Osteoporosis is the most common bone disorder in America and more than half of all healthy women aged 30 to 40 are likely to develop vertebral fractures as they age.
Bone is a dynamic tissue, continually broken down and rebuilt, with women reaching peak bone mass in their early 30s. Between the ages of 35 and 50, a woman may lose one percent of her bone mass per year. This loss accelerates to two to three percent per year during menopause and decreases to about one percent per year for the remainder of her life.
Common preventative measures are hormone replacement therapies, "bone building" drugs, exercise, diet and calcium supplementation. But hormones are ineffective, have dangerous side effects and give women false hope that they are controlling this progressive condition. The dietary suggestions and calcium recommendations perpetuated by the medical community are so far behind the curve that one may wonder if they will ever embrace anything new.
The most common misconception is hormone replacement therapies are the best route to preventing osteoporosis. Studies have shown this therapy slows bone loss and in rare cases halts it. Examining that statement further begs the question, "If a woman is 55 years old and has likely lost between 25 and 35 percent of her bone mass, is it comforting to know that even with these hormones, she will retain that level of loss and still have a risk of fracture?"
I suggest it is not. It is even less comforting when viewed along with the increased risk of breast and other cancers linked to this therapy.
When a woman is thought to be at high risk for osteoporosis, or a bone scan provides evidence of it, the disingenuously sympathetic pharmaceutical companies have now added to their profit margin "bone building" drugs such as Fosamax, Actonel, Calcitonin and Evista. These products give false security that there is actual increase in bone mass by building very poor quality bone and showing on a new bone scan that there has been actual increase. This new bone is very fragile and will not reduce chances of fracture, because it is not as strong as the high quality bone created by our body. These medications have side effects that make them intolerable to some women.
The main dietary suggestion made by professionals without nutritional training or by dietitians well behind the curve of new research is for everyone to consume milk and other dairy products. Let's begin by considering that we all know an older woman, hunched over, obviously with osteoporosis. The one common dietary food that all of the women like her have consumed during their lifetime is dairy products. Something is wrong with this picture. There are no studies that suggest that women who do not consume dairy products have an increased occurrence of osteoporosis. In fact, in cultures with minimal or no milk consumption, osteoporosis is unheard of. There is calcium in almost every common food, making dairy unnecessary for good bone building as a child or adult.
We have been marketed to death with the four-food groups poster that was thumb-tacked to the bulletin board in every elementary school and continuing today with celebrities' mustaches and their "Got Milk?" ads.
But milk is poorly absorbed, is unnecessary to build strong bones, is the number one food allergy in this country and is linked to juvenile diabetes, asthma and childhood ear infections. It also causes gas, bloating, stomach aches and diarrhea or constipation in some people. Humans are the only mammals that look for the breast milk of another mammal after being weaned from the breast.
Have you ever seen a giraffe or any other mammal with osteoporosis? After mother's milk, they only drink water. The discussion of milk as a poor dietary choice expands when considering the antibiotics and bovine growth hormones used in its production. Add to that lactose intolerance and the destruction of vitamins and helpful enzymes through pasteurization, and this is a product whose efficacy for humans is far different than it used to be.
Other dietary factors that influence the destruction of bone are high protein diets, alcohol, smoking, sugar, excessive fats, soft drinks, salt and caffeine. Though not a food, the most common over the counter medication purchased today, antacids, unfortunately inhibit the absorption of calcium.
Bone scans, most commonly called Dexxa scans, are used to monitor bone density. If your physician has never suggested this test and you are over 40, insist that it be done. You will then have a marker to compare subsequent test results in order to monitor the effectiveness of your plan of action. When the results come back, don't be satisfied if told they are normal. That also gives a false sense of security, because what it really means is the amount of bone loss you have suffered is normal for a woman your age. No comfort in that. You want to have experienced less bone loss than women your age, which means your plan of action is working.
Calcium supplementation is also highly misunderstood. Physicians without nutritional training routinely suggest antacids as a supplement to fight osteoporosis. There are many different types of calcium available, and the calcium carbonate found in antacids and other dietary supplements is poorly absorbed, as are oyster shell and bone meal. Calcium lactate, ascorbate, chelate, aspartate and citrate, though well absorbed, are not complete bone foods, meaning they don't contain all of the minerals that make up our bones. The only supplement that is actually a complete bone food is Microcrystalline Hydroxyapatite, and studies show that it actually increases bone mass.
Prevention or reversal of osteoporosis does not need to include drugs, except in extreme cases. Exercise, proper dietary habits — including the elimination or restriction of dairy — and effective calcium supplementation are the basis for the prevention or reversal of osteoporosis. Coupled with periodic monitoring of bone density, you now have an effective plan of action. Take action now. Your health might depend on it.
contact DAVID DAHLMAN, D.C.: [email protected]