Surprisingly, the key bone-building years for both men and women is 12 to 25. We need to begin caring for our bones – and our sons and daughters bones – now. If we believed everything the media told us we would think that calcium loss is the only cause of osteoporosis and that simply taking high doses of calcium would solve the problem. Unfortunately this is not true – osteoporosis is a far more complex problem involving an intricate and delicate relationship between bones, hormones, nutrition and the immune system.
How Bones Work
Our bones are in a constant state of regeneration as bone is being broken down and rebuilt in a dynamic balance of remodeling. There are two types of bone cells – osteoclasts that remove bone while working in conjunction with osteoblasts that increase bone density. Osteoporosis, meaning "porous bone," arises when bone is broken down faster than it can be rebuilt. Over time a gradual decrease in bone mass causes the bones to become porous, brittle and fragile, increasing the risk of fracture. Bones of the hip, spine, wrists and ribs are the most common fracture sites. One in four women has osteoporosis and one in eight men. Hip fracture is a dangerous result of osteoporosis.
How Osteoporosis Drugs Work
The way bisfosphonate drugs work is that they kill the osteoclast cells. Remember these are the cells that destroy bone as part of the natural bone regeneration process. When these cells die off only osteoblast cells are left and they make bigger bone that is denser, but not stronger. The bones actually become weaker and more brittle and in the long term increase the risk of developing a fracture. Healthy bones need to have both osteoblasts and osteclasts to remove old bone and rebuild new bone.
The Immune System
The osteoblast cells in bone are the source of all blood and immune cells. While the osteoclast cells are part of the process of producing cells that release nitric oxide. In a healthy body, small amounts of this acid protects against bone loss. However, when the body has large amounts of inflammation due to the immune system rushing to counteract infection or toxins these previously beneficial cells suddenly release large amounts of nitric acid and this promotes severe breakdown of bone. In addition, as we age both men and women naturally lose estrogen and estrogen deprivation induces bone loss. At the same time estrogens are well known regulators of the immune system. So how do we counteract estrogen loss and reduce inflammation?
- One food in particular worth mentioning is onions, which are high in gamma-glutamyl peptides that have been shown to increase bone density
- One food to consider avoiding is gluten – a specific protein in many grains, specifically wheat, but also barley, rye, oats and spelt. Gluten has been shown to decrease bone density
- Reduce consumption of caffeine (it depletes calcium and magnesium)
- Eat less refined sugars (it depletes calcium and lowers bone density), and drink less alcohol (it can lower vitamin D metabolism)
- Include more fermented soy in the diet from tempeh, miso, fermented soy powders and soy sauce
- Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables; they contain vitamin K needed for proper bone mineralization
- Eliminate all soft drinks; they lower calcium levels
- Do weight bearing exercises like strength training. Bone building is a dynamic process, so make sure to exert enough force on your bones to stimulate the osteoblasts to build new bone
- Eat calcium-rich foods including canned salmon with the bones, broccoli, sesame and sunflower seeds, dark leafy vegetables, organic cheese and yogurt
- Use unprocessed salt – one of the best sources of ionic trace minerals responsible for catalyzing many important functions in the body including bone building
- Good fat diets enhance bone density. High saturated fat diets promote bone loss
- Find out if your medication increases risk of osteoporosis, inquire if more natural approaches can be taken, or substitute it for one that does not. (Prednisone, Depo-Provera, steroids, blood thinners and diuretics are examples of drugs that increase risk.) Even pain killers, inhaled steroids, Prozac, and, ironically, osteoporosis drugs do too
- Another supplement you may want to consider if you already have osteoporosis is vitamin K2, which has been shown to radically improve bone density. Fermented foods, such as natto, typically have the highest concentration of vitamin K found in the human diet and can provide several milligrams of vitamin K2 on a daily basis
- Quit smoking
- Take advantage of sunny days when you can and get at least 15 to 20 minutes of sunshine. Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium into bone, and our bodies are capable of producing this vitamin when we are exposed to sunlight
- Magnesium is essential to convert vitamin D to its active form and yet magnesium deficiency is common in the elderly population as well as in those with osteoporosis. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include muscle cramps and twitching eyelids
- Avoid antacids - they lower the acid in your gut and inhibit the absorption of calcium