What Is It?
Today, over 25 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis. This disease,
whose name literally means porous bone, is much more common in women than in
men. At least 1.2 million bone fractures occur each year as a direct
result of osteoporosis. Nearly one third of all women and one sixth
of all men will fracture their hips during their lifetimes, a fracture that
is fatal up to 20% of the time and requires long term nursing home care for
half of those who survive.
Now for some good news. You don’t need to become one of these
statistics. If you start early and learn how to take care of your bones,
you never need to fall prey to osteoporosis. Read on to learn what you need
to know to beat the odds… and beat osteoporosis.
Check the list below to find out if you are statistically at risk for developing
- Post menopausal women are at the greatest risk. 35% - 50% will develop
- Calcium deficiency - 50% of American women suffer from calcium deficiency
(one of several factors in osteoporosis)
- Acid urine pH. When urine pH is consistently below 7.0, calcium is being
depleted from the body. A low urine pH indicates an acid body chemistry
and possible calcium loss.
- Small boned Caucasian or
Asian women (living in the U.S.)
- All women over 75
- Family history of the disease.
- Long term use of synthetic thyroid hormone
- Women who have had their ovaries
removed or started menopause before the age of 45
- Women with irregular or
- If you’re getting shorter
Women are at greater risk than men. Once menopause has begun, estrogen levels
decline and so does the body’s ability to recycle calcium. Women have
less bone mass than men to begin with and the rapid bone loss during first 5
years after menopause (the average woman loses 5-10% of her bone mass then)
can set a woman up for trouble. Because a man’s testosterone levels don’t
decline until later, he won’t usually experience bone loss until after
age 70. But at that point it can be severe.
Adequate mineral intake and metabolism is very important to avoid osteoporosis. If
we aren’t eating enough mineral rich food or if what we eat isn’t
being digested and absorbed properly we could be at risk for bone loss. Sufficient
HcL production in the stomach is very important. Here’s why. All minerals
are rocks. Before they can be absorbed they must be chelated (bound) to amino
acid (protein) molecules in the stomach by the action of HcL (hydrochloric
acid). In essence, chelation “welds” the minerals to the protein,
allowing them to be absorbed by the body. If there is insufficient HcL this
reaction doesn’t take place and the minerals pass through the body as
One of the common misunderstandings about osteoporosis is that it results
strictly from a deficiency of calcium. Osteoporosis is really the result of
both mineral and non-mineral deficiencies. Osteomalacia, softening of the bone,
is the disease that results from merely a lack of calcium. In osteoporosis,
there is also a degeneration of the non-mineral framework or bone matrix that
holds the calcium in place. This matrix is made of collagen and other protein
and chondroitin sulfate. Chondroitin is getting press lately for its use with
glucosamine sulfate to improve arthritis conditions.
Several drugs can put someone at greater risk for developing osteoporosis.
- Cortico-steroid drugs used for rashes. They can leach potassium from the
bones and decrease intestinal absorption of calcium.
- Tobacco, antibiotics
and alcohol all interfere with mineral absorption. Women who smoke cigarettes
(1 pack a day or more) have 10% more bone loss than non-smoking women do. When
women regularly drink coffee, alcohol and smoke, they have a 10-30% lower bone
mineral content compared to non-smokers.
- Women on synthetic thyroid medication
should have their dose monitored regularly because an excess of thyroid hormone
will draw minerals out of the bone.
Many researchers believe that adolescence and young adulthood is the most
critical time for building strong bones. By the age of 35 most of us achieve
peak bone density. After that, our work is to maintain this bone mass. The
higher the bone density we achieve when we’re young the less we are at
risk of developing osteoporosis. In his book “Nutrition Made Simple” Robert
Crayhon compares these calcium deposits to savings in a retirement account.
He asks the question: “what if you found out that the only money you
could use in retirement was what you saved between the ages of 14 and 35 -
you’d be sure to save a lot during those years, wouldn’t you?” The
same holds true for the mineral stores in our bones.
If someone is at hereditary risk for osteoporosis or if they are post-menopausal,
they want to be sure to avoid aggravating their condition with a poor diet.
Animal protein, eaten in excess (more than once a day) creates an acid condition
that can deplete our calcium stores. Red meat is an especially acid forming
food. Red meat has 25 times more phosphorus as calcium. Healthy blood ratio
of calcium to phosphorus is 1:1. To restore the imbalance created by excess
meat consumption, the body must release alkaline minerals to neutralize the
acid chemistry. Calcium is the primary alkaline mineral in the body. So calcium
will be drawn from the bones to correct the body’s pH. There is a similar
loss of magnesium. Phosphorus is the element in red meat that creates the problem.
Phosphoric acid, a primary ingredient in most soft drinks is another contributor
to an acid body chemistry. If you have any doubts about this, try pouring Coca-Cola
on your car and watch what it does to the paint. Remember that the body needs
to maintain equal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. The more phosphorus
we consume, the more calcium is drawn out of bone to neutralize it.
White flour and white sugar, staples of the American diet, also weaken our
bones. Both are very refined foods, lacking in many vitamins and minerals.
Which brings up an important point. In order for the body to metabolize any
food, certain nutrients, called co-factors, need to be available. Nature’s
design ensures that these co-factors come as standard equipment in all whole
foods. But processing and refining removes most of these nutrients from our
food supply. In order for the body to get energy from these denatured foods
it must rob its own stores of the vitamins, minerals and enzymes needed to
metabolize them. Minerals are leeched from the bones. Like a thief with no
manners, these foods bring no gift of nutrition when they visit. Then they
rob the house of its precious contents.
Milk is a food that has been promoted as a good food to build and maintain
strong bones. I don’t agree. In the Stone Age there were no dairy farms
and no one drank milk. However, anthropologists have determined that our Stone
Age ancestors managed to consume1 ,500-3,000 mg of calcium a day, which is
2-1/2 times the current RDA. Their bone density was better than ours and they
drank no milk. Milk is not everything it’s cracked up to be. It is high
in phosphorus, the acid forming mineral antagonistic to calcium. It is also
high in a precursor to homocysteine, a powerful free radical that interferes
with the cross-linking of collagen and weakens the matrix that holds minerals
in the bone. Many people are allergic to the protein in milk and are unable
to digest the sugars in milk. Maybe the slogan “Milk, it does a body
good” should be replaced with, “Milk, it does a body in.” As
to it’s value in protecting us from bone loss, the countries that consume
the most milk ( U.S., England, Sweden and Finland) have some of the highest
rates of osteoporosis in the world.
Women who are on perpetual or frequent weight loss diets put themselves at
greater risk for osteoporosis. Being excessively lean or over-exercising causes
reduced progesterone, the hormone that stimulates monthly ovulation. Progesterone
also stimulates bone formation. Most women on a weight loss diet are not eating
an adequate range of nutrients for months at a time. Think of the grapefruit
or cabbage soup diets. To add insult to injury, women on nutrient deficient
(deprivation) diets almost always gain the weight back. Interestingly, follow-up
studies have shown that when these women added green drinks and vegetable drinks
high in minerals while dieting they kept the weight off.
Let’s take another look at the foods that either interfere with mineral
absorption or leech minerals from the bone. Red meat, pasteurized dairy products,
sugar, white flour, coffee, alcohol and tobacco. Basically, I’ve just
described the standard American diet. Is it any wonder 25 million people suffer
from osteoporosis in America today? One study found that people who drink more
than 3 cups of coffee a day increase their risk of osteoporosis by 82%. Caffeine,
as it turns out, increases calcium excretion in the urine.
We said earlier that excess animal protein is a risk factor for osteoporosis. You
might be wondering if a vegetarian diet is better. One study of 1,600 women
showed that lacto-ovo vegetarians (animal protein intake limited to dairy foods
and eggs) had an 18% bone loss as opposed to a 35% bone loss in omnivores.
The average American eats about 90 grams of protein a day. This is nearly twice
their nutritional need. The excess only serves to leech calcium out of the
An old wives’ tale holds that a woman loses a tooth for each child she
has - a function of bone loss due to calcium deficiency. But African women
who consume diets high in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains can have 10 babies,
nurse them all, and still have the bone density of a 20-year-old when they
are 70. True, a baby does consume 80% of its mother’s calcium. But if
the mother is also losing calcium because of excess animal protein, pasteurized
dairy and soda intake, her jawbone will thin and ultimately won’t hold
her teeth in. Eskimos have the highest incidence of osteoporosis in the world.
They consume 250-400 grams of protein a day (fish, walrus, whale meat). That’s
a lot of protein. They also receive over 2,200 mg of calcium daily. That’s
a lot of calcium. So, it’s clear just increasing calcium isn’t
the answer. On the other hand, studies show that diets low in protein and high
in sugar can be just as bone weakening. So just giving up meat isn’t
the answer either.
A whole food, largely vegetarian diet that includes a modest amount of animal
protein (one serving a day) should include high mineral foods like whole grains,
seeds, nuts and foods especially rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium and
silica - green leafy vegetables, cabbage, carrots, and fruits.
A healthy population of friendly bacteria in our intestines is also important
for strong bones. Friendly bacteria supply our bodies with Vitamin K, which
is needed to build the bone matrix. The foods a person can eat to increase
their supply of good bacteria include lactic acid foods such as home made sauerkraut
(cultured vegetables), raw yogurt, kefir (the only dairy foods I recommend)
and plenty of fiber, which provides a place for the good bacteria to grow.
When we tell people to stay away from dairy products, they all want to know
where they’re going to get calcium. The best sources include dark leafy
green vegetables, lettuce, watercress, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, broccoli,
collards, mustard greens, oats, navy beans, almonds, walnuts, millet, sunflower
seeds, corn tortillas, sardines, asparagus, figs, prunes, tofu and all unrefined
grains. If someone insists on using dairy products the best are yogurt or kefir.
The lactose (sugar) in these fermented products has been consumed by the fermenting
culture and converted to lactic acid.
Lifestyle Modifications and Supplementation
Low stomach acid will prevent someone from absorbing calcium and other minerals.
It’s one thing to eat a food, another to digest and absorb the calcium
and other nutrients contained in that food. As we age, our stomachs produce
less HcL, which can lead to a variety of nutrient deficiencies. Lemon water
or raw apple cider vinegar taken before meals can help trigger the stomach’s
HcL production. If all else fails, supplementing HcL may be necessary.
What about taking supplemental calcium? The most common form used in supplements
is called carbonate, a non-ionized, insoluble form that requires a good amount
of HcL in the stomach to be converted to a usable form. Studies show that only
4% of the carbonate form of calcium is absorbed in patients with low stomach
acid. Better supplemental forms include calcium citrate, lactate, aspartate
or gluconate. Each of these forms is soluble, ionized and much more assimilable.
In fact, 45% of these forms are absorbed in patients with low stomach acid.
Some people worry about developing kidney stones from supplemental calcium.
This is a legitimate concern if they are using non-citrate forms and over-supplementing.
In this case, excess calcium can be re-distributed in soft tissues and put
you at risk for arthritis, arteriosclerosis, glaucoma, and kidney stones. A
person should be careful not to overdo calcium supplements. Optimum range varies
from person to person, generally 800 to 1,500 mg/day taken in divided doses.
And remember, the less phosphorus someone eats (meat, dairy, soft drinks) the
less calcium they require.
Earlier we said that there are other nutritional factors involved in maintaining
healthy bones. The organic matrix that holds minerals in the bone is very important.
Collagen makes up 95% of this matrix. Nutrients involved in collagen synthesis
include Vitamins C, A, and the minerals zinc and copper. Proanthocyanadins,
including pycnogenol and grape seed extract are very important to help stabilize
collagen and many researchers believe they can help prevent osteoporosis.
Many menopausal women are taking Premarin (synthetic estrogen) and Provera
(synthetic progesterone) prescribed by their medical doctors. My understanding
is that neither of these has demonstrated an ability to reverse osteoporosis.
And estrogen replacement therapy has many downsides including increased risk
of gall bladder and liver disease, heart disease, stroke, breast and uterine
cancer. Indeed, post-menopausal women are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis
than anyone. Estrogen is necessary to recycle the calcium in the bone from
old dying cells to new ones. When estrogen levels decrease, that calcium
can be lost. For this reason, phytoestrogens, plants that have an estrogenic
effect, can be very beneficial, not only with osteoporosis, but also with the
symptoms of menopause. Phytoestrogens, including vitex, dong quai, licorice,
black cohosh, fennel, unicorn root and false unicorn root have a proven estrogenic
activity. They occupy the estrogen receptor sites and send many of the same
hormonal messages as the body’s own estrogen. But because they are 1/400
th the strength of prescription estrogen replacement they have none of the
potential negative side effects.
Progesterone, a key factor in laying down and strengthening bone, has also
helped a lot of women. One study of progesterone was 100% successful in restoring
an average of 15% bone mass in women with osteoporosis. Some women with the
poorest bone mass gained as much as 40%. Results were even better when a germanium
supplement was added. According to Dr. John Lee who ran the study, osteoporotic
fractures were virtually eliminated.
Boron, a trace mineral has both a positive effect on estrogen and helps
reduce calcium loss. It activates both estrogen and vitamin D (important for
calcium metabolism). If a woman isn’t eating a lot of fruits and vegetables
she’s probably deficient in boron. 3-5 mg a day could be supplemented
for women at risk of osteoporosis.
Silicon is responsible for cross-linking collagen strands which is critical
for keeping the bone matrix strong. It has not yet been established
whether the typical American diet supplies enough. If regeneration of bone
is desired, it is a good idea to supplement this mineral in the form of the
herb horsetail or silica capsules or gel.
The free radical homocysteine, which is so destructive to the bone matrix,
can be neutralized if a person is getting enough vitamins B6, folic acid and
B12. So a good B complex is important. You’ll also reduce your risk of
clogged arteries, heart attacks and strokes.
If someone has a long-standing deficiency of magnesium, they’re also
likely to have low levels of vitamin D needed to metabolize bone. The balance
of magnesium and calcium is also important. People need at least ½ as
much magnesium as calcium, but many only get ¼. Calcium won’t
be laid down in the bone without enough magnesium (or zinc, copper or manganese
for that matter). So a good chelated multi-mineral is very important.
Moderate weight-bearing exercise like walking, jogging or dancing increases
the uptake of calcium into the bones and helps to keep them strong. A morning
walk is a good idea as sunlight is especially good for the production of vitamin
D. Exercise is important but don’t overdo it. Ironically, elite
gymnasts have been shown to have reduced estrogen production that puts them
at greater risk for osteoporosis.
The nutritional suggestions in this material are not offered to treat, mitigate
or cure disease, and should not be used as a substitute for sound medical advice.
This information is designed to be used in conjunction with the services of
a trained, licensed healthcare practitioner.