Protect Your Bones the Natural Way
Julian Whitaker, MD
An osteoporosis-related fracture occurs every 20 seconds in this country. One-third of all women and one-sixth of all men will fracture a hip in their lifetime, and 12 to 20 percent of these fractures will begin a downward spiral that ends in premature death. Of those who survive, half will require long-term nursing home care.
Some loss of bone density is normal with aging, but there are factors that speed mineral loss from the bones or impede bone repair and rebuilding. These include nutritional deficiencies, inadequate exercise, hormonal and dietary factors, drugs (steroids, antacids, anticonvulsants, and thyroid drugs), and diseases of the thyroid, kidney, liver, or pancreas. Although some of these factors are beyond your control, there are measures you can take to strengthen your bones and avoid becoming another osteoporosis statistic.
Take the Right Supplements
First, start on a nutritional supplement program that targets bone health, and that means more than just taking calcium. Vitamin D is also important, for without it, calcium cannot be properly absorbed. In a 2003 study, women taking vitamin D supplements absorbed up to 65 percent more calcium than those not taking vitamin D. Then there’s vitamin K, which helps “glue” calcium into the bone. Vitamins B12, B6, and folic acid also play a role. Researchers have found that women with the lowest levels of vitamin B12 have the most rapid hip bone loss.
There’s more. Vitamin C is involved in the synthesis of collagen, which makes up the extracellular matrix, or scaffolding, of the bones, and vitamin A is required for the growth of bone-building cells. The trace mineral strontium slows down bone resorption and increases new bone formation. It was recently demonstrated that taking strontium supplements along with calcium and vitamin D dramatically boosted bone density and decreased fracture risk. Other bone-building nutrients include magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, boron, and silica.
Bone Up on Diet
A good diet is essential. Adequate intake of calcium is a cornerstone of bone health. Although I encourage you to include some low-fat or nonfat yogurt and cottage cheese, don’t go overboard on dairy. Many people don’t tolerate it very well. Anyway, it’s not the only calcium-rich food. This important mineral is found in green leafy vegetables and broccoli (good sources of vitamin K), canned sardines and salmon, nuts and seeds, beans, tofu, and calcium-enriched products such as orange juice.
Make sure you get enough protein: a three-to-four ounce serving of poultry, fish, or vegetable protein with every meal. While excessive protein intake has been linked with calcium loss, adequate protein increases levels of growth factors and may actually decrease bone resorption. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and go easy on alcohol, caffeine, sodas, refined sugar, and salt, which promote calcium loss. And be selective about your fats. Inflammation is also a factor in osteoporosis, so include salmon, flaxseed, and other sources of “anti-inflammatory” omega-3 fats in your diet.
Shake It Up, Baby
You also need to get moving. No single therapy is as effective at countering age-related bone loss as weight-bearing exercise. The stress exercise exerts on the bones stimulates the production of new cells, and the greater the stress, the greater the benefits. Brisk walking helps maintain bone mass, but weightlifting actually increases it. Adding two or three weekly sessions of moderate weight training to your exercise regimen is imperative for anyone over age 50.
HRT: The Baby With the Bathwater
Bone loss accelerates after menopause, and there is ample research to support estrogen’s positive effects on bone. However, given all the negative press over the past year, many women are reluctant to consider. Granted, horses’ hormones and synthetic progestins (the forms of estrogen and progesterone used in the studies that highlighted the risks of HRT) are bad news, but natural hormones are a different story altogether. A course of natural estrogen and progesterone, especially in the years just after menopause, appears to be a safe, natural way to prevent bone loss.
Estrogen and progesterone aren’t the only hormones that affect skeletal health. Age-related drops in testosterone, DHEA, and human growth hormone also contribute to osteoporosis, and they’ve all been shown to increase bone mass. Although testosterone and growth hormone are the heavy hitters here, good old over-the-counter DHEA can hold its own. In a year-long study, daily doses of 50 mg decreased bone loss in women with osteoporosis by an astounding 26 percent.
- Osteoporosis prevention is something everyone needs to think about as we get older. If you’d like to learn more about seeing a doctor at the Whitaker Wellness Institute to discuss prevention or treatment of osteoporosis, call (866) 944-8253 orclick here.
- Bone, HG et al. New Engl J Med. 2004; 350(12):1189-99.
- Heaney, RP et al. J Am Coll Nutr. 2003;22(2): 142-6.
- Macdonald, HM et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79: 155-65.
- Meunier, PJ et al. N Engl J Med. 2004;350(5): 459-68.
- Stone, KL et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 (3):1217-21.
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