much of the axial skeleton acts as a protective encasement for many of the major organs and central nervous system tissue (i.e., the spinal cord and the brain), whereas the appendicular skeleton provides no such function.

The appendicular skeleton is comprised of the remaining 126 bones. It includes the bones of the limbs and the pectoral and pelvic girdles that attach the limbs to the trunk. Specifically, the appendicular skeleton is the peripheral skeletal structure that includes arms, legs, pelvis (excluding the sacrum), and shoulders. The appendicular skeleton is associated with movement such as walking or the way the arms move in the shoulder girdle. Like the axial skeleton, it is comprised of bones held together by ligaments, with cartilage essentially used to help make the joints run smoother.

Primary Functions of the Skeletal System

First and foremost, your skeletal system provides stability and support for your body. This is primarily seen in the axial bones. This part of the skeletal system also provides physical protection of the internal organs. The skull, of course, protects the brain. The rib cage covers the chest cavity and the organs of the upper abdominal cavity. And the pelvis protects the organs of the lower abdominal cavity. Note: the upper part of the pelvis–the wings of the ilium– and the lower part of the rib cage are only separated by a few inches. All the rest is covered.

The appendicular bones, on the other hand, are associated with movement and work, in conjunction with muscular attachments applying force to the bones. As previously discussed, your bones are the levers on which your muscles exert force.

It also needs to be remembered that bones are not inert. They are living tissue, complete with living cells that perform functions beyond the obvious. For example, bones are also the place where all of the various blood cells are produced.  Red marrow in the center of the bones produces red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and macrophages. In addition, your bones serve as a mineral bank for the three primary minerals in your body: calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. From this bank, your body can mobilize these minerals or redeposit them as needed. And finally, your bones–especially the long bones such as your femurs–serve as a place to store emergency reserves of fat in the form of yellow marrow.

Gross Anatomy of Your Bones

Generally speaking, and based on shape, there are four kinds of bones in your body.

Flat bones parallel the surfaces of the body and have a protective function. One example would be the two ilia, the wings of the pelvis as seen above, and the pelvis itself. These flat bones protect all of the organs in the lower half of the abdominal cavity.  The bones of the skull protect the brain.

Long bones are weight-bearing bones, such as the femur in your thigh and the radius, ulna, and humerus in your arm. They are slightly curved, and strong. In bone density, they are both compact and spongy. They tend to bear weight the long way — but are much easier to snap when stressed across the short way. A weightlifter can raise hundreds of pounds directly over his head without damaging these bones, but it only takes a fraction of that to snap if the weight is applied across the bones…as many American football players can testify. The limbs are composed of long bones.

Short bones are compact on the surface, with spongy centers, and are cuboidal in shape. Examples of short bones include the wrist and ankle bones. Short bones are found in joints where we need lots of variation in movement in combination with a very strong attachment. Referring to your wrists and ankles again, they contain eight such short bones that can move in all different ways against each other, which allows for the wide range of motion these joints require.

All the rest of the bones in your body are classified as irregular and have various functions. Examples include the vertebrae and facial bones. The mandible, for example, is specially designed for chewing whereas the brow and cheek bones serve to guard the eyes, which are protectively recessed in the eye sockets. The vertebrae, on the other hand, protect the spinal cord, provide cushioning, and yet their shape and springiness between each vertebra provide great flexibility of movement.

As defined by the World Health Organization, osteoporosis is a generalized skeletal disorder characterized by thinning of the bone and deterioration in its architecture, causing susceptibility to fracture. The key phrase here is “susceptibility to fracture.” There are two types of osteoporosis (post menopausal and senile), with both types being more common in women than men–thus strongly implicating hormonal issues. Standard treatments include hormone replace therapy, calcium supplements, and pharmaceutical drugs such as Fosamax. All of these treatments are only marginally effective at best, tend to be short term in whatever benefits they do provide, and are often associated with severe side effects–including death. And surprisingly, that even applies to calcium supplements. Fortunately, there are natural alternatives that avoid all of these problems.


And then there’s arthritis. No discussion of bones would be complete without mentioning problems with the joints–which essentially comes down to arthritis, both osteo and rheumatoid.

Osteoarthritis is a disease characterized by degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint…accompanied by bony overgrowth. The breakdown of these tissues eventually leads to pain and joint stiffness. The joints most commonly affected are the knees, hips, and those in the hands and spine. It is a degenerative disease, resulting from wear and tear on joints. It comes from being an athlete, or just growing older. It primarily affects articular cartilage. The disappearance of cartilage causes bones to rub together causing inflammation, bone spurs, and bone degeneration. And it tends to affect large joints first but can spread to any joints. Statistically, osteoarthritis is far more common than rheumatoid arthritis, but rheumatoid arthritis is more crippling.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

The literal translation of arthritis is “joint inflammation.” And that’s about all that osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis share in common. As just discussed, osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear on the articular cartilage that leads to bone on bone damage to the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disorder most likely triggered by bacterial and viral infections in which you become allergic to your own joints and your immune system literally eats away your joints. But the difference in the two diseases goes beyond that.

Rheumatoid arthritis primarily affects synovial membranes. The synovial membranes are crucial to joint health because they secrete synovial fluid, which is what actually lubricates the joint. And not only do the membranes stop secreting lubricating fluid, they also become thick and inflamed, potentially immobilizing the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis primarily affects your small, fine joints, such as your fingers. And unlike osteoarthritis, it tends to be bilateral and symmetrical. In other words, it tends to affect both knees, both wrists, etc.

 Conclusion–Optimizing Bone Health

When it comes to optimizing bone health, we really need to separate things into four categories:

  • Preventing and dealing with osteoporosis.
  • Preventing and dealing with arthritis.
  • Basic bone nutrition.
  • Exercise.


Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease in America, affecting 20 percent of women over 50 years old. As we mentioned earlier, it appears to be connected to hormonal changes; but standard hormone replacement therapy with synthetic hormones is not necessarily effective and is potentially quite dangerous. On the other hand, balancing out hormonal levels with natural or bio-identical hormones can be extremely beneficial. Specifically, we’re looking at:

Supplementing with all natural progesterone to correct for estrogen dominance. In fact, if you are worried about osteoporosis, there is only one substance known that significantly improves bone formation — and that’s natural progesterone. Progesterone works by stimulating osteoblast-mediated new bone formation. Estrogen works by inhibiting osteoclast-mediated resorption. Men can use a men’s version of progesterone crème.

In those cases where estrogen supplementation is required, using bio-identical estrogen in a dosage that mimics the body’s natural balance between estriol, estrone, and estradiol is safer and more effective than using unbalanced synthetic forms. Remember, the goal is to cause the body’s bone growth cycle to return to a state of normalcy — not extremely abnormality.

And keeping levels of testosterone at adequate levels can be beneficial for both men3 and women. For example, a study published in the 1987 issue of “The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism” showed that during periods of peak testosterone production, women display fewer symptoms of osteoporosis than during periods of lower testosterone production.4–and this can be done naturally by freeing up the bound testosterone already in your body. No additional testosterone is required. Again, restoring balance is the key.

By the way, I recommend avoiding Fosamax at all costs. Why? Quite simply, it works by killing osteoclasts. As we discussed earlier, these are the cells that remove old bone so your osteoblasts can build new bone in its place. Well yes, if you kill off the osteoclasts, your bones are going to get denser because instead of replacing old bone, the new bone will “cram” itself into whatever space it can find. Unfortunately, this also means that your bones are going to get weaker because you’re not eliminating the older damaged bone. Fosamax builds a house of cards that must ultimately collapse.

About your teeth and Bone Health

Also, most doctors recommend drinking fluoridated water to build bones to prevent or treat osteoporosis. And while it’s true that naturally occurring organic fluorine in minute amounts does indeed help build bones, inorganic fluoride byproducts, as added to municipal water supplies, does not contribute to bone and tooth health. It actually creates brittle bones and teeth) and readily causes fluoride poisoning at even very small doses. Fluoride collects in the bones, and although it “technically” increases bone mass and density, there is at least some evidence that the bone it creates is very brittle and that fluoride intake can actually double the incidence of hip fractures.5 And we already know it is of no help in preventing tooth decay.


For osteoarthritis, you want to promote the rebuilding of articular cartilage. Glucosamine and chondroitin are standard recommendations within the alternative health community. Unfortunately, most people cannot utilize these molecules when taken in supplement form. In fact, these supplements only help about one third of the people who use them. For two thirds of the people who take them, they do nothing. Instead, I recommend a formula based on avocado soy unsaponifiables, which like glucosamine and chondroitin, also helps build articular cartilage, but is usable by virtually everyone. To that formula, I’d also add things like cetyl myristoleate for lubrication, boswellian extract to reduce inflammation, and Type II chicken collagen to stop your immune system from attacking your cartilage. Check out A Five-Pronged Approach to Chronic Joint Pain and Inflammation.

For rheumatoid arthritis, I’d recommend a different approach.

  • The detoxes — particularly heavy metal detoxing and blood cleansing.
  • Raising body pH (see below)
  • The use of immune boosters such as AHCC, Echinacea, and pau d’ arco and pathogen destroyers such as garlic, oil of oregano, and olive leaf extract can take on any pathogenic components.
  • The use of proteolytic enzymes to reduce inflammation systemically and reduce the incidence of circulating immune complexes.
  • Supplementation with Omega-3 fatty acids can also help with inflammation.
  • Dietary changes to remove the primary allergens, such as wheat, corn, and dairy, from your body, which also contribute to inflammation.

Basic Bone Nutrition

As I said before, I’m not a big fan of calcium supplementation for most people — either in pill form or as a component of high dairy intake. Although a necessary nutrient, it doesn’t perform as promised when taken in large amounts for bone health…and as we now know, heart health. In summary, there is an abundance of research that shows that a high consumption of calcium (supplement or diet) leads to heart disease, arthritis, disabling PMS (or PMDD as the TV ads have renamed it), and senility.

Magnesium, not calcium, is the most important major mineral needed by your body, and unfortunately, the one that is most often depleted. But it doesn’t stop there. You need vitamin K to regulate where minerals deposit in your body. You need boron to regulate the metabolism of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. You need vitamins D and K2 to even absorb calcium. And you need sufficient essential fatty acids to properly regulate bone metabolism.


When it comes to bone health, most factors pale in comparison to the problem of a high acid diet. This is one of the primary reasons that the incidence of osteoporosis has soared in recent years. This is the reason more and more men are now suffering from bone loss. If you have not already done so, I suggest you read the chapter on blood cleansing and pH balance in Lessons from the Miracle Doctors to better understand how a high acid diet (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, cooked grains, and refined sugars) leeches calcium from your body. But for now, the brief explanation is that when you consume a high acid forming diet, your body is forced to use calcium from your bones to buffer the increased acidity so that your blood pH remains constant and you don’t die.

When talking about body pH, many people make a fundamental mistake; they confuse the terms acid forming with acidic. They are not the same thing. When you are trying to make your body pH more alkaline, you need to reduce your consumption of acid forming foods and increase your consumption of alkaline forming foods. That is not the same thing as saying you need to eat less acidic foods. For example: sugar contains no acids, and yet it is highly acid forming in your body. Citrus juices, on the other hand, are highly acidic, but your body actually treats them as alkaline, and their consumption will raise your body pH, making it more alkaline.

Incidentally, I’m not a big fan of dairy when it comes to building bones. The problem with dairy is that it actually takes more calcium to buffer the phosphorus content then you actually receive from the dairy itself–thus the high incidence of osteoporosis in countries that consume a lot of dairy. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that dairy is the biggest culprit. Actually, most other acid forming foods are worse–particularly high-sugar colas. I just single out dairy because it’s always identified as great for building strong bones, when the opposite is true.

In general, acid forming foods include all meats, dairy, grains, some fruits, and all sugars. Alkaline foods include most vegetables, nuts, seaweeds and algae (chlorella and spirulina), and many fruits including all citrus.


A crucial factor that is almost always forgotten when it comes to building bone density is weight bearing exercise. As we’ve already learned, our body aggressively builds bone to repair a fracture. But your body also builds bone in response to anything that stresses the bone–and that includes simple weight bearing exercise. It’s important to understand that the more stress an exercise puts on your bones, the greater the response by your body and the more density will be built into your bones. Likewise, the lower the stress, the weaker your bones. That’s why astronauts who live in zero gravity for any length of time show early signs of osteoporosis. In fact, the rate of space flight induced bone loss is 10 times faster than in those with osteoporosis.6 Long term bed rest will also greatly accelerate bone loss. When it comes to exercise then, rowing or doing multiple laps in the swimming pool may well build strength and endurance, but they will do nothing to build your bones.

Walking and jogging, on the other hand, are good since they use the weight of your body to stress your bones.  Lifting weights is even better since it increases the weight/stress on your bones. Think gravity. Anything that increases the force of gravity on your bones will cause the bone to respond by building greater density–the more the better.  And that means that one of the single best osteogenic (bone building) exercises you can do is rebounding. When rebounding, thanks to the acceleration as you fall and the sudden deceleration as you hit the mat, your body experiences a gravitational force of two to three times normal each time you bounce. That means that, at that moment, your bones are supporting a weight of 300 to 450 lbs (assuming an initial body weight of 150). That’s a lot of bone stress, and it stimulates a lot of bone building activity in every single bone in your body.



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