Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become thin, weak, and subject to fracture with very little stress. Some bone loss each year is usual as part of the aging process, but in osteoporosis this process is accelerated. It is a serious health problem in epidemic proportions in the western world, mostly in women. The hip and vertebrae are mainly affected. Diagnosis:
Several types of bone density scans are available to diagnose osteoporosis. A scan should be done at age 50 for most people, but at the time of menopause as an early prevention measure if strong risk factors for osteoporosis exists. If the scan shows the beginning of a problem, then it should be repeated every 1-2 years to monitor the progression of bone loss. If the scan shows no bone density problems, then repeat every 3 years. Instruments using a finger bone or the heel bone are less expensive, and may be adequate for early screening. Because osteoporosis may occur in the spine only, in the long bone only, or in both, a Dexa scan which tests bone density in both areas is better.
1. Diet should include enough protein to provide the matrix upon which the minerals are laid down to produce bone. Excess protein produces acid wastes which have to be buffered, and calcium is taken from the bones to act as a buffer. Excess acid forming foods of all kinds should be avoided, especially soda pop which contains both carbonic and phosphoric acid. If digestion is incomplete, acidic metabolic by-products may result. Refined sugar is a major contributing factor. When you eat sugar you do so at the exclusion of foods which contain fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals that are important for bone health. A study was done comparing mineral loss in 2 groups of people given the same caloric intake. The group consuming refined sugar had 3 times as much calcium, magnesium and chromium loss in their urine as the no-sugar group. The excessive amount of refined sugar (up to 150 pounds per person yearly) in the western diet may be the foremost reason for the much higher rate of osteoporosis here compared to other areas of the world. (Although milk contains calcium, some people think it makes the problem worse instead of better and is not needed in the diet.) 2. Exercise, especially weight bearing exercise is very important. When you walk, the jarring action of your foot coming down on the ground puts stress on the bones, especially the hips, and stimulates bone development at these stressed areas where strength is needed. A regular weight-bearing exercise program for 20 minutes minimum and at least 3 times weekly is helpful.
3. Supplemental vitamins and minerals are beneficial. We have done several world-wide literature searches on the relationship between osteoporosis and nutrients, and have found that a number of important minerals are needed besides calcium. These minerals include magnesium, zinc, manganese, boron, silicon, and even strontium. Vitamin D, preferably 800 mg. daily or more is important for calcium and other minerals to be absorbed. We have developed a special product called Prime multiple which has a balanced, relatively high dose mineral content in forms that are easily absorbed. This is a therapeutic nutrient which also contains high levels of B vitamins and antioxidants for good general health. We order this product directly from the manufacturer in large volumes that allows us to provide it at a very reasonable price. Six tablets of Prime multiple daily should be adequate, although additional calcium might be indicated in advanced cases. Cod liver oil is also a good source of extra vitamin D.
4. Sunlight exposure on a regular basis (10-15 minutes at least twice a week) improves Vitamin D levels and thus improves calcium uptake from the digestive tract. There may be other health benefits from sunlight including improved mental health. Currently there is a lot of emphasis on staying out of the sun and using sun screen to prevent skin cancer. For many people this advice can contribute to osteoporosis. Excessive sun exposure to the point of tissue damage clearly leads to skin cancer. Most skin cancers, however, are only locally invasive, do not spread throughout the body, and can easily be taken care of with local excision. Regular periods of sun exposure will build a protective suntan for most people. This tan protects your skin from sun damage and should actually prevent rather than cause skin cancers. Sun screens protect you from some types of damaging rays of sun, but theydo not protect from all damaging rays. Sun screens may give a false sense of security causing people to stay out in the sun longer than is healthy, while sustaining significant deep skin damage. This is thought to be a contributing factor to the alarming increase in malignant melanomas (the serious and often fatal type of skin cancer) in spite of increased use of sun screen in our society. It is our opinion that the health benefits of regular modest sun exposure greatly outweigh the health risk associated with it for most people. Those who have skin that will not tan (such as many red heads) would be wise to greatly curtail sun exposure.
5. Hormones. Studies have shown that estrogen and progesterone may be helpful for a few years around the time of menopause. If taken longer than 5 years, these hormones have recently been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer and uterine cancer, and their use should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Natural estrogen and progesterone may be better tolerated, may relieve menopausal symptoms better, and may have less potential for cancer than synthetic products.
6. Drugs including Fosamax and Actonel are available. They are expensive, prone to side effects, and aren’t usually needed. We only use them in advanced cases or when the other measures have not reversed the bone loss. Drugs are no replacement for a healthy life-style.
Additional Treatment Suggestions:
Women should get a bone density scan around age 50 (sooner if high risk). Thin people, those with a strong family history of osteoporosis, anyone with fracture from minor trauma, and those who show bone density loss should start a good exercise program, improve their diet, and take supplements. Those with digestive problems should consider regular use of a good digestive enzyme. These seem to help break down your food more completely and allow more complete absorption of vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Have your bone density repeated in 1 to 2 years. If these suggestions are not enough to improve bone density, more aggressive dietary measures, supplementation, and exercise should be considered. Hormones and drug therapy should also be considered when needed. Even slight bone loss should be treated to prevent more severe problems.