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Preventing Osteoporosis with Nutrition

Posted Aug 14 2009 6:38pm

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My mother-in-law just turned 70 yesterday, and like many senior citizens, she is on several different medications, including one for osteoporosis. This got me thinking about how osteoporosis rates in the U.S. have gone up 300% in the last 30 years, much like the rates of diabetes, obesity, cancer and other lifestyle- and diet-related diseases.

Millions of Americans are at risk for osteoporosis—even more will probably suffer from bone loss. According to World Health Organization (WHO), osteoporosis is second only to cardiovascular disease as a global healthcare problem. And if you’re like the millions of people who are trying to prevent those conditions, you may be taking a prescription medication like my mother-in-law, or loading up on calcium. If so, there is a better way to protect your bones you should know about.

Bisphosphonate bone drugs (like the kind you’ve seen Sally Field talking about on TV) have been in the news recently, and if you look outside the mainstream media you will find that the news is not good at all. Made from the same class of chemicals that is used in the cleaners that remove soap scum from your bath tub, bisphosphonates do virtually nothing to contribute to healthy bone growth and osteoporosis prevention, and they also pose grave health dangers.

Osteoporosis drugs come with a long list of adverse reactions:

  • severe and sometimes incapacitating pain
  • osteonecrosis (bone death) of the jaw
  • dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
  • hypertension
  • atrial fibrillation
  • and dozens more (far too many to list here!)

One study even found that one of these drugs—you may have seen the headlines about Fosamax—may actually be responsible for causing femur fractures!

And if you’re taking extra calcium, you should know that excess calcium can actually harm you. Taking too much of this mineral not only won’t help your bones, it could cause all sorts of problems, including arteriosclerosis and high blood pressure.

So how can you prevent osteoporosis, or possibly even reverse it if your bones have already begun to lose density?

Causes of Bone Loss
The American epidemic of osteoporosis, like most of our health epidemics these days, is largely lifestyle and diet-related. Some of the factors that cause bone loss include:

  • Lifestyle. Lifestyle factors that contribute greatly to the onset of osteoporosis include: smoking cigarettes, high intake of alcohol and coffee, and low levels of physical activity (weight-bearing exercise).
  • Too much salt and sugar. Excess salt and sugar consumption from processed foods leach calcium from the bones into the urine.
  • Too much phosphorus. Excess phosphorus intake from drinking lots of sodas, particularly colas, causes the body to balance this phosphorus by leaching calcium from the bones.
  • Vitamin deficiency. Most Americans eat a diet that is poor in the nutrients necessary for healthy bones and teeth, such as magnesium, calcium, Vitamins D, K, B-6, B-12 and folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids and trace minerals like boron and manganese. Magnesium deficiency is a huge factor for osteoporosis. Magnesium is actually more important than calcium for bone growth and bone density. As many as 90 percent or more of us are deficient in magnesium.
  • Too much protein without enough fruits and vegetables. Eating a lot of poor-quality meat and dairy without also eating a lot of vegetables can lead to acidification in your body. In order to compensate for this, your body will take calcium from your bones to buffer the pH. (Think Tums made from your bones!) Eating vegetables, especially leafy greens, helps to alkalize your body naturally.
  • Pasteurized milk consumption. Excess consumption of pasteurized, homogenized dairy products from corn-fed cows can actually contribute to bone loss, contrary to what many might believe. This is due to the lack of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) in modern dairy products. (Raw milk from grass-fed cows has plenty of CLA!)
  • Hormones. Among women the deficiency of estrogen post menopause has been correlated to a rapid reduction in bone density. Other hormone deficiency states can lead to osteoporosis, such as testosterone deficiency. Glucocorticoid or thyroxine excess states also lead to osteoporosis.
  • Medications. Some medicines can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb calcium and others can increase bone loss. These include cortisone, blood thinners, antacids containing aluminum, thyroid medications, chemotherapy, lithium, and certain antibiotics. Birth control pills also contribute to loss of folic acid, which contributes to bone loss.
  • Illness. Other illnesses or diseases, such as over-active thyroid, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis may also cause bone loss. A disease such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia can cause changes in a person’s estrogen level and lead to osteoporosis.
  • Fluoride. Fluorides destroy collagen, the glue which adds strength to the bones.

Turning it Around Naturally
Maintaining and improving your bone density involves first reducing or eliminating all the junk food, sodas, fluoride-containing dental products, coffee, alcohol and other lifestyle factors that contribute enormously to osteoporosis. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from bone loss.

Second, one of the most effective ways to increase bone density quickly is to exercise. At a minimum, exercise for at least thirty minutes three times a week, using a weight-bearing activity such as walking or jogging. This routine has been proven to increase bone mineral density and reduce the risk of falls by strengthening the major muscle groups in the legs and back. Whether you choose walking, running, swimming or aerobic dance classes, whatever you enjoy doing is best because you’ll stick with it.

Third, eating foods rich in calcium, magnesium, Vitamins D and K, as well as Vitamins B-6, B-12, folic acid, trace minerals and Omega-3s every day is arguably the most powerful thing you can do to avoid or reverse osteoporosis.

Studies suggest that getting calcium from foods such as sardines and cheese may be better for building bone than taking a calcium supplement. Women who get most of their daily calcium from food have stronger bones than women who rely on supplements as their main source of calcium—even though supplement takers have a higher average calcium intake.

It is recommended to consume 1,500mg of calcium every day, (A glass of milk has about 300mg.) so foods rich in calcium should be consumed with every meal. Excellent sources of calcium include whole milk dairy products (milk, cheese, and yogurt), salmon, sardines, almonds, sesame seeds, beans, dark green leafy greens and broccoli.

Magnesium is essential for good bone growth and density, and is just as important as calcium for preventing osteoporosis. The recommended daily minimums are 320mg for women and 400mg for men, but optimum daily amounts are more like 500 to 700 mg. Magnesium-rich foods should be included in every meal. Excellent sources include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard, salmon, halibut and black beans, but it is difficult to get enough magnesium through diet alone, so supplementation is advised for most people. It is estimated that 8 out of 10 people do not get enough magnesium daily and that over 90% of the U.S. population is magnesium deficient.

Vitamin D
It is estimated that 75% or more of the U.S. population is deficient in Vitamin D. You can get Vitamin D by exposing your bare (no sunscreen) arms to the sun between 10am and 2pm for about 20 minutes every day, but it is also important to get Vitamin D in your food. Products fortified with Vitamin D like skim milk are not good sources of the vitamin because they use a synthetic form which is poorly utilized by the body and can be toxic in large amounts. Natural, concentrated sources of Vitamin D include salmon, shrimp, grass-fed beef liver, cod, cod liver oil,whole organic milk (especially raw) ,and eggs.

Vitamin K
Not enough Vitamin K in the system is an often overlooked contributor to osteoporosis. Once called “Activator X” by Dr. Weston A. Price, new research has shown that this little known vitamin is the secret key to calcium balance in the body, leading to good bone and dental health. Without enough vitamin K, any calcium pills you take won’t likely help your bones, but rather the excess calcium will get stored in your arteries and other tissues, or get excreted in your urine.

Vitamin K can be found in green, leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens, spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, parsley, asparagus, and mustard greens. Grass-fed, deep yellow butter (preferably raw) and grass-fed beef liver are also excellent sources. If you take blood thinners, it is especially important to eat foods rich in Vitamin K, as these drugs deplete it from your body.

Vitamins B-6, B-12 and Folic Acid
These three B vitamins, in which the elderly are commonly deficient, contribute to the building of collagen, which helps build strong bones. The recommended daily dosage is 400 mcg of folic acid, 400 mcg of vitamin B12, and 25-100 mg of vitamin B6.

Excellent sources of vitamin B6 include bell peppers, turnip greens, and spinach. Excellent sources of folic acid include spinach, parsley, broccoli, beets, turnip greens, asparagus, romaine lettuce, lentils and calf’s liver. Excellent food sources of vitamin B12 include calf’s liver and snapper.

Trace Minerals
Trace minerals like boron, strontium, manganese, silica and copper can be found by eating a varied and broad-based diet that includes mostly unprocessed foods, such as soaked and sprouted grains and nuts, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, shellfish and meats.

Foods high in boron (a mineral that helps the body hold calcium) are beneficial for those affected by osteoporosis. Boron is found in apples, pears, grapes and other fruit, as well as in leafy greens, legumes, nuts and honey.

Strontium helps increase bone formation and is found in fish, whole grains, kale, parsley, lettuce, Brazil nuts, and molasses.Manganese is another beneficial trace mineral found in pineapples, brown rice, chick peas (garbanzo beans), spinach and oats.

Silica can be found in bean sprouts, cucumbers, leafy green vegetables, nettles and oats. Foods high in copper include grass-fed beef liver, sesame seeds, cashews, crimini mushrooms, and chick peas (garbanzo beans).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
New research provides evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can significantly decrease bone turnover rates. In women, these beneficial omega-3 fats work with estrogen to stimulate bone mineral deposits and slow the rate of bone breakdown. Most Americans get too much Omega-6 in their diet from yellow seed oils like soybean, canola and sunflower oils, and not enough Omega-3. This imbalance leads to all sorts of health problems.

You can protect your bones by reducing or eliminating the use of yellow seed oils (try butter, coconut and olive oils instead!), and eating lots of anti-inflammatory, Omega-3-rich foods like flaxseed, hempseed, and walnuts, as well as grass-fed beef, and cold water fish like salmon, tuna andcod.

Like nearly all chronic diseases that plague Americans these days, preventing or even curing osteoporosis requires giving up modern convenience foods like packaged meals, yellow seed oils, junk food, and excess sugar and table salt, and replacing them with a whole-food diet rich in high-quality meat, dairy and fish, healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids, and abundant amounts of leafy greens and other fruits and vegetables. Eating this way does mean more home cooking, but given that hip fractures due to osteoporosis are one of the leading causes of death for people over age 50, I think you (and your bones) are worth it.

If you’d like to know where to find grass-fed beef, raw dairy products, sustainably-caught seafood, cod liver oil, and organic nuts and seeds, please see the Resources Page.

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays hosted by Food Renegade!

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