Osteoporosis: What It Is & How It Can Be Prevented

xray.illo.Osteoporosis is a disorder of the bone in which excessive bone loss results in a decreased bone mineral density and an increased susceptibility to fracture. Because of the physiological, nutritional, and hormonal differences between male and females, it primarily affects women.  Of the 25 million estimated Americans with osteoporosis, 80% are women. It accounts for approximately 1.5 million fractures per year at a cost of over $3.8 billion dollars a year.  Roughly 70% of these fractures occur in people over the age of 45.  It causes more deaths per year than cervical and breast cancer. These are staggering statistics for such a silent disorder.

Ironically, bone loss causes no symptoms while it is occurring.  It is very common for women to be completely unaware of having bone loss until an accident happens. If it goes undetected or untreated, it can lead to many other serious cervical and spine problems.

Some people think that it is caused solely from a calcium deficiency and that by taking calcium supplements alone, it will remedy the problem.  It is a more complex issue, and this is why the diet and nutritional requirements need assessments.  We will discuss further in this article the many other co-factors when dealing with bone health.  There are currently tests that can indicate if osteoporosis is occurring, and it is wise to consult your health care practitioner for this type of testing.

There are two types of osteoporosis: Type I is believed to be caused by hormonal changes, mainly loss of estrogen, which can cause an acceleration of bone loss. This is seen in women with hysterectomies and during menopause. Type II is linked to dietary deficiency, particularly lack of calcium, Vitamin D and the other co-factors.  Rick factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Being female
  • Advanced age
  • Being underweight and having a small frame
  • Being Caucasian or Asian, even though African Americans, and Hispanics are also at risk
  • Early menopause
  • Low calcium and Vitamin D intake
  • Lack of exercise
  • History of smoking
  • Excessive alcohol and or caffeine intake
  • Heredity factors

Other causes of bone loss are:

  • Medications such as corticosteroids, aspirin, beta-blockers, antacids, calcium channel blockers and antibiotics.
  • Hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, kidney disease, and certain cancers.
  • Malabsorption from the digestive tract (mainly due to low hydrochloric acid production)

Dietary factors that seem to influence this disease progression are a high consumption of animal protein, salt, refined sugars and carbonated beverages. These foods are very acid forming when metabolized, and they alter the acid vs. alkaline pH of the body and cause the body to excrete more calcium as a mean to bring about balance.  We are constantly told to drink milk and other dairy products. There is a link that suggests that this also can contribute to bone loss because of the protein to fat ratio and the relative indigestibility of it.  Milk is also acid forming and the calcium is bound due to its processing. Due to the other potential problem with milk (heart disease, high cholesterol, and allergies), diary may not be the best source of calcium.  There are many other good sources of calcium such as, broccoli, dandelion green, dark green leafy vegetables, flounder, kelp, sesame seeds, soybeans, tofu, and wheat germ, garlic, onions, and eggs which contain sulfur and aid in bone health.

Let’s look at the role of calcium and its co-factors and how they work in the body.  Calcium is a major bone mineral, it is involved in blood coagulation, the sending of messages along the nerves, maintaining muscle tone, preserving tissue membrane integrity, aiding certain glandular functions, and cardiac functions.  Most of the calcium is stored in bone and depleted blood calcium is restored more often than not from the bones instead of the diet.

Some other bone nutrients are:

  • Phosphorus — Approximately 85% is present in the bone as a substance called hydroxyapatite. It is closely linked with calcium and protein. It promotes cell growth, contraction of the heart, and kidney functions.
  • Vitamin D — This assists absorption of calcium from the intestines.  It protects us from muscle weakness and in regulation of the heartbeat and is necessary for the thyroid.
  • Magnesium — Works closely with calcium with nerve health, an enzyme activator, used for energy production, aids heart function, relaxes muscles and kidney functions.
  • Boron — Needed for metabolism of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.  Enhances brain function and promotes alertness.  Found in apples, carrots, grapes, leafy vegetables and whole grains.
  • Silicon — Needed for the formation of collagen for bone and connective tissue; maintains flexible arteries; stimulates the immune system; and makes for healthy skin, hair and nails. Food sources are alfalfa, beets, soybeans, leafy greens, and whole grains.
  • Vitamin K 2 — This is needed for the synthesis of osteocalcin that is a protein found in bone and is needed for repair.
  • Manganese, Copper and Zinc — Are needed to maintain good connective tissue integrity
  • Vitamin B6, B12, Folic Acid — Regulates homocysteine levels that appear to be high in post- menopausal women.

There are many products that contain all or some of these nutrients.  It is important to research these products before taking them and make sure they are from reputable sources.

Some other interesting facts about bone loss are:

  • Vegetarians tend to experience less bone loss than meat eaters.
  • Senior citizens that used tranquilizers suffered 70% more fractures than others their own age.
  • Caffeine has been linked to bone loss.
  • Carbonated soft drinks contain high levels of phosphates and citric acid that cause calcium leaching.

With any article dealing with osteoporosis, the issue of hormones is important.  Research shows that low levels of estrogen do affect bone loss.  The big question is how do you correct that problem?  Estrogen replacement therapy is the choice therapy by conventional standards but is it the best choice when you consider the risk factors? That will be the topic of an upcoming article where we can delve into the intricacies of that particular therapy.

Osteoporosis is a serious disorder and needs to be addressed.  There are many good books that deal with this issue. Healthy Bones: What You Should Know About Osteoporosis by Nancy Appleton, PhD, and Osteoporosis by Dr. Alan Gaby.


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