Do your bones ache and creak most of the time? Worse still, are you experiencing fractures and broken bones as you age? Then perhaps your Doctor has diagnosed you as one of the estimated 200 million + people worldwide suffering from what is considered as “a serious public health concern”. Osteoporosis literally means "porous bone", a disease in which the density and quality of bone are reduced.
Perhaps too, your Doc has told you that osteoporosis is a ‘normal’ part of aging caused by a lack of calcium. And that Bisphosphonates like Fosomax, Boniva, Reclast and Actonel will prevent bone fractures.
Oh dear...wrong on all counts.
Let’s look at the facts...
MYTH 1: Osteoporosis is primarily a Calcium Deficiency Disease.
FACT1: You probably get enough Calcium & More doesn’t mean Better!
Yes, calcium is critical for making bone. But...
Calcium deficiency is unusual nowadays because many processed foods are ‘fortified’ with calcium, like bread, milk, orange juice, pasta, yogurt, toothpaste, chewing gum, snack crackers, granola bars... it’s even in your water, depending on where you live. Then you have unprocessed foods with calcium like organic dairy products, green veggies and juices, some fish like salmon and sardines, sesame seeds and almonds, white beans and rhubarb.
If you do have a calcium deficiency it is more likely because your body is not absorbing the calcium you take, not because of inadequate calcium. This could be related to other factors such as an imbalance or inadequacy of hormones, vitamins and minerals, digestive distress and inadequate exercise and diet. For example:
Hormones control the amount of calcium that ‘sticks’ to your bones. You can take all the calcium you want, but if your estrogen and testosterone levels fall, calcium will drop away from your bones.
In women, estrogens are the main regulators of bone breakdown. And the hormone progesterone controls the rate of new bone deposits. The higher the progesterone level the more bone formation.
The most powerful bone builder in terms of bone mass and strength for both men and women is testosterone.
Another hormone – cortisol – effects bone strength.
There is a membrane that lines the outer surface of your bones called the periosteum. Its cells turn into osteoblast cells that make new bone. The “stress” hormone cortisol reduces bone density by stopping those cells from becoming osteoblasts. That’s why the higher your cortisol levels, the less calcium is absorbed, the lower your bone density becomes and the faster you lose bone.
Both mental and physical stress increase cortisol, whereas regular exercise reduces it.
Increased exercise and energy is also beneficial for bone because it takes a lot of energy for your body to produce bone. Osteoblasts use a hormone called osteocalcin to tell your body to make that energy so the osteoblasts can do their job.
There’s only one problem... leptin. This hormone, that increases when you gain weight, interferes with osteocalcin and inhibits new bone formation.
Watch your weight!
Vitamin D is both a hormone and vitamin key to building bone
Vitamin D directs how much calcium you store in your bones so you can use it when you need it. Too little vitamin D can lead to thin, brittle bones and osteoporosis. Specifically Vit D:
- Reduces risk of breaking a bone in any part of the body by 33%
- Reduces risk of a breaking a hip by 69%
- Reduces risk of having constant bone pain – a condition called osteomalacia
Your best source of vitamin D is sunshine. Exposing as much of your naked body as possible to 20 mins of strong sunshine daily would be great. Good food sources of vitamin D include salmon, mackerel, tuna fish, sardines, eggs, beef and cheese.
Vitamin K, especially the natural form of Vitamin K2 (menaquinone) which we use in our Bone-Protec may help to regulate calcium and stabilize bone density. A study completed in April found that high vitamin K intake means higher bone mineral density, and less bone loss with aging (ref 1) The authors wrote that vitamin K gave people “superior bone properties.”
Foods with vitamin K include dark leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and collard greens. Parsley and green olives also have vitamin K, as do the spices basil and thyme.
Just 55 micrograms daily of selenium helps to reduce your risk of osteoporosis by up to 15%. A study (ref 2) gave two groups of animals a drug that causes osteoporosis. They treated one group with selenium. When researchers looked at the leg bones, those from the selenium group were protected, and looked almost like normal bone.
The best source of selenium is brazil nuts, which contain a whopping 544 micrograms in just one ounce. You can also get selenium from red meat, tuna, eggs and walnuts.
Boron helps to harden bone and to build bone strength by preventing bones from losing calcium and magnesium. Good food sources include nuts, plums, prunes, red grapes, raisins, apples, pears, and avocados.
Excessive Sugars and Acid
We have mentioned many times the dire health effects of excessive sugars, especially processed sugars (HFCS). Our blog ‘Pickled Alive’ shows how whenever you consume aspartame your tissues, bones, cells and body are slowly leaching and melting away!
Acidosis (or an unbalanced PH) is in fact a major cause of many health concerns and aging because of the inflammation, oxidation, glycation and methylation it triggers.
More Calcium isn’t necessarily Better!
Many studies show how higher calcium intake doesn’t prevent fractures due to bone loss, but does cause heart damage! For example:
- A study looked at over 195,000 women and found that drinking milk fortified with calcium had zero effect on the risk for hip fractures (refs 3-4)
- Another study in the journal Osteoporosis International found that taking calcium supplements meant a 27-31% increase in risk of heart attack and up to a 20% increased risk of stroke. The authors even suggest you use “other osteoporosis treatments that are available without calcium.” (ref 5)
- A third study looked at 61,443 women, who were followed for almost 20 years. It found that increasing daily calcium has no effect on fractures later in life. The women who took in the most calcium did not reduce the risk of fractures of any type, or of osteoporosis (ref 6)
MYTH 2: Osteoporosis is an inevitable part of aging, and only treatable with drugs.
FACT 2: Bones should (and do) last a lifetime, and can be strengthened naturally
Bones are designed to be strong for your entire life. Some of the longest living people, like those in Japan and China have bones which are strong and dense up to the very day they pass away. This is largely due to a natural unprocessed diet and heavy manual work.
Healthy human bone is actually very strong. Although mild steel is much heavier than bone, pound for pound bone is stronger than steel! Bone has a tensile strength of 20,000 psi while mild steel is much higher at 70,000 psi.
Osteoporosis drugs and other common medications have profound side effects. In fact, the newest drugs meant to improve bone density such as Bisphosphonates like Fosomax, Boniva, Reclast and Actonel actually cause bone breaks:
- Researchers studied women with fractures who were taking these medications. Over 65% had the same rare fracture in the same area of their thigh bones. And these were the women who had been on the drugs for the longest time! (ref 7)
- Using cortisone for asthma or arthritis for longer than three months, increases risk of fracture regardless of bone density (ref 8)
- Acid reflux medications like Nexium and Prevacid (PPIs) increase risk of hip fracture by 25%. The odds of getting a spinal fracture increased by 50% (ref 9)
- According to the journal ‘Bone’, antidepressants like Paxil and Prozac (called SSRIs) contribute to bone loss and a higher risk for fractures (ref 10). That’s because antidepressants increase serotonin levels, and too much serotonin restrains osteoblasts from making new bone. Another study from ‘Bone’found that the odds of getting a fracture were 56% higher for people who use acetaminophen (Tylenol, Excedrin) compared with people who don’t.
- Long-term therapy with antiepileptic drugs (phenobarbital) causes soft bones and fractures leading to the metabolic bone disease osteomalacia. In one study, antiepileptic drugs reduced both neck and hip bone density, and caused significant bone loss (ref 11)
MYTH 3: Only Women suffer Osteoporosis
FACT 3: Nonsense!
This myth is so ingrained in our belief system that many doctors do not even consider the relevance of Osteoporosis in men. This is a big mistake!
The fact is both sexes experience Osteoporosis dependent on all the factors mentioned above. These factors apply equally to both sexes.
PubMed offers a more realistic picture of the gender issue. It explains that the prevalence of osteoporosis is greater in women, but mortality after fracture is higher among men. Women are at a greater risk because they lose bone mass a little faster than men until they’re 65. After that, everyone loses bone at about the same rate.
The take home message from all this is that bone health and strength, like health in general, is dependent on many inter-related factors not just calcium, (or medications!). Your bones will outlive you (!) given a balanced lifestyle with proper nutrition, moderate weight-bearing exercise, minimal alcohol and smoking, and emotional balance.
However, if you feel you need extra bone support, then in addition to our Total Balance and Omega 3 range, you may like to consider our Bone-Protec. This is much more effective than the 'normal' calcium supplements because all the key co-factors are included...even the very expensive but effective VItamin K2, as opposed to the ineffective synthetic Vitamin K1.
1. Bulló, M., Estruch, R., Salas-Salvadó, J., "Dietary vitamin K intake is associated with bone quantitative ultrasound measurements but not with bone peripheral biochemical markers in elderly men and women," Bone April 5, 2011
2. Bischoff-Ferrari, HA, et al, "Milk intake and risk of hip fracture in men and women: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies," J. Bone Miner Res. Apr. 2011;26(4):833-9
3. Freskanich, D., et al, “Milk, dietary calcium, and bone fractures in women: a 12-year prospective study,” American Journal of Public Health June 1997; 87(6): 992-997
4. Bischoff-Ferrari, HA, et al, "Milk intake and risk of hip fracture in men and women: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies," J. Bone Miner Res. Apr. 2011;26(4):833-9
5. Reid, I.R., Bolland, M.J., Avenell, A., Grey, A., "Cardiovascular effects of calcium supplementation," Osteoporos Int. March 16, 2011
6 Warensjo, E., Byberg, L., Melhus, H., et al, "Dietary calcium intake and risk of fracture and osteoporosis: prospective longitudinal cohort study," BMJ May 2011; 342
7. 5 Lenart, B., Lorich, D., Lane, J., et al, “Atypical Fractures of the Femoral Diaphysis in Postmenopausal Women Taking Alendronate,” New England Journal of Medicine 2008
8. 6 Aubry-Rozier, B., Lamy, O., Dudler, J., "Prevention of cortisone-induced osteoporosis: who, when and what?" Rev. Med. Suisse Feb. 10, 2010;6(235):307-13
9. 7 Ngamruengphong, S., Leontiadis, G.I., Radhi, S., et al, "Proton Pump Inhibitors and Risk of Fracture: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies," Am. J. Gastroenterol. April 12, 2011
10 Verdel, B.M., Souverein, P.C., Egberts, T.C., et al, "Use of antidepressant drugs and risk of osteoporotic and non-osteoporotic fractures," Bone Sept. 2010;47(3):604-9
11.Andress, D.L., Ozuna, J., Tirschwell, D., et al, "Antiepileptic drug-induced bone loss in young male patients who have seizures," Arch. Neurol. May 2002;59(5):781-6