24 Sep Optimizing Bone Health with Naturopathic Medicine
We all know what osteoporosis is – a loss of bone mineral density in the skeletal system – but why should you be concerned about your osteoporosis risk?
1. Its occurrence is relatively common in certain age groups
a. About one in two women and up to one in four men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis (National Osteoporosis Foundation).
b. By 2020, half of all Americans over age 50 are expected to have low bone density or osteoporosis (NOF).
Osteoporosis is largely preventable, especially if you take steps early enough before it has progressed too far for correction. Postmenopausal women are at highest risk of developing the disease, because estrogen (which declines after menopause) preserves bone strength. But men get osteoporosis as well. “They just get it later,” says Mary Zoe Baker, MD, an endocrinologist and professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Usually around age 70, “men start to catch up to women” in developing osteoporosis, according to Baker.
In the case of osteoporosis, no one single strategy will yield the results you desire. Instead, a combination of several key approaches will provide the nutrients and the environment your body needs to slow down the loss of bone mass and even begin to reverse that trend and start increasing the density of your bones. This article focuses on prevention of bone loss and is applicable to those diagnosed with osteopenia (mineral loss).
If you think you may have osteoporosis or are worried about your risk factors, the first step you should take is to schedule an appointment with a doctor. It is critical for you to know for sure if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia which is the early stage of full blown osteoporosis. If your test results come back showing some bone density problems, work with the naturopathic guidelines described in this report and with a health care provider and physical therapist to begin the process of slowing or even reversing your bone density loss. The sooner you can start, the better your results will be.
The “gold standard” test for diagnosing osteoporosis is the DEXA scan (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry), which measures bone density in the spine, hip, or wrist. DEXA screening is recommended for all women > 65. Bone density should also be measured in women between 50 and 65 who are at high risk.
Testing Vitamin D
A test of the Vitamin D level in your blood may be the most important but overlooked test of all. It’s that important. And yet, this is a test that many doctors will not routinely run. Those who have a high risk of osteoporosis or compromised gastrointestinal function (Celiac, Chron’s, IBS), should have their Vitamin D level checked.
The correct blood test your doctor needs to order is 25(OH)D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D. When you get the results, follow the advice of many naturopathic physicians who recommend that your vitamin D level should never be below 32 ng/ml. To get an idea of just how widespread vitamin D deficiency is, consider that the late winter average of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the United States is only about 15-18 ng/ml!
It is well documented in numerous double blind clinical trials that supplementing with calcium slows the rate of bone loss in postmenopausal women. Since there is a strong correlation between pre-menopausal bone density and the risk of osteoporosis the conclusion is that building strong bones should be a lifelong goal beginning in childhood.
While it is preferable to obtain calcium from your diet, the typical North American diet provides far less than the optimum level of calcium per day so many individuals would benefit from taking a calcium supplement. Take your daily calcium supplement in divided doses – that is, with a meal and spread out over at least two meals. Clinical studies have shown that the body can only absorb 500 mg of calcium at a time so to take your full 1000 mg dose at one time would be just throwing your money down the drain.
We already know that calcium protects and keeps bones and teeth healthy. But magnesium may be even more important! Clinical studies confirm the role and critical importance of magnesium in the diet. In one clinical study, 32 post- menopausal women took 250 to 750 mg of magnesium per day for two years. Bone mineral density increased by 1 to 8% in nearly 75% of cases (Vikhanski 1993). Aside from these marvelous bone health benefits, magnesium is one of your body’s chief requirements for insulin regulation, energy production, blood pressure control, heart health and pH balance.
The richest food sources of magnesium are nuts, seeds, legumes, green leafy vegetables like kale and collards, whole grains and avocados. But most people are so deficient in this critical mineral that oral magnesium in the form of a supplement will likely be required.
Vitamin D, or “the sunshine vitamin,” is a major regulator of intestinal absorption of calcium. A study in Iceland that appeared in the November 9, 2005 issue of JAMA found that healthy bones could be maintained with calcium intake of less than 800 mg a day, as long as there was sufficient vitamin D intake. However, without sufficient vitamin D levels, healthy bones could not be maintained, even with calcium intake of over 1,200 mg a day.
Supplementation is generally suggested as few good food sources exist and seemingly most people nd it very di cult to get out in the sun on a daily basis for the 15 to 25 minutes per day (without sunscreen) to get the necessary Vitamin D creation.
Acidic vs Alkaline
The food we eat determines whether our body is in overly acidic or in balance. When it is overly acidic, the body works every minute of every day to get rid of that excess acid. How does it do this? It does so by pulling alkaline substances such as calcium and magnesium out of your bone. These alkaline substances neutralize the acid in your body, but in the process the bones begin to weaken. Overtime, a diet that creates a chronic acidic condition in the body will likely lead to osteoporosis.
One simple approach is using apple cider vinegar. Research from several small, but compelling, studies show blood sugar levels reduced by 25 to 50 percent after people ate meals with apple cider vinegar. But more important for our discussion on bone loss is the fact that apple cider vinegar is an acid that promotes a more alkaline state in the body. How? Your liver converts it into water and bicarbonate, which is an alkaline mix. Thus daily ingesting apple cider vinegar can combat the excess acidic condition that most of us face.
Vitamin K is essential for the activation of osteocalcin, a protein that binds calcium to bones. Vitamin K2 not only puts calcium in the bones but at the same time it removes calcium from the artery walls improving your cardiovascular system. Thus Vitamin K’s job is to put calcium in the right places and keep it from being deposited in the wrong places. The right places are bones and blood, and the wrong places include calcification of the vessels, bone spurs and calcification of soft tissues.
Two of the most commonly consumed forms of vitamin K include phylloquinone (K1), which is typically found in cruciferous vegetables, and menaquinone (K2), sourced from friendly bacteria. Research studies have shown that vitamin K1 is poorly absorbed by the body (no more than 10%) and has a very short half-life time compared to vitamin K2. More specifically, a 2006 study from Denmark followed 2,016 women and found that dietary vitamin K1 had no effect on bone mineral density and fracture risk in peri-menopausal women (Rejnmark et al, 2006). Therefore vitamin K2 is the form that is most effective in enhancing bone health. K2 derived from menaquinone-7, or MK-7 is the most absorbable and active form of vitamin K, and it is the nutrient that seems to play a key role in managing calcium. Dutch researchers led by Dr. Leon Schurgers who has studied K2 for more than 30 years report that a 150 mcg dose of MK-7 was the minimum daily amount needed to build bone and decalcify arteries in their animal studies.
Other Strategies that Work
Some other key treatment steps should also be considered. These include:
1. Exercise – your bone strengthening program will not be helpful without regular exercise adopted into your routine. The bone rebuilding process takes place when the skeleton is put under stress. Thus, resistance training is best to rebuild lost bone density.
2. Strontium – Researchers from around the world have found that, in therapeutic doses, this trace mineral dramatically increases bone density and reduces risk for fractures in women with osteoporosis.
3. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy – As a practicing women’s health physician of nearly 20 years, author and menopause clinician whose treated thousands of women in my clinic, I can attest that my my patients see the most improvement in reversing bone loss and building healthy new bone when they take an appropriate amount of estradiol and restore testosterone to optimal levels, too.
4. Diet, drinking sodas, low stomach acid, nutritional supplementation and other nutritional factors will all have a great influence on bone health.
If you or someone you know has low bone density or osteoporosis, or simply needs a bone health evaluation, feel free to drop me a line on the “contact us” page on this site. I treat patients locally at my Naturopathic practice in Vancouver, B.C. and worldwide via phone or Skype.
To honoring your health potential!
Licensed Naturopathic Physician, Menopause Clinician, Acupuncturist, Author, and Health Educator