Osteoporosis is a clinical condition which is characterized by a high susceptibility to bone fracture. It is due to excessive bone loss and decreased bone density. The “disease” occurs most commonly in post-menopausal women because of reduced levels of the hormone estrogen, although some consider lifestyle, diet and exercise to be important factors affecting the disease as well. After menopause, 25% of white-skinned, Asian and brown-skinned women develop serious osteoporosis. Here are some easy-to-follow guidelines on maintaining healthy bones for both men and women:
Exercise is the single most important thing one can do to preserve and increase one’s bone mass. It is clear from research that the best kind of exercise for strong bones is weight bearing in nature. Activities such as running and brisk walking are ideal. But don’t forget “fun” exercise like dancing, rope jumping, hiking, tennis and volleyball. Each of these activities is useful in strengthening the bones. I usually recommend 45 minutes of weight bearing exercise, three times each week. In addition, walk 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week. And remember, you are never too young or too old to begin an exercise routine. If you have any questions about how much exercise you should start with, consult your physician.
As far as your bones are concerned, what you shouldn’t eat is as important as what you should eat. Sugar is a big culprit, and as recommended in any healthy diet, it should be reduced. In addition, using too much table salt in the diet can actually cause calcium to be excreted through the urine. One study revealed that adding a teaspoon of salt to the diet of young women increased the amount of calcium lost in the urine — enough to diminish bone mass by 1.5% per year. It is important to include moderate amounts of animal protein and make certain that one includes two vegetable servings with any protein meal. And, of course, you should also include calcium-rich foods such as green, leafy vegetables and moderate amounts of dairy products in your diet.
Caffeine, Nicotine and Alcohol
Caffeine will also cause calcium to be excreted in the urine. One study has demonstrated that three cups of coffee will secrete 45 milligrams of calcium into the urine. Cigarette smoke has been shown to curtail estrogen activity, and anything that interferes with estrogen is very likely to increase one’s chances of osteoporosis. Women who smoke are clearly at high risk for osteoporosis. And alcohol should be reduced or eliminated. Chronic alcoholics are notorious candidates for poor bone density since research indicates that most osteoporosis in middle age men is associated with alcoholism.
Both calcium and magnesium are clinically used in the prevention and management of osteoporosis. These nutrients can be so effective that the Harvard Health Letter considers recent research (showing that calcium with vitamin D prevents hip fractures in the elderly) to be one of the top ten medical advances of 1993. In a recent clinical study, it was found that calcium supplementation alone significantly retarded the degree of bone loss and improved calcium balance in recently post-menopausal women.
In a study comparing the incidence of several types of fractures in women ages 50 to 84, it was found that those with a calcium intake of 1000 mg a day or greater were less likely to suffer from bone fractures. And some additional data indicates that magnesium is also valuable in the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis. In one study, supplementation using 500 mg of calcium and 600 mg of magnesium had a significant effect on reversing post-menopausal bone loss.
I usually recommend at least 1000 mg of calcium and 500 mg of magnesium daily. It is wise to use supplements that include multiple forms of each mineral (i.e., citrate, chelate, aspartate, carbonate, etc.). If you prefer taking a single form, such as calcium citrate, it may be wise to occasionally rotate to another type to ensure that your body is assimilating the nutrient efficiently.
Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis root) has seen decades of clinical use in the Orient and the West for the treatment of menopause and the management of osteoporosis. Because declining estrogen levels are associated with increased risk of osteoporosis, botanicals that are estrogenic in function are commonly used in the clinic to support healthy bones. In a Japanese study, menopausal women showed a 5-7% increase in bone mineral content after being treated with an herbal formula containing Dong Quai and vitamin D3. I often recommend using a Dong Quai formula two to three times daily, for one or two weeks out of the month.
There are other herbs that may act “synergistically” to support calcium metabolism. These include Horsetail, Oatstraw and Nettle. These botanicals are rich in calcium and other trace minerals, and should also be considered in a program.
So, it is important to begin with looking at your lifestyle — proper exercise and diet are essential. Take a calcium/magnesium supplement and consider herbal support to help you on your way to stronger, healthier bones.
Janet Zand OMD, L.Ac., is a respected practitioner who lives and practices in the Los Angeles area. She has a unique and effective method of combining herbal medicine with nutrition, homeopathy, and acupuncture. Her credentials include Doctor of Naturopathy, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, and Certified Acupuncturist. Dr. Zand has over fifteen years of clinical experience in treating with natural medicine, as well as formulating her own line of herbal supplements.