Healthy Approach to Bone Density
Bones are living tissue, which constantly recycles old bone, and rebuilds new strong bone. Prevention is the key to maintaining strong healthy bones. Only in rare or severe diseases will bone density drop rapidly. The majority of cases in a diagnosis of osteopenia or osteoporosis have taken years of neglect to reach that point. Bone density naturally peaks at age 35 and begins a gradual decline. Increasing bone density as much as possible in the early years allows for greater reserves throughout life. Lifestyle issues that weaken the bones include a lack of exercise, high sugar/high fat diet, lack of calcium in diet, lack of adequate Vitamin D from diet or sunlight, high phosphorous intake (soda pop) and high stress, which cause the body to become acidic. When acidic, your body will keep blood calcium levels very stable at all costs, so it will pull calcium from the bones and put it into the tissues or bloodstream rather than leave it in the bones. If this chronic removal of calcium occurs, eventually bone density is affected. Positive steps to prevent further bone loss include:
- Weight bearing exercise (lifting weights)
- Alkalinizing diet – lots of fruits/veggies, moderate grains/meats
- Low amounts of sugar and soda
- Proper Calcium intake 1000-1500 mg/day
Osteopenia / Osteoporosis
At this point, the bones are beginning to thin. Most people are concerned with the level of bone density and how the readings look on DEXA testing. As a Naturopathic Doctor, I am also concerned with the strength and health of the bone, not just the density. An initial pharmaceutical prescription encourages one type of bone cell, the osteoclast, to slow down the removal of old bone and lets the osteoblast (bone builder), continue its work. This allows a denser bone to form, but does not necessarily correlate to a stronger or healthier bone. My analogy is that it ends up being “more like glass” – very dense, but brittle.
From a Naturopathic perspective, we wish to encourage the strengthening and development of strong healthy bone density. At this point, basic calcium carbonate is no longer enough. Living bone is a matrix of several minerals and crystalline structures. The form of calcium recommended at this stage is MCHC- Microcrystalline Hydroxyapatite: A formulation of whole bone constituents processed to maintain its crystalline structure while free from lead or other contamination. Do not be confused with calcium hydroxyappetite, which has been processed differently.
Other factors to consider include levels of Vitamin D. Summer sunlight on the skin will produce approximately 400iu/day. In Northern Alberta, I often recommend cod liver oil between October and April to make up for the low levels of sunlight. Recent research is showing that large numbers of people are low in Vitamin D and may require higher levels of supplementation (1000-3000iu/day, especially with osteoporosis). Always discuss with a medical professional knowledgeable in nutrition before going to such doses as Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that can cause toxicity.
Strontium is a trace mineral in the research lately. It has shown itself to be a bone “builder”. All existing approved drugs are which meainstream medicine reliest to treat osteoporosis- including bisphosphonates (Fosamax®), hormone replacement therapy, selective estrogen receptor modulators (Evista®) and calcitorin, are “antiresorptive agents”. That is they slow down runaway bone resorption. Even calcium and Vitamin D supplements have an anti-resorptive mechanism of action, by keeping the body’s store of calcium at levels high enough to keep calcium from being leeched out of your bones by parathyroid hormone. They don’t actually increase the body’s ability to build new bone. That’s where strontium comes in. Strontium not only inhibits the excessive breakdown of existing bone, but also powerfully boosts the body’s ability to build new bone!
Other specific vitamins and minerals to be aware of must include: Vitamin K, Manganese, Magnesium, Folic Acid, Boron, Vitamin B6 and Zinc. Discuss your individual requirements with your nutritionally focused Naturopathic Doctor.
Most women experience a significant decline in bone density at the onset of menopause. The protective effect of estrogen drops off as the hormones come to find a new balanced level in the body. We will discuss issues related to bone density and menopause in future newsletters. Stay tuned!
Fantastic Resource Book : Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis – Alan Gaby, MD
For more information on strontium and references- see www.aor.com- Volume 2, Issue 7 of “Advances in Orthomolecular Research”