A Three-Step Program for Stronger Bones
Julian Whitaker, MD
From the age of 50 onward, women have a 40 percent chance of having a fracture associated with osteoporosis. Contrary to popular belief, men are not immune: One in eight men over the age of 50 will have a similar fracture. Hip fractures are the sixth leading cause of death in people over 65, and half of those who have hip fractures are disabled for the rest of their lives.
Folks, that’s a lot of suffering. One of the main reasons for it is that we simply don’t use our legs enough anymore.
1. Exercise, Stress, and Strain Strengthen Bone
Your bones, particularly in the spine and legs, are constantly remodeling and strengthening themselves as a result of stresses put upon them by activity and gravity. The more they are called upon to support your body weight through activity, the stronger they become. Inactivity can be disastrous. Simple bed rest during recovery from illness can cause rapid resorption (breakdown) of bone to the point that fractures sometimes occur just from lifting people out of bed.
The most dramatic illustration of this is the bones of astronauts: The weightlessness of space travel rapidly demineralizes bone and makes them as brittle as praline. An exception was Shannon Lucid, a female astronaut who spent 188 days in space at age 53. Upon her return to earth, she was able to walk, though unsteadily, from the spacecraft, rather than being carried, which is often the case after prolonged stints in space. What made Shannon exceptional was that during her six months in space she logged 400 hours (2.7 hours per day) on an exercise bicycle and treadmill.
Shannon Lucid’s experience reinforced the fact that the first and most important thing you can do to prevent osteoporosis is weight-bearing exercise. If 2.7 hours a day on a bicycle and treadmill could protect her from the ravages of weightlessness, just think what 45 minutes to an hour a day of walking and weight-lifting here on gravity-rich earth will do for your bones.
2. You Need More Than Just Calcium
Now that you’ve started an exercise program to create the stresses that trigger bone regeneration, you need to be sure that your body has all the raw materials necessary to repair and remodel bone. There is a general presumption, fed by dairy industry advertising, that adequate calcium is all you need to maintain strong bones. Several other minerals and vitamins are also necessary for healthy bones, and the absence of any one of them will interfere with the bone regeneration process.
Magnesium, in a roughly 1:2 or 1:1 ratio with calcium is important, as is vitamin D, which dramatically facilitates the absorption of calcium. Vitamin K serves as the “glue” that holds calcium in bone tissue, and zinc and copper are involved in the formation of osteoblasts (new bone cells) and the breakdown of osteoclasts (old cells). Silicon is highly concentrated at calcification sites of growing bone, and strontium plays a crucial role in bone remodeling. Boron, folic acid, vitamins B-6 and C: All of these nutrients are required for optimal bone health.
3. Hormones Support the Bone-Building Process
Finally, osteoporosis is associated with the age-related decline of hormones that occurs in both men and women. These hormones, which include estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, and testosterone, monitor the constant breakdown of old bone cells and building up of new ones. When the two processes are in balance, bone density is stable, but when more bone is broken down than is built up, which often happens when hormone levels drop, osteoporosis occurs. Supplementing with natural hormones can help slow down this process.
Perhaps the most powerful agent for reversing osteoporosis is human growth hormone. A 1993 study of 42 postmenopausal women with osteoporosis found that in 12 weeks on growth hormone, the markers for bone resorption and formation in these women increased by an amazing 30-40 percent. Human growth hormone is expensive, but to put it in perspective, the cost of taking human growth hormone is still far lower than the cost of a single fracture requiring surgery or hospitalization.
- As you can see, osteoporosis prevention and treatment require a comprehensive program of exercise, nutrition, and, in some cases, hormone replacement therapy. For more information on working with a physician at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, call (866) 944-8253 or click here.
- Osteoporosis: The human and socioeconomic impact. Merck&Co,1995
- Begley, S. Down to earth. Newsweek. Oct. 7,1996.
- Lee, JR. Is natural progesterone the missing link in osteoporosis prevention and treatment? Medical Hypotheses. 1991;35: 316-318.
- Clemmesen, B et al. Human growth hormone and growth hormone releasing hormone: a double-masked, placebo-controlled study of their effects on bone metabolism in elderly women. Osteoporosis Intl. 1993;3: 330-336.
- Nielsen, F et al. Effect of dietary boron on mineral, estrogen, and testosterone metabolism in postmenopausal women. FASEB. 1987; 1: 394-397.
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