Osteoporosis is a major public health problem. Osteoporosis affects many more women than men – striking 1 in 2 women over the age of 50. And osteoporosis isn’t just a matter of brittle bones. It can kill. In fact it is a bigger female killer than ovarian, cervical and womb cancers combined.
But the biggest problem is that osteoporosis is so often a ‘silent disease’, bone loss happens gradually over time, without any symptoms. Osteoporosis, at the moment, remains woefully unrecognised and yet it is preventable and treatable.
What is Osteoporosis?
The word osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bones’ that is bone filled with tiny holes. Bones change constantly – being broken down and rebuilt. However, problems arise when the rate of renewal does not keep up with the rate of breakdown, the result being bone loss. When this continues over a period of years, osteoporosis occurs.
If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these below, then you should be tested for osteoporosis as your risk can be higher:
- Do you have a family history of osteoporosis?
- Have you dieted in the past or suffered from bulimia or anorexia?
- Ever had irregular menstrual cycles?
- Are you post-menopausal?
- Have you taken steroids, heparin or long-term laxatives or antacids?
- Have you suffered from digestive problems such as Crohn’s, or Coeliac’s?
Nutrition and Osteoporosis
Scientists have looked at women and the incidence of hip fractures in different countries. The highest rate of hip fractures is found in Western countries that consume high amounts of animal protein per day. The lowest incidence occurs in Asian and African populations in which animal protein intakes are much lower.
One of calcium’s roles in the body is to act as a neutraliser. When you eat too much acid food your body calls up calcium reserves from your bones to counteract the acidity. The aim then is to make the diet more alkaline by taking a close look at what you are eating and drinking. We know that women who consume the most acid-producing diets have four times as many hip fractures as those whose diets are the least acid producing. One of the most highly acid-forming substances, which cause most calcium to be leached from bones, is animal protein, particularly in red meat and hard cheeses.
On the other hand, plant foods, like vegetables and fruit, are alkaline and reduce acid production. The best way to make your diet more alkaline is simply to aim to have more alkaline-forming (fruit and vegetables) each day than acid (animal protein) and choose good quality animal protein like fish or eggs.
What you drink also has to be taken into account as caffeine can cause you to lose calcium, which is excreted through the urine, and soft fizzy drinks will also cause a leeching effect of calcium from the bones. Fizzy drinks contain a high level of phosphorus. When phosphorous levels in your blood rise, a message is sent to your brain, telling it that there is not enough calcium. As a result the body draws calcium from your bones and teeth to balance the high levels of phosphorus. If this happens regularly, your bones will begin to weaken.
Alcohol can have a negative effect on bones by decreasing osteoblastic activity (slowing down the work of bone building cells), increasing bone loss and the incidence of fractures. Alcohol also acts as a diuretic, causing you to leech out valuable minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
Sugar causes an acidic reaction similar to that triggered by protein and has the same effect of leaching calcium from your bones. It is possible to induce osteoporosis in hamsters if they are fed on a sugar-laden diet.
Bran is a refined food that contains substances called ‘phytates’. These act like a magnet, attracting valuable minerals such as calcium and zinc and magnesium, which are essential for your bones and general health. These minerals bind to the phytates and are then excreted, along with the bran, from the digestive tract. So don’t add bran on cereals. It is better to eat bran in the form that nature intended – as part of the whole grain (such as rice or oats).
Both spinach and rhubarb contain oxalic acid, which reacts with calcium in the digestive system and stops it being absorbed.
Supplements and Osteoporosis
The first nutrient that comes to mind is calcium. But many other nutrients are equally crucial for healthy bones, and these include magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc and boron.
Calcium – is essential for bone health and not only improves bone density but also reduces the risk of fractures. Choose supplements that contain calcium citrate rather than calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is literally chalk and a difficult form of calcium to absorb. Calcium citrate is almost 30% more absorbable than calcium carbonate.
Magnesium – helps to metabolise calcium and converts vitamin D to the active form necessary to ensure that calcium is efficiently absorbed. It is also essential for the normal function of the parathyroid gland which releases parathyroid hormone – one of the important ‘bone hormones’.
Vitamin D – In the digestive system, vitamin D is responsible for calcium absorption – it transports calcium across the wall of the intestines and helps to move both calcium and phosphorus into bones. With all the news in the press about the benefits of having good levels of vitamin D e.g. prevention of cancer, especially breast cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis it is important that you know whether or not you are lacking in this vital vitamin by taking a simple blood test.
As well as all of these benefits, it is now thought that having good levels of vitamin D can help slow down the ageing process and deficiencies have been implicated in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and inflammatory bowel disease.
If you suffer from joint pains it is important that you are checked for vitamin D deficiency because research has shown that people who have musculoskeletal pain e.g. low back pain are often deficient in vitamin D and when the vitamin D deficiency is corrected by taking supplementation the pain is eliminated.
There is a simple home finger prick test for checking whether you are deficient in vitamin D (see http://www.naturalhealthpractice.com/VITAMIN_D_FINGER_PRICK_DEFI_P1900C338.cfm)
Boron – Boron is an important mineral in relation to osteoporosis as it plays a crucial part in the conversion of vitamin D into its active form, which, in turn, is necessary for calcium absorption.
Vitamin C – this vitamin is vitally important in the manufacture of collagen, which is a sort of ‘cement’ that holds the bone matrix together.
There is a good ‘bone’ supplement I use in the clinic call Osteo Support (from good health food shops or www.naturalhealthpractice.com).
Osteoporosis is a preventable illness that requires a multi-disciplinary approach looking at lifestyle issues such as exercise (which is crucial), diet and supplements