Building Better Bones – How to Prevent and Reverse Osteoporosis
Low bone density (osteoporosis), and its less serious form (osteopenia), affects more than 55% of men and women over the age of 50 in Canada and the U.S. Osteoporosis literally means “porous bones.” The disease usually goes unnoticed for many years until the person suffers a sudden bone fracture in the hips or vertebrae.
An effective reversal of osteoporosis must include changes in diet and lifestyle. The following gives you a good idea of what you can do to both prevent and treat osteoporosis without necessarily poisoning yourself with the typical drugs prescribed for the condition.
Limit Your Risk Factors
There’s nothing much that you can do about your family history of osteoporosis. But what you can do is eliminate the majority of these known risk factors for the disease:
- – high sugar intake
- – cigarette smoking
- – excessive alcohol and caffeine intake
- – high-animal-protein diets (encourage elevated mineral losses in the urine)
- – low-calorie weight loss diets
- – high milk and dairy product consumption
- – drinking exclusively distilled water
- – physical inactivity
- – excessive physical exercise
- – never having been pregnant
- – diuretics (water pills)
- – anti-seizure medications
- – anticoagulants (‘blood thinners’)
- – antacid abuse, all anti-ulcer drugs
- – digestive disorders leading to malabsorption of trace minerals
- – overactive endocrine glands (especially hyperthyroidism)
- – long-term use of prescription steroids like prednisone
- – numerous vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Do Regular Weight- Bearing Exercises
Regardless of what prescription or natural remedies you are using to fight osteoporosis, there is nothing that can take the place of daily weight-bearing exercises. Unless the bones are challenged to function, no amount of calcium, estrogen, or any other remedy for that matter, will make a difference in bone mineral density. In other words, use it or lose it. Brisk walking using arm and ankle weights, sit-ups, leg lifts, and many other exercises can be done with the help of a chiropractor, physiotherapist, or personal trainer.
Modify Your Diet
As with all of our body’s tissues, bone is sensitive to diet and lifestyle habits. The typical Western diet high in refined carbohydrates, animal proteins and fat, as well as canned and processed foods, has been linked to a greater incidence of osteoporosis. This is simply because such a diet is low in nutrients. It is also very high in phosphorus, a mineral that, in large amounts, antagonizes calcium in the body.
Interestingly, those foods most often recommended for healthy bones (milk and dairy products) are actually high in phosphorus and may therefore promote osteoporosis. In fact, the more dairy products consumed, the worse the incidence of osteoporosis. (In areas of the world where dairy product consumption is the lowest, osteoporosis is virtually non-existent.) Here are some key dietary strategies to reduce your risk of osteoporosis:
• AVOID SUGAR: Since refined sugar contains virtually no vitamins or minerals at all, it dilutes our nutrient intake. This results in an across-the-board 19% reduction in all vitamins and minerals in our diet. Thus, we are getting less magnesium, folic acid, vitamin B6, zinc, copper, manganese, and other nutrients that play a role in maintaining healthy bones.
• AVOID REFINED CARBOHYDRATES AND GLUTEN: When whole wheat is refined to white flour, many vitamins and minerals are lost: vitamin B6 (72% loss), folic acid (67%), calcium (60%), magnesium (85%), manganese (86%), copper (68%), zinc (78%). Since grains make up about 30% of the average diet, consumption of refined grains depletes the total daily intake of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
And studies indicate that gluten consumption, whether from whole or refined grains, causes gut inflammation and subsequent mineral loss from bone.
• AVOID CAFFEINE: The caffeine in coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks, Guaraná, yerba mate, and analgesics has a diuretic (water and mineral loss) effect. This causes demineralization in the body leading to lower bone mineral density.
• AVOID ALCOHOL: Another diuretic, excess alcohol causes abnormal mineral losses.
• EAT LESS ANIMAL PROTEIN: Excessive dietary protein may promote bone loss. With increasing protein intake, the urinary excretion of calcium also rises because calcium is mobilized to buffer the acidic breakdown products of protein. In addition, the amino acid methionine is converted to a substance called homocysteine, which is also apparently capable of causing bone loss.
Supplement Your Diet
Several vitamin and mineral supplements can be helpful both in preventing and reversing osteoporosis.
- VITAMIN D: is required to absorb calcium from the small intestine. Deficiency can come about when there is reduced exposure to sunlight, decreased dietary intake, or a malabsorption problem of one kind or another. Supplement-ation of 5,000 IU or more daily is recommended for both prevention and treatment.
- OTHER VITAMINS: The protein matrix upon which calcium crystallizes is called ostoecalcin. Studies show that vitamin K is required by the body to make osteocalcin.
- SEVERAL OTHER VITAMINS are important for bone health as well. These include vitamin A, folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and vitamin C. A lack of these vitamins will increase osteoporosis severity because they are required in numerous biochemical reactions in bone (connective) tissue.
- MINERALS: The same can be said for minerals such as magnesium, manganese, boron, strontium, silicon, zinc, and copper. Silicon, for example, is found in high concentrations in growing bone. It strengthens connective tissue and may be crucial in osteoporosis prevention.
- BORON SUPPLEMENTATION raises serum estrogen and testosterone levels. One particular study demonstrated that boron supplementation produced estrogen blood levels identical to estrogen-treated women whose diets were not supplemented with boron. Boron supplementation does not pose the same cancer-causing risks as synthetic estrogen replacement therapy (e.g., uterine or breast cancer). It is non-toxic. Unfortunately, many people are deficient in this mineral simply because of poor soil quality.
- REGARDING MAGNESIUM, Dr. Susan Brown states: “Overall, magnesium assures the strength and firmness of bones and makes teeth harder. In fact, adequate magnesium is essential for absorption and metabolism of calcium.”
Several supplement companies make good combination bone-boosting formulas that contain the majority of these vitamins and minerals. One can get vitamin K easily enough from foods (e.g., green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli and parsley), or from one of the many powdered green drinks on the market.
I have been recommending the mineral strontium citrate (1,000 mg daily) for all my osteoporotic patients. Since I’ve started using strontium in my practice, I routinely see 5% to 10% improvements in bone density after a year without any of the usual drugs prescribed for osteoporosis. It should be taken at least 6 hours away from any calcium supplements. Some people experience some stomach upset with it that can usually be remedied by drinking more water with each dose or by reducing the dose to tolerance.
Use Herbal and Other Natural Alternatives to HRT
- PANAX GINSENG – Consider panax ginseng as another source of naturally occurring estrogen (estriol). Not only does ginseng help control hot flashes, it may be a very valuable adjunct to the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Another natural way of getting estrogen is to use a black cohosh extract.
- VITEX – Vitex (chaste berry) is a very safe herb that can be supplemented to simulate what progesterone does naturally in the body.
- MACA – The Peruvian herb Maca can be used to boost the body’s own DHEA levels.
- VELVET ELK ANTLER – Using several herbs can enhance testosterone, but Velvet Elk Antler seems to be one of the most effective. According to research done in 2016, “Age-related testosterone deficiency is the most important factor of bone loss in elderly men.”
- DIGESTIVE AIDS – People over 65 years old usually have a hard time with protein digestion and trace mineral absorption because of low secretion of stomach hydrochloric acid. This can be confirmed by a comprehensive stool and digestive analysis, and hair mineral analysis. If stomach acid deficiency is the problem, appropriate digestive aids (e.g., stomach bitters, apple cider vinegar, citric acid, betaine, and pepsin HCL, etc.) can be taken with most supplements based on the degree of hypoacidity.
Natural Hormones Are for More Severe Osteoporosis
The vast majority of people who suffer from osteoporosis can reverse the disease and all its symptoms using a weight-bearing exercise program, a healthier diet, and the natural supplements just discussed. For cases that do not respond to this approach – either due to the presence of other diseases, the use of various drugs, or a very poor digestive system – consider using a natural transdermal progesterone cream, estriol and adrenal hormones, especially DHEA and testosterone.
The use of these hormones is controversial, so my advice here would be to discuss the pros and cons with your doctor. There is an excellent discussion of the use of these hormones in Dr. Alan Gaby’s book, Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis, as well as Dr. John Lee’s What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause.
Concerns About Common Osteoporosis Drugs
In December of 2008, the New England Journal of Medicine published a U.S. Food and Drug Administration report suggesting a possible link between taking the popular osteoporosis drug Fosamax and the development of esophageal cancer. The FDA received 23 reports of esophageal cancer possibly linked to the drug between 1995 and 2008. Since doctors notoriously under-report drug side effects, the real figures may actually be much higher.
Merck, the manufacturer of Fosamax, claimed that their research did not indicate any association between the drug and esophageal cancer. American and Canadian endocrinologists, internists, and doctors all agree with the manufacturer and continue to prescribe it and other bisphosphonates. (How could 50,000 doctors be wrong?)
It is estimated that about 30 million people in North America take one of the class of drugs known as bisphosphonates. These include Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva, Didronel, Didrocal, Zometa, Aredia, and several others.
One undisputed fact is that Fosamax can cause esophagitis and gastrointestinal bleeding. Conceivably, in a patient with severe esophagitis, as in a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus, the use of Fosamax could make the problem worse. Gastrointestinal bleeding and resulting anemia due to mucosal lining erosions caused by Fosamax are definitely possible.
Bisphosphonates have been linked to severe and incapacitating bone, joint, and muscle pain. In 2008, the FDA warned doctors that this is a possible source of intractable pain for many people using the drugs and may necessitate the use of dangerous analgesics. When people who suffer from this side effect stop using the bisphosphonates, the pain usually subsides. These are therefore drugs which should never be given to people suffering from any form of arthritis or fibromyalgia.
The April 2008 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine published a study which found that patients taking Fosamax had an 86% increased risk of developing an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation). Fosamax and all bisphosphonates have also been linked to an increased incidence of osteonecrosis of the jaw (the death of the jaw bone and subsequent disintegration of the jaw). Dentists are often puzzled (although they shouldn’t be) when their patients who are taking bisphosphonates develop rotting and loose teeth.
The bisphosphonates may also cause serious eye inflammation leading to blurred vision, vision loss, or blindness if left untreated. This side effect was first reported in the March 20, 2003 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Google “Fosamax” and you are bound to come across at least a dozen lawyers’ websites inviting those who have been prescribed the drug to join lawsuits against both the drug companies that manufacture the bisphosphonates as well as the doctors who prescribe the drugs. Estimates of osteonecrosis of the jaw vary from 1% to 10% of all patients using the bisphosphonates. Some dentists have stopped treating patients taking the drug for fear of further complications.
The drug remains in a person’s bone for years after they stop taking it, so it is unknown how long the risk of osteonecrosis of the jaw persists. There is no known cure for the condition and it is likely that lawyers will be enriched as a result of this debilitating side effect. The drug maker, Merck, has set aside $48 million to defend itself against lawsuits from patients harmed by Fosamax. The same company spent $500 million on lawsuits in 2006, which arose from harm caused by the drug Vioxx. It’s only a matter of time before the bisphosphonates are removed from the market, but not before the drug manufacturers have made a few billion dollars on them.
More Strange Side Effects of Bisphosphonates
How do these drugs work? The bisphosphonates basically poison the osteoclast cells in your bone. These are the cells responsible for getting rid of old, dead, or weak bone cells. The osteoclasts are in balance with the osteoblasts that make new bone cells. Since the osteoclasts are killed off, old and sick bone cells are allowed to somehow survive and this is what causes the bones to look denser on X-rays. What the bisphosphonates do in essence is to create a skeleton of old, dying, decayed or sick cells. This type of bone looks denser on X-rays but is weaker and potentially hazardous to your health.
People who have been taking the bisphosphonates for more than five years have increasingly been reporting a type of rare leg fracture that shears straight across the upper thighbone after little or no trauma. That’s not exactly something you would expect with a higher bone mineral density report. The typical history is unexplained leg pain after walking or standing for an extended period of time, and an X-ray showing a fractured femur. The simple action of getting out of a car has been reported to cause the fracture.
In 2007, the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery reported that 13 women with low trauma leg fractures had been on long-term Fosamax therapy. Yes, the bisphosphonates make the bones look denser on the X-rays, but they also make them weaker and more brittle. In July 2014, the Journal of Orthopedic Trauma reported on a study of 20 patients who developed the bizarre thigh fracture after being on bisphosphonates for an average of 6.9 years.
The bisphosphonates are in the same class of chemical compounds used to remove soap scum from bathtubs. Most soap contains bisphosphonates to prevent ring around the bathtub. They remove soap scum by basically dissolving dead skin cells that collect on the tub after taking a bath. If a substance is strong enough to dissolve skin cells, just imagine what it can do to your stomach lining when you swallow it. It is for this very same reason that a pharmacist will tell you not to lie down after taking any bisphosphonate. If you do, it’s possible that the drug will erode the lining of your esophagus, stomach, or duodenum.
In recent years, a new drug called Prolia (generic name Denosumab) has become a popular prescription. It is a type of monoclonal antibody which stops the natural breakdown of bone much like the bisphosphonates. It is injected twice a year. Documented side effects include hypocalcemia (low blood calcium levels), serious infections, suppression of bone turnover including jaw osteonecrosis, atypical femoral fractures, and skin rashes severe enough for hospitalization. In other words, the side effects are similar, if not worse, than those for the bisphosphonates. To make matters even worse, the cost of Prolia injections are $716 a year in Canada and more than $1600 in the U.S.
People all have different needs for nutrients in order to prevent or treat osteoporosis. It depends on your unique biochemical make-up, your activity levels, and stress levels. For more detailed information on complementary medical therapies for osteoporosis reversal, see a natural healthcare practitioner. Whatever you do about the condition, avoid the prescription drugs. Not only will these drugs fail to deliver what they promise but they may also damage your health beyond repair.
Editor’s note: This article is not meant to replace the advice of your physician. When making any changes to your healthcare regiment, please consult a healthcare professional.
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