Osteoporosis: Reversible?

          Osteoporosis has become an epidemic in the United States over the past 15 years.  It’s one of the most common bone diseases and also one of the most preventable. About 10 million people—80 percent women—suffer from the chronic condition that leads to debilitating and life-threatening fractures. What’s worse is that more than 40 million people now have low bone mass, which is a high risk for osteoporosis development, and it’s expected to increase.  

          Research points to lifestyle and diet in the cause of low bone mass. The bony structure is built in childhood when weight-bearing physical activity and proper nutrition are essential.  But today, children spend most of their time sitting in front of TV sets or computer monitors and drink calcium robbing sodas, instead of calcium-rich milk or other healthy options.

          Calcium and magnesium are the major minerals in your body. And they are intimately related because they need each other to work properly. If your diet has been low in magnesium your whole life, as it typically is when eating a Western diet, then there will be an imbalance of magnesium and calcium in your body which throws things off.  When we lack magnesium, osteoclast (cells that break down bone) activity is too high and causes bone loss. When magnesium levels are adequate, they suppress the calcitonin hormone that tells your body to pull calcium from the bones. When magnesium levels are too low, you lose bone density and osteoporosis eventually develops because more osteoclasts are being produced then should be. Although there are many factors, the inactivity and magnesium/calcium imbalance makes them more likely to develop osteoporosis in the future.

           Bone density screening should be used to help diagnose the disease early on because osteoporosis is painless until a fracture actually occurs. Screening and prevention are especially important to reverse bone loss. Medications to increase bone mass should be carefully reviewed because they can potentially have harmful side effects like causing weak and brittle bones… seems  contrary to what you might expect.

Risk factors for osteoporosis development:

  • Female
  • Menopausal
  • Small frame
  • Ovary removal or menopause by age 45
  • Prolonged hormonal imbalances
  • Known calcium and vitamin D deficiencies
  • Insufficient physical activity
  • White or Asian ancestry
  • Smoker
  • Excess caffeine intake (more than 3 cups of coffee, tea or soda a day)
  • More than 2 alcoholic drinks per day
  • Regular use of certain medications (glucocorticoids, thyroid hormone, anticonvulsants, and aluminum-containing antacids)
  • History of eating disorders

 What you can do now ?

1. Stop drinking soft drinks.

Soft drinks are high in phosphoric acid and sugar, making these drinks highly acidic. Calcium is the main mineral the body uses to neutralize that acid. So drinking soft drinks and eating an acidic diet high in meat and grains requires the use of blood calcium to neutralize the acids. Calcium used for this is pulled out of the body with the acid it neutralizes. This lowers blood calcium levels. If the levels get too low, the parathyroid gland restores calcium balance in the blood by pulling calcium from your bones.

2. Reduce consumption of dairy products. (Or increase magnesium intake.)

For over 50 years milk was pitched as a wonder food whose calcium was the only protection we needed against weak bones. Yet Americans, with one of the world’s high calcium intakes, have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world.

It’s not that dairy is bad. It’s just because dairy products have much more calcium than magnesium.

3. Increase Magnesium Intake.

The Western diet is low in magnesium and high in calcium. This results in an imbalance of magnesium and calcium in your body that for most people is the single most important cause of bone loss. Remember, magnesium suppresses parathyroid osteoclast production, and stimulates calcitonin which reduces osteoclast activity — so magnesium works to keep calcium in our bones.

Magnesium is necessary for calcium absorption. On the other hand, too much calcium prevents magnesium from being absorbed. So taking large amounts of calcium without adequate magnesium creates calcium malabsorption and a magnesium deficiency. Also, it’s required for the activation of vitamin D and alkaline phosphatase (an enzyme needed to build bone.

Food sources of magnesium include dark green leafy vegetables, avocados, dried apricots, bananas, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, whole grains and soy. If you prefer using a supplement, a magnesium/calcium supplement with a ratio of 3:2 or 2:1 is recommended.

4. Reduce stress.

Cortisol is a hormone produced when your body is under stress or the “fight or flight” mode. Excess cortisol causes calcium to be pulled from the bones. In this day and age, it isn’t easy to reduce stress, so excess cortisol may also pull calcium from your bones.

5. Sleep 8 hours every night–or as close to it as you can.  Lack of sleep leads to that cortisol response in the body. The body simply does not build and repair well when it is in “fight or flight” mode.

6. Get More Sun – Increase Vitamin D Intake

Increasing levels of vitamin D in your body can be as simple as getting a lot more sun or supplementing your diet. Vitamin D

7. Eat Greens – Increase Vitamin K Intake

Not only are leafy greens a source of magnesium and calcium, but they also supply vitamin K. Eat more of them. When you are trying to greatly increase bone density, adding vitamin K as a supplement makes sense, as it plays a role in bone growth and the maintenance of bone density. Vitamin K2 is the best form to use.

8. Do Weight Bearing Exercises.

Exercise puts stress on the bone and helps it strengthen and remodel. Exercise for at least 20 minutes 3 times a week.  If you have had a fracture, fall frequently, or have osteoporosis, consult with your health care provider before starting any exercise program.

Weight-bearing activities such as jogging, walking, stair climbing, playing racquet sports, aerobics, and dancing, will help keep your bones strong. These exercises also improve flexibility and balance, reducing the risk of falling and fractures. Resistance exercises that increase muscle mass and strengthen bones, such as weight lifting, are also recommended. Exercise activities, such as swimming and cycling that are good cardio-vascular activities but because they are not weight bearing they do little to build bone density.