Osteoporosis is the result of demineralisation of bone tissue, resulting in the bones becoming fragile and an increase in fracture risk. Osteopenia is the beginning stage of this process. Risk factors include genetics, lifestyle issues (diet, smoking, alcohol, physical activity), hormonal status and certain prescription medicines. Bone remodelling is the process of bone resorption (breakdown) and bone formation. Understanding how this biochemical process works is the key to preventing and reversing osteopenia and osteoporosis.
This disease serves as a classic example of two key concepts – 1) the body doing exactly what it is supposed to do based on the stimuli we give it from the outside world, and 2) Western Medicine asking the wrong question when trying to determine how to treat it. The gold standard test to diagnose and mark progress in treatment of osteopenia and osteoporosis is the DEXA scan, which measures bone density. Other tests that some practitioners will use measure the results of bone breakdown in urine; this test may be more helpful in determining any benefit from treatment quicker than waiting a year or two for results to be evident from a DEXA scan.
The idea that osteopenia and osteoporosis are the sole result of a lack of calcium is likely terribly misguided. There are a host of minerals and nutrients that are required for the body to make bone properly; including magnesium, vitamin D, boron, strontium, vitamin K, and others. Calcium may be the one that you are least likely to be deficient in. But there are two other vital considerations that need to be addressed to properly and permanently treat or reverse bone loss. The first is weight-bearing exercise. It is through stressing the bones by lifting things that tells the body to make those bones stronger and more flexible. This is how you encourage bone building.
The second is how acidic the body is as a result of diet and other lifestyle factors. If the body is too acidic, the only choice is for the body to “borrow” minerals from the bones (a store of minerals) to buffer the excess acid. These three concerns are the reason why we have such a prevalence of loss of bone mass in this country – lack of bone building nutrients, lack of weight-bearing exercise and over-acidifying diets and lifestyles!
The diet is one of the keys to preventing and treating decreased bone density… and it isn’t just about getting the minerals from the diet; it is also about how acidifying a person’s diet is, and making adjustments if necessary. Even though I feel that we should strive to get as many minerals and nutrients that we can from our diet, I think that most people with bone density concerns will need to supplement with a proper bone mineral formula. Of course, eating as many fresh fruits and vegetables is always a good idea, especially for someone with osteopenia or osteoporosis. Green leafy vegetables, in particular, offer minerals and vitamin K.
The reason for this is two-fold. You will get vitamins and minerals from those foods – but more importantly, you will be helping to alkalinise your system with those fruits and vegetables. And this is the part that is often missed or not respected enough when it comes to preventing and treating bone density problems. When the body is too acidic, it must steal minerals from the bones to buffer things.
These are the foods that will acidify your body…
- Animal proteins
- Sugar, including artificial sweetners
Foods that alkalinise your body are…
- whole grains
It is interesting to note that the “nature” of a particular food does not necessarily translate into the effect that it will have on your acid/base balance. An example of this is pineapple, which is very acidic, but one of the more alkalising foods for your body. The general rule of thumb is that all fruits and vegetables are alkalinising.
This does not mean that you have to be a vegetarian to fight bone density loss – but it does mean that you have to properly balance the acidifying foods with enough alkalinising foods to create the environment where you are not stealing minerals from your bones.
Lifestyle considerations, other than diet, are key to prevention and treatment of bone loss.
Weight-bearing exercise is vital! It is through the process of “stressing” the bones by lifting things that instructs the body to make those bones stronger and more flexible. And studies have shown that weight lifting that targets specific areas do help those areas more. With osteopenia and osteoporosis, we are mostly concerned about the hips and the spine. So, doing weight lifting that targets those areas will net the most useful gains. If you are new to the practice of lifting weights, I recommend that you work with a certified trainer to help make sure that you use good technique so you don’t risk injury.
I know this seems obvious these days, and this really shouldn’t have to be mentioned… smoking is probably the single most harmful habit that you can have that negatively affects every single aspect of the body and it’s function – and it is also true with osteoporosis. Please, if you smoke, put all of your efforts and resources into quitting… then you can work on other things.
Alcohol is also a factor in two ways. It is very acidifying to the system; thus causing the need to steal minerals from the bones. It is also a factor in leading to falls, which can lead to fractures in someone with lower bone density.
Stress can also be a factor. When under stress the body uses progesterone to make cortisol, the hormone of stress. This can then lead to hormonal imbalances that can affect bone density. Progesterone is the hormone that encourages bone building. Low progesterone levels can cause a shift in the balance of bone remodelling towards the breakdown of bone.
There are certain prescription and over-the-counter medicines that can affect bone density. The whole class of drugs that decrease stomach acid (antacids, H-2 inhibitors, Proton-pump inhibitors) make it harder to absorb minerals like calcium. Also, steroids like prednisone are known to contribute to decreased bone density. People on these medicines need to be extra vigilant with the diets, exercise regimens and bone mineral supplements.
Calcium: Essential role in bone mineralisation.
Glucosamine: Inhibits inflammatory cytokines.
Vitamin C: Required both structurally and functionally in the management of oestoarthritis. Essential role in the synthesis of collagen, acts as an antioxidant, protecting against effects of oxidative damage.
EFAs: Essential fatty acids. Reduce excessive prostagladins in the body, which are involved in inflammatory processes in the body.
Chondroitin: inhibits inflammatory cytokines and increases bone mineralisation and repair.
Vitamin D: May help prevent against cartilage loss, maintains bone formation.
Zinc: Helps maintain connective tissues and offers antioxidant protection in synovial fluid to prevent joint damages.
Vitamin E: Antioxidant, protects against oxidative damage.
*Disclaimer: This article should be used as a reference guide ONLY. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you experience any symptoms of pain. Never self-diagnose as it can be dangerous, causing unwanted side effects and possibly cause chronic conditions.
Tegan, Nutrition Nourishment.