A generalized, progressive diminution in bone tissue mass(i.e., a reduced amount of bone) causing weakness of skeletal strength, even though the ratio of mineral to organic elements is unchanged in the remaining morphologically normal bone.
A slow progressive thinning and loss of calcium content of the bones occurs and the skeleton becomes brittle and susceptible to fractures from seemingly minor injuries or even everyday activities. It is a major health problem affecting about 20 million Americans.
98% of the calcium in the body is deposited in the skeleton along with other minerals, the rest is in the tissues and blood stream involved in blood clotting and the activity of muscle and nerve cells. The skeleton reaches its peak mass at around age 35, and after the fourth decade bone content is lost at the rate of 1-2% a year. This process accelerates after menopause such that by 65, most women have lost 30-50% of their skeletal mass. Men are affected to a lesser degree.
To sustain life, the level of calcium in the bloodstream must be kept within a very narrow range. This is accomplished by a homeostatic mechanism that adjusts for diet, intestinal absorption, excretion and hormonal functions as well as growth, physical activity and disease. Under the influence of vitamin D and parathyroid hormone, skeletal calcium is kept in a state of equilibrium with the circulating blood pool. A slight drop in blood calcium stimulates the release of calcium from the bones and its absorption from the intestine and decreases its loss into the urine. The process is reversed and bone mineral content is continuously being replenished and reformed through the actions of vitamin D, calcitonin, estrogen’s and other hormones.
From this it is clear that treatment of osteoporosis is not simply a matter of taking calcium supplements. A whole range of factors are involved in calcium absorption, including:
- genetic makeup, e.g. inherited bone disease
- disease that might decrease amount retained, e.g. over activity of the thyroid or adrenal gland
- estrogen levels – as it enhances calcium absorption, partially explaining bone density loss after menopause. Post-menopausal bone loss is the most common cause of osteoporosis.
- calcium absorption declines with increasing age in men and women, but decline comes earlier in women.
- exercise increases absorption; prolonged bed rest or inactivity decreases it.
- medications, drugs, smoking, caffeine and certain foods impede absorption, increase excretion of nutrients and decrease their utilization. Prescription drugs known to interfere with calcium absorption include:
– antacids that contain aluminium
- stress depletes immediate supply and stored levels of calcium if it is a chronic problem
- lack of other specific nutrients will deter absorption, especially vitamins D, C, K and the minerals magnesium and phosphorous
Actions indicated for the processes behind this disease:
Hormonal normalizers may be helpful if started early enough.
`Anti-rheumatics’ will help with pain and discomfort in the joints and muscles.
Anti-inflammatories will similarly reduce the discomfort associated with this problem.
There is a tradition in North America of using herbs such as Horsetail (Equisetumarvense), Oat straw (Avena sativa) and Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) for the long term treatment of osteoporosis. They have been described as being effective because of a high calcium content. They do not have a particularly high level of calcium in them, but they are effective.
One possible prescription:
Vitex agnus-castis — — — 2 parts
Equisetum arvense — — — 1 part
Apium graveolens — — — 1 part
Avena sativa — — — 1 part
Medicago sativa — — — 1 part to — — — 5ml of tincture taken 3 times a day
This supplies the following actions:
Hormonal normalizer (Vitex agnus-castis)
`Anti-rheumatic’ (Apium graveolens, Equisetum arvense, Medicagosativa)
Anti-inflammatory (Apium graveolens, )
Broader Context of Treatment
Regular exercise, cessation of tobacco and maintenance of normal body weight are advised. The addition of the following supplements may prove beneficial:
Calcium = 1, 000 mg before menopause; 1, 500-2, 000 mg after
Magnesium = 500 ng before menopause; 750-1, 000 mg after
Vitamin C = 1, 000 mg
Vitamin D = 400-800 IU