How to Prevent Osteoporosis
Building Health By Dale Peterson, MD
May is osteoporosis prevention month. Osteoporosis is the name given to a condition in which bone strength has diminished to the point that a fracture may occur with minimal or no trauma. The most common sites of osteoporotic fractures are the hips and spinal vertebrae.
A vertebral collapse, called a compression fracture, causes severe back pain. If multiple vertebrae collapse over time the spine will bend forward giving the stooped appearance referred to as a dowager’s hump. Vertebral compression fractures, while not generally life-threatening, can reduce the size of the chest and prevent the lungs from fully expanding. The combination of back pain and shortness of breath can dramatically lessen one’s quality of life.
Hip fractures are not only painful; they are life-threatening. The fact that more women die of hip fractures each year than die of breast cancer drives home the importance of maintaining strong bones over the course of our lives.
Osteoporosis occurs when the framework of the bone, called the matrix, is not well-supported or when minerals are lost from the bone faster than they can be replaced. Osteoporosis also develops when the body’s bone remodeling process is out of balance.
Bones are constantly being remodeled. Specialized cells called osteoclasts remove old bone while other cells called osteoblasts lay down fresh new bone. This process is important because bone tends to become more brittle with age. The renewal process keeps bones more resilient and lessens the risk of fracture.
The bone renewal process can be likened to a street resurfacing project. First a machine goes down the street grinding up the old pavement and placing it in dump trucks that carry it away. Behind the grind-up machine comes another machine that lays down a layer of new smooth pavement. As long as the activity of the grind-up machines (osteoclasts) and the repaving machines (osteoblasts) is in balance bones remain strong and healthy. Unfortunately, after menopause the osteoclasts tend to get further and further ahead of the osteoblasts and osteoporosis develops.
Osteoporosis prevention begins with diet. Just as ashes remain when a wood fire burns out, so ash remains when we burn our food to create energy. Some foods burn to an acidic ash that must be neutralized with minerals and others burn to an alkaline ash. If the body has to deal with excess acid it uses minerals to do so. In general fruits and vegetables tend to increase alkalinity while meat, fish, poultry, dairy, and grains tend to be acidifying. This is why studies have shown that the greater the consumption of milk over the course of one’s lifetime the greater risk of an osteoporotic fracture with age. Ideally the diet should consist of 70 80 % alkaline foods and 20 30 % acid foods.
Bones become stronger when stressed. Therefore weight-bearing exercises such as walking help prevent osteoporosis.
Nutritional supplementation is helpful as well. Calcium is the mineral most commonly recommended to maintain strong bones, but formulations that contain magnesium and phosphorus are better balanced and more beneficial than calcium alone. Boron is a trace mineral that helps the body convert vitamin D to its most active form and its presence in a bone-support product is a plus.
Vitamin D3 is needed to maintain bone health. 1000 IU daily will be sufficient for most individuals. Vitamin K is the forgotten mineral in osteoporosis prevention and management. The richest sources of vitamin K in the diet are leafy greens. Supplements of 1 2 mg. daily have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of osteoporotic fractures even if there is no increase in bone density. This is because vitamin K helps maintain the bone matrix.
Supplementing progesterone, which is available in creams without a prescription, is very helpful in preventing post-menopausal bone loss. It turbocharges the osteoblasts so they can keep up with and sometimes even surpass the activity of osteoclasts. This results in strong, non-brittle bones.
It is important to understand that many medications that are prescribed for prevention of osteoporosis work by stopping the bone remodeling process. Because the bone is aging and is no longer being renewed it becomes denser over time. This increase in bone density has been used to promote their use, but unfortunately as the aging bone becomes denser it also becomes more brittle. People taking the drugs are therefore at risk of fractures of the mid-thigh or a crumbling of the jawbone that is referred to as dead jaw.
Taking a few simple dietary precautions, remaining physically active, and providing appropriate nutritional supports can effectively prevent osteoporosis. It is never too soon to start supporting bone health if one wants to avoid the disabling or fatal consequences of this serious condition.
Dr. Dale Peterson is a graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Medicine. He completed his residency in FamilyMedicine at the University of Oklahoma. He is a past president of the Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians. He had a full-time family practice in Edmond, Oklahoma, for over 20 years and was a Chief of Staff of the Edmond Hospital. He was active in teachingfor many years as a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine through the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center.
Dr. Peterson left his full-time family practice in 1999 to consult with individuals who are seeking ways to restore and maintain their health through improved nutrition and other lifestyle changes. He founded the Wellness Clubs of America to give people access to credible information on supporting and maintaining their health. His monthly wellness letter, Health by Design, and his Health by Design E-Newsletter provide helpful information to individuals interested in preventing and conquering health challenges. His book Building Health by Design: Adding Life to Your Years and Years to Your Life was released in December 2010.
Dr. Peterson speaks regularly on subjects related to health and nutrition. He hosted a weekly radio program,Your Health Matters, on KTOK in Oklahoma City for five years. For the past nine years he has addressed questions from across the nation on his Your Health Matters weekly teleconference.He offers a free video LifeXtension course at www.drdalepeterson.com.