As you age, it is normal for your bones to lose density. When you are young, your bones continue to grow and add mass until you are about thirty years old. Sometime between thirty and forty-five, more bone starts to absorb than is replaced, causing your bone mineral density to decrease. However, too much bone loss, a condition called “osteoporosis,” can cause your bones to become porous and fragile, which increases your risk of fractures. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that 54 million Americans currently have osteoporosis or low bone density. Every year, approximately 1.5 million suffer osteoporosis-related bone fractures. Studies suggest that approximately one in two women and up to one in four men age fifty and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
What Causes Excessive Bone Loss?
There are many factors that have been found to increase your risk of osteoporosis, including:
7 Low body weight
7 Advanced age
7 Anorexia nervosa
7 Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone imbalances
7 Autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and ankylosing spondylitis
7 Gastrointestinal issues, including celiac disease, weight-loss surgery, and inflammatory bowel disease
7 Certain medications, such as corticosteroids and anticonvulsants
7 Cigarette smoking
7 Endocrine disorders, including diabetes, hyperthyroidisms, hyperparathyroidism, and Cushing’s disease
7 Yo-yo dieting
7 Excessive consumption of alcohol
7 Drinking colas
7 Consuming excessive animal protein—particularly red meat
There is a lot of controversy when it comes to the Western approach to bone loss and its prevention and treatments. John Abramson, M.D., explains in his book, Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine, how the pharmaceutical companies have done an excellent job creating the illusion that normal bone loss with age is a disease that needs pharmaceutical treatment. However, studies show that in general these drugs do not significantly lower your risk of fractures. The full explanations are beyond the scope of this book, but in short, these medications add strength to the outer layer of your bone (cortical bone), whereas the strength of your bone actually comes from the inner layer (trabecular bone). In fact, studies show that women who take bisphosphonate drugs, such as Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva, and Reclast, for more than five years have almost a three times higher incidence of hip fractures! In addition, these medications are associated with a number of serious side effects, including eye problems, osteonecrosis (destruction) of the jaw, liver and kidney damage, cardiac arrhythmias, and low calcium, to name a few. The good news is there are many natural approaches without dangerous side effects that can help to keep your bones strong.
Good bone health begins with good nutrition. Research shows that eating a wide variety of fresh, organically grown plants—fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds help to supply your bones with the nutrients they need to stay strong. There are also a number of dietary supplements that research shows can help preserve your bone density and lower your risk of osteoporosis. In the past, it was thought that supplemental calcium was all that was needed. However, as our knowledge of bone physiology has advanced, we now understand that magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K2 are also critically important. In fact, these four nutrients interact together and support each other. Taking excess amounts of one, while being deficient in another, can have serious consequences, including increasing your risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Magnesium is a mineral that is vital for your overall health. It is involved in more than 300 different enzymes in your body and is essential for the most basic processes of your body—from proteins synthesis, energy production, metabolism, and digestion to the function of your bones, muscles, and nerves. Taking extra calcium without also taking adequate amounts of magnesium can cause muscle spasms and even lead to heart attacks and sudden death. Magnesium not only helps to maintain your bone density, but also lowers the risk of numerous other diseases and conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, migraine headaches, depression, fatigue, and possibly colorectal tumors. The daily recommended amount is 310–320 mg per day for women and 400–420 mg for men. Good food sources include seaweed and green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and Swiss chard, as well as avocados, beans, nuts, and seeds especially pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds. You can’t take pure magnesium supplements, because magnesium has to be combined with another substance, such as glycinate, chloride, carbonate, or citrate. Each substance affects how well the magnesium is absorbed and used by your body. For example, magnesium glycinate is a chelated form that is highly absorbable and bioavailable. Magnesium chloride contains only 12 percent magnesium, but has better absorption than many other forms. Magnesium citrate is also well absorbed and has a laxative effect. Magnesium can be bitter, so I recommend either tablets or a delicious powdered form mixed with water such as Natural Calm made by Natural Vitality.
Vitamin D, like magnesium, has profound effects on your entire body. It acts more like a hormone and has been shown to interact with thousands of genes. Vitamin D helps your bone density by increasing the absorption and retention of calcium. A study from Iceland published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005 found that if you don’t get enough vitamin D, it doesn’t seem to matter to your bones how much calcium you get. In other words, even high doses of calcium won’t do much good in preserving your bone density if you don’t get enough vitamin D. When your vitamin D levels are sufficient, the amount of calcium you require to maintain ideal bone health may be far less.
A subject of thousands of recent studies, vitamin D is essential not only for good bone health, but also for your overall health. It has been shown to lower your risk of most chronic diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain cancers. Vitamin D is unique because your body can manufacture it when your skin is exposed to sunlight. But the vast majority of Americans are found to be deficient, so taking supplemental amounts is recommended. Vitamin D is found naturally in only a few foods such as fatty fish and mushrooms. There are several foods—for example, milk, orange juice, and cereal—that are fortified with vitamin D. To get enough daily vitamin D from these foods, large volumes of them would have to be consumed, so taking supplemental vitamin D is also important. Experts now believe that healthy individuals need at least 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 (the active form) per day, and if you are sick, you may need much more.
Vitamin K comes in two forms: K1 and K2. Vitamin K1 is found in green vegetables and helps your blood to clot. Vitamin K2 is manufactured by bacteria and helps to keep calcium in its appropriate place. Specifically, it helps your bone hang on to calcium by supporting your osteoblasts (cells that build bone) and quieting your osteoclasts (cells that absorb bone). Vitamin K2 also prevents calcium from being deposited on the walls of your arteries, and therefore, lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease. If you take calcium without vitamin K2, it may deposit in the wrong places and increase your risk of heart disease and other problems. Taking mega doses of vitamin D3 without taking vitamin K2 can cause you to become vitamin D toxic. Experts recommend you take 100–150 mcg of vitamin K2 for every 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 you take. Natural sources of vitamin K2 include fermented foods, especially natto. Because the taste of natto can be disagreeable for many, I recommend a vitamin K2 supplement.
Other substances that research shows may help keep your bones fit include omega-3 fatty acids, tea, soy, and flaxseeds.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Many studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids improve bone health, including a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, which found that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is important for health bone morrow and bone density.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2000 found that older women (ages sixty-five to seventy-six) who drank tea had significantly greater bone density than those who did not drink tea.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study published in the journal Menopause in 2004 found that soy isoflavones maintained hip bone mineral content in postmenopausal women.
Last but not least, exercise, especially weight-bearing exercises that put stress on your bones, such as jogging and weight lifting, is extremely important for maintaining bone density. It’s also a good idea to include balance and coordination exercises, too, because they can help to prevent falls.
Remember that your bone density naturally decreases with age and doesn’t mean you have a disease. If you are at risk for too much bone loss, the best approach is to prevent it naturally. If possible, avoid pharmaceutical medications because of their significant side effects and questionable benefits. Instead, eat plenty of fresh, organic green vegetables; go for brisk walks every day—in the sunshine if possible; and make sure to take adequate amounts of calcium, magnesium, and vitamins D3 and K2.
Christine Horner, M.D.
Christine Horner, M.D. is a board certified and nationally recognized surgeon, author, expert in natural medicine, professional speaker and a relentless champion for women’s health. She is the author of Waking the Warrior Goddess: Dr. Christine Horner’s Program to Protect Against and Fight Breast Cancer, winner of the Independent Book Publishers Award 2006 for Best Book in Health, Medicine, and Nutrition and the author of the 2016 book Radiant Health, Ageless Beauty: Dr. Christine Horner’s 30-Day Program to Extraordinary Health, Beauty, and Longevity.. www.drchristinehorner.com.