Osteoporosis is a condition that will affect one in three Australian women. It is a progressive diminution in bone mass, which includes a loss of calcium as well as the protein matrix inside bone, affecting mostly the spine, hips and ribs. Many people are unaware of the condition until backache or a fracture confirms the diagnosis. One in every two women over the age of 70 has suffered a fracture related to osteoporosis... ten times as many as in 1950. Osteoporosis is much more common in women, although men are also at risk, particularly over the age of 70.
See also Menopause.
We tend to think of our bones as inert still-life structures to prop up the rest of the body. But in fact a lot goes on in the bones. Bones are made up of interconnecting protein, a lattice made up of collagen and mucopolysaccharides, minerals including calcium, magnesium, silicon, phosphorus and fluoride plugged in at strategic places to increase strength. Bones hold 99 per cent of the body's calcium and acts as a calcium storage facility, allowing it to move from bone to blood and vice versa.
- Although we all lose bone mass after the age of 25, women lose more after menopause. It appears that oestrogen (which diminishes after menopause) helps the body to retain bone density.
- Exercise uses muscles, and muscles pull on bones, letting them know they are needed. For most of us, there is not much physical work in everyday life. Over the years life has become easier on the body. Compare today's computerised washing machines and driers to those twin tub contraptions which required hauling loads of wet sheets from one tub to the next, then a tug-of-war with the towels through the wringer.
- The average calcium intake for Aussie women aged 45-64 is practically half what is recommended. The sorry statistic is 690 mg, well below the recommendation of between 1000-1500 mg daily.
- Pharmaceutical drugs such as cortisone and aspirin reduce the body's ability to form collagen and increase the excretion of calcium.
- Certain diseases of the thyroid, parathyroid, liver and kidneys may cause osteoporosis.
- Heavy minerals from the environment, including from pollution, can all contribute to osteoporosis. For example lead, aluminium and cadmium can all compete with calcium to be absorbed into bone, making the bones less strong. Unfortunately once these bad minerals are incorporated into bone they are unlikely to leave.
- A history of anorexia, bulimia or excessive dieting increases your risk of osteoporosis. During the time of eating disorders, insufficient calcium is consumed, and excess calcium is excreted.
- Overexercising (two or more hours daily) decreases oestrogen levels, and therefore increases risk of osteoporosis. This is of concern particularly to female athletes and young women who may lose their periods due to overexercising or as a consequence of bulimia or anorexia nervosa.
- Dietary factors, including coffee, alcohol and sugar, increase the risk of osteoporosis.
What To Do
A simple X-ray (bone density scan), usually of the spine or wrist, will quickly show if osteoporosis is present.
- Avoid coffee. Two cups of coffee (including decaffeinated) causes a net calcium loss of 22 mg daily.
- Alcohol interferes with calcium metabolism. The bones of young alcoholics are similar in weight to those of postmenopausal women. Have a maximum of two glasses of alcohol each day.
- Sugar increases calcium excretion, avoid it.
- Red meat increases calcium excretion. Reduce your red meat consumption to once weekly.
- Supplement your diet with phytoestrogenic foods as the rise in hormone will increase the rate at which calcium is retained by bone.
- Boron has a positive effect on oestrogen and calcium levels in post-menopausal women. It is found in soy foods, almond, prunes, peanuts and hazel nuts and particularly high in rosehip tea.
- Ensure your diet is high in calcium-rich foods including figs, almonds, pumpernickel, seaweed, seeds, tahini, yoghurt and broccoli. Milk products are a good source of calcium, but milk does not suit everyone. There are plenty of other foods that contain calcium. In many Asian countries, where milk is not (and has never been) part of the diet, osteoporosis is virtually unknown.
- Avoid carbonated beverages. The calcium to phosphorus ratio discourages the retention of calcium in bone.
Herbs and Supplements
- (See Cool Change)
- Although it is important to have sufficient calcium, other minerals play a role in osteoporosis including magnesium, boron, copper, zinc, manganese, vanadium, silicon and molybdenum. Take a supplement daily containing these minerals.
- Vitamin D, essential for calcium metabolism, is found in milk and fish oil, and from exposure to sunlight on the skin. If you are indoors a lot, or wear sunscreen, take a cod liver oil capsule daily.
- If you are post-menopausal take 1500 mg of calcium daily, premenopausal women over 35 should take 1 g daily. The best absorbed calcium supplement is bone meal, however, unless the animals have been organically raised far away from roads, chemicals and pesticides, it is better not to use this form. The preferred calcium supplement is in the form hydroxyapatite, then citrate, carbonate and with dolomite being the least.
- The tissue salts Calc. phos., silicon and Calc. fluor. are important for bone strength. These would be a good preventative supplement for women in their 30s before any sign of osteoporosis.
- If the stomach is not producing enough hydrochloric acid, this will impede calcium absorption. A large percentage of post-menopausal women have low stomach acid. As insurance, drink one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in hot water with a little honey before breakfast each day.
- Avoid antacids: reducing stomach acid will decrease calcium absorption. (See Heartburn.)
- Do some form of weight-bearing exercise five times a week. This does not mean toting a set of dumbbells. Weight-bearing exercise means that the bones are receiving a certain amount of gravitational and muscle pull. Choose from active yoga, cycling, jogging, gym work, dancing, tai chi, or walking.
- Smoking depletes calcium stores... give it up.
At a glance
- Good food
- Phytoestrogen foods, calcium foods.
- Food to avoid
- Sugar, coffee, alcohol.
- Remedies to begin
- Calcium, other minerals including magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese, magnesium, boron (if possible), vitamin D, apple cider vinegar.
- Weight-bearing exercise, stop smoking.
- A long-term whittling away of support in life.