Osteoporosis is a bone disease where bone integrity becomes compromised due to a myriad of factors, and bones become more fragile, ultimately increasing risks of fractures and bones breaking. It occurs more commonly in postmenopausal women, especially due to the decline of estrogen, however, it can also affect men and all younger people.
Calcium is a well-known ingredient for healthy bones, hence popular milk ads, but optimal bone health also involves constituents such as phosphorus, magnesium, strontium, boron, vitamin D (also helps improve calcium absorption), potassium, collagen (vitamin C is essential for its synthesis), sodium, vitamin K, and B vitamins.
This wide variety of nutrients further emphasizes why optimal nutrition and lifestyle is so important for healthy bones, and why supplements are meant to supplement, not replace deleterious foods and habits.
Some of The Main Offenders
Cured meats, processed sugar, and bleached flour all have the capacity to deplete many bone-related vitamin and minerals, which are also important in thousands of other functions in the human body. Sodium nitrate, a common preservative found in cured meats, may be harmful as increased sodium could potentially deplete calcium and nitrates (required for normal function in small amounts) get converted to the more toxic form nitrites, which raise the risk for cancer and methaemoglobinaemia (tissues unable to bind oxygen) (Mensinga, Speijers, & Meulenbelt, 2003).
Sugar as a whole (honey and maple syrup are better options) also reduce vitamin and mineral content, however, fruit is a better option because of its fiber content (contributes to healthy gut flora to optimize nutrient absorption).
Bleached flour occurs when critical nutrients are stripped from whole-wheat flour, and the bleaching process involves toxic chemicals that can contribute to further disease processes. While whole-wheat flour is a preferred option over bleached or white flour, avoiding gluten altogether may optimize nutrient absorption and overall health even in non-celiac disease patients.
Address The Underlying Cause
A disease is literally a dis-ease, with the symptom expressed by the body that there’s something wrong, and it needs to be fixed- but it’s always not that simple. Bone fragility did not just happen overnight, and outside of nutrition, it can be caused by hormone imbalance (e.g. decline of estrogen in postmenopausal women), smoking, sedentary lifestyle, thyroid or parathyroid problems, gastrointestinal problems, certain medications, autoimmune disease, and alcohol consumption. Fortunately, efforts to achieve optimal bone health also coincide with therapies that can help solve other concerns, and double as prevention.
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Using Your Lifestyle as Medicine
- Onions have a peptide called GPCS that can help reduce breakdown of bones (Hitti, 2005).
- High in omega 3 fatty acids like salmon, chia seeds, walnuts, egg yolks, and hemp seeds, all help improve bone density, as well as benefit cardiovascular health, mood disorders, skin health, immune health, joint health, and gut health.
- Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) – Contains phytoestrogenic (a weak version of estrogen) and other isoflavones that can significantly increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL- ‘good’ cholesterol), as well as bone integrity of the radius and ulna (Clifton-Bligh, et al., 2001).
- Horsetail (Equisetum) – Helps improve bone density mostly by it’s high silica content, a common mineral found in bone, that helps the body both absorb and best utilize calcium. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and an antioxidant due to other compounds such as flavonoids and phytosterols (Badole & Kotwal, 2014).
- Optimize vitamin D levels (vitamin D promotes calcium absorption)
- Weight bearing exercise (e.g. weights at gym/home, ankle weights, carrying heavy items)
- Quit smoking
- Address any other health concerns
Lifestyle changes can feel overwhelming to put into place, and even those who come in with the same concern all lead different lives that contain different health histories. Knowledgeable professional(s) becomes important when beginning a weight-training program, for example, to help reduce the risk of injury, and understand potential herb/drug/nutrient interaction, and create an individualized treatment plan with strategies that can be integrated into each person’s lifestyle.
Our body is extremely interconnected, both psychological and physiological, that addressing the underlying cause while taking preventative actions becomes imperative when striving for optimal health. As a result, many of the steps to help reduce osteoporosis can also help treat and prevent a variety of other conditions.
Badole, S. & Kotwal, S. (2014). Equisetum arvense: ethanopharmacological and phytochemical review with reference to osteoporosis. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Science and Health Care. 4(1):131-141.
Clifton-Bligh, P. B., Baber, R.J., Fulcher, G.R., Nery, M., & Moreton, T. (2001). The effect of isoflavones extracted from red clover (Rimostil) on lipid and bone metabolism. Menopause. 8(4):259-265.
Hitti, M. (2005). Onions may fight osteoporosis. http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/news/20050408/onions-may-fight-osteoporosis
Mensinga, T. T., Speijers, G. J., & Meulenbelt, J. (2003). Health implications of exposure to environmental nitrogenous compounds. Toxicological reviews, 22(1), 41-51.
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