Osteoporosis Drugs and Their Natural Alternatives
Osteoporosis literally means “porous bone,” and that’s exactly what happens to the bones in your body over the years as osteoporosis slowly deteriorates the skeletal structure. Eventually, fragile bones predispose you to fracture and a plethora of other problems associated with bone loss including Dowager’s hump, loss of mobility, and pinched nerves from spinal collapse. In fact, bones affected by osteoporosis may become so fragile that fractures occur spontaneously or as the result of minor bumps, falls, or stresses associated with bending, lifting, or even coughing!
What causes Osteoporosis?
Bone is a living tissue; as such, it is ever-changing. Old bone is removed (resorption) and new bone is added (formation) to the skeleton on a constant basis. When we are young, bone formation is much higher than resorption. But as we age, formation slows. Peak bone mass is achieved at about age 30, after that bones can begin to weaken. If we do not have the right genetics, nutrition, weight bearing exercise and other factors in place, resorption becomes dominant and bone loss ensues.
Approximately 44 million Americans are threatened by osteoporosis and low bone mass—68% being women. One of every two women and one of every four men over 50 will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.
Who is at risk?
We often think of osteoporosis as a normal consequence of aging, but in fact, it is the result of certain unchangeable factors combined with poor diet and lifestyle habits. The truth is that it’s never too early to build strong bones or be aware of the factors that contribute to bone loss. There are risk factors you cannot change, and risk factors you can control.
Risk factors you cannot change:
- Ethnicity—due to genetic characteristics of bone density, Caucasian and Asian women have the highest risk, and African American and Hispanic women have a lower but significant risk
- Family history—heredity may play a significant predisposing role
- Gender—women have less bone tissue and lose bone faster than men
- Age—bones become thinner and weaker with age
- Body size—small, thin-boned women are at greater risk
Risk factors you can exert some control over:
- Diet & nutrition—calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D, boron, silicon, and other nutrients play important roles in bone metabolism. On the other hand, “junk foods,” sodas, and caffeine promote bone loss.
- Cigarette smoking—tobacco use, and associated lifestyle factors, are correlated with increased bone loss
- Alcohol intake—excessive consumption increases the risk of bone loss and fractures
- Inactivity—inactivity tends to weaken bones, while weight-bearing exercise is one of the best ways to prevent bone loss
- Use of certain medications—glucocorticoids ,long term overdosing of thyroid medication, and some anticonvulsants can lead to loss of bone density
- Hormone balance—abnormal or low levels of hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, DHEA, growth hormone, cortisol, and thyroid can bring on osteoporosis
- Eating disorders—certain eating disorders increase your risk for osteoporosis due to poor nutrition and/or nutrient losses
- pH balance has been shown to play a role in bone metabolism
- Dysfunctional immune system—cytokines are immune cells that initiate a type of inflammatory response leading to bone breakdown. Diet and lifestyle factors, along with hormonal balance and specific nutritional substances, help normalize cytokine activity. Osteoporosis is now considered a disease of chronic inflammation.
The following tests are helpful in identifying the root cause(s) of bone loss:
- Vitamin D3, vitamin K – blood
- Hormone testing – blood, saliva, or urine
- Intestinal permeability – blood
- C-reactive protein – blood
The DEXA bone density test is used to identify osteoporosis. Dr. Stengler uses a bone metabolism to monitor the success of therapy. Using blood or urine, he measures two substances that are released when there is bone (and cartilage) breakdown. They are known as deoxypyridinium and pyridinium. A high level signifies too much breakdown.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Osteoporosis is certainly a disease highly associated with one’s diet and lifestyle. Studies of cultures with more of a primitive lifestyle demonstrate osteoporosis to be uncommon. A diet rich in inflammation fighting foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, omega 3 rich fish such as wild salmon and sardines, and lean poultry is recommended. Inflammatory foods such as caffeine, alcohol, soda pop, and other simple sugars should be avoided for those with this disease.
Studies also show that a high salt (sodium) diet contributes to calcium loss. Avoid packaged foods high in sodium (see High blood pressure). Fermented soy foods and protein powders have been shown to increase bone formation. Sea vegetables surprisingly high in calcium that have become more readily available in health food stores include wakame (1/2 cup contains 1700 mg), agar (1/4 cup contains 1000 mg), nori (1/2 cup contains 600 mg), and kombu (1/4 cup contains 500 mg). It should be noted that sardines with bones are not only a good source of omega 3 fatty acids but calcium with 500 mg per half cup.
Vitamin K is important for proper bone formation. This nutrient is abundant in dark green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach and broccoli. The form in these foods is vitamin K1. However, vitamin K2 is better absorbed and remains active in the body longer than vitamin K1. The best food source of vitamin K2 is natto (fermented soybeans) and to a lesser degree, fermented cheeses (the type with holes, such as Swiss and Jarlsberg), butter, beef liver, chicken and egg yolks.
Studies looking at high animal protein intake and osteoporosis are conflicting. While high protein intake increases calcium loss it is known that adequate protein is required for bone formation. Those prone to higher blood glucose and insulin levels with diabetes or insulin resistance often benefit from high protein and reduced simple carbohydrate intake. The lower one’s insulin levels the lower the inflammatory response including one’s bones.
Regular weight bearing exercise is critical for proper bone formation and the stimulation of increased bone density. Walking, jogging, and stair climbing are good. Optimally one should incorporate weightlifting twice weekly to stress various parts of the skeleton. Work with a certified trainer for a personalized program. Flexibility and balance exercises are helpful to prevent falls.
Smoking is a big contributor to osteoporosis and cessation is necessary.
Read Dr. Stengler’s article from Bottom Line Natural Healing on the role of pH balance and osteoporosis.