These old bones….

Osteoporosis

 

“I’m 5 feet 4 inches short” said Mrs. H. as I was preparing to measure her height. “Short?” I queried? “Well,” she sighed, “I used to be 6 feet tall fifteen years ago”. What happened to Mrs. H? The same thing that happens to 1/3rd of American women: Her spinal bones demineralized over time and collapsed into a dense “Dowager’s hump” which clung like a monkey upon her once swan-like neck. Long ago, in her teens, Mrs. H. was a fashion model in Paris. Now, although her eyes still sparkle, they are rarely seen – banished, as it were, by poor posture to a perpetual downward gaze. Only with great effort and pain can she straighten her neck in order to see the world around her.

What happened? Bone, after all, is stronger than cast iron in resisting compression and nimble enough to respond to stress by growing into whatever shape best meets the demands of the owner (Wolff’s Law). What happened is osteoporosis.

Remember Snow White’s step-mother, the evil Queen? Remember what her magic potion did to her beauty? It turned her from a wickedly lovely woman with regal carriage into a bent over hag who could only look up by turning her neck to the side (which, when you are bent over, is up). The tragedy of osteoporosis is best pictured by the hideous transformation rendered by her magic potion.

What is today’s magic potion that destroys the bones of millions of American women? Why do industrialized countries have excessive osteoporosis while under-developed nations fare much better? What causes 1.2 million hip and joint fractures per year and cost $1.6 billion in medical costs and untold personal suffering? How does this epidemic ravage 1/3 of American women? The answer is very slowly. Daily consumption of our nutritionally deficient and toxic diet is our magic potion: puff by cigarette puff, sip by cocktail sip, latte by latte, potato by couch potato and lick by ice cream lick we demineralize and crumble.

Who is at risk? Look around you. As a rule, female bone mass decelerates gradually after age 35 but then accelerates dramatically during the 8-10 years surrounding menopause.

How does it happens? Simply speaking, “porous bone” results from demineralization. Hence the common idea that calcium deficiency is the primary problem. In fact, the issue is not so simple. More than a deficiency of calcium, osteoporosis is a disorganization of bone structure resulting from irregular collagen matrix. Bone is composed of two dissimilar substances, collagen, a fibrous protein “net” upon which the second substance, calcium phosphate crystals, precipitate. The way dew collects on a spider’s web or ice on a tree bough, crystals of calcium deposit upon the flexible collagen imparting rigidity and strength.

How is osteoporosis treated? The conventional therapy for osteoporosis involves hormonal therapy (estrogen, progesterone and parathyroid) and calcium therapy in combination with life-style changes including weight-bearing exercise and stopping tobacco and alcohol. Estrogen prevents bone loss while progesterone and calcium (if appropriately administered) restore lost bone. However, women are rightfully anxious about hormone replacement therapy because of the well-publicized risk of endometrial cancer. They wonder about the cure being worse than the disease. Calcium research, in turn, is surprisingly inconclusive as represented by a number of studies where calcium depletion was present in only 25% of osteoporotic women and calcium supplementation had no effect on the other 75%. This troubling statistic tells us more about the importance of using absorbable minerals (calcium chelate is absorbed, calcium carbonate is not) rather than questioning whether calcium is essential for bone health.

The scientific foundation for a nutritional approach to treatment of osteoporosis has been solidly laid down.

Bone health depends on a lot more than calcium though. After all, bone is one of the most metabolically active organs in the human body and demands therefore a broad variety of nutrients. At present, peer-reviewed scientific studies demonstrate that women concerned with osteoporosis need to take absorbable amounts of the following nutrients: vitamins B6, C, D, K, folic acid, magnesium, calcium, silicon and copper. Coincidentally, women need to avoid foods that deplete their mineral stores such as carbonated beverages, alcohol, tobacco, sugar and antacids (including dairy and chocolate, to name a popular duet).

Let’s look at these nutrients.

Vitamin K is essential for bone formation, remodeling and repair. Vitamin K synthesizes osteoclastin which is the protein matrix upon which calcium crystallizes. One of the problems of inappropriate use of antibiotics is that antibiotics destroy vitamin K producing bacteria. Tests on rats with vitamin K deficiency show increased urinary calcium excretion (i.e. bone loss) while the converse is true: Adding K accelerates healing in experimental fractures. Where do we get Vitamin K? Not (enough) in our diet. We need to supplement.

Vitamin D is required for intestinal calcium absorption and thereby reduces bone loss. Who needs vitamin D? You do if you live in the great Northwet where sunlight exposure is, to say the least, inadequate. Sunlight activates vitamin D and without sunlight, bone loss results. Rickets was first discovered and understood in Switzerland where the steep mountains and the deep valleys created two populations of children: those who lived on the sunny side and those who lived in the shade. The kids that lived in shade developed rickets and the kids who frolicked on the sunny side of life did not.

In addition to sunlight, vitamin D needs magnesium, zinc and boron to be activated. Boron reduces urine calcium excretion and increases serum estrogen. Magnesium is essential because it activates the enzyme alkaline phosphatase, which is involved in forming new calcium crystals. Where do we get magnesium zinc and boron? Not from our diet anymore. According to epidemiological date, 85% of American women consume less than the RDA for magnesium, 68% of adults eat less than 2/3 of the RDA for zinc and boron is practically absent from our soils and therefore our foods. That spells: “Supplement”.

Manganese is required for bone mineralization and to synthesize connective tissue in cartilage and bone. Blood manganese levels of osteoporotic women are less than 25% of that of controls. Silica imparts a healthy flexibility to bone whereas fluoride makes bones dense but dangerously brittle and is therefore no longer recommended. Copper prevents bone loss by supporting the activity of an enzyme lysyl oxidase which strengthens the collagen matrix. It won’t surprise you by now to learn that the typical American diet contains only 50% of the RDA for copper. Where do we get manganese, silica and copper? You guessed it. High quality nutritional supplements.

Homocysteine, a normal but toxic metabolite of methionine (a healthy amino acid) destroys bone. Folic acid rescues bone by preventing methionine-induced rise in serum homocysteine. Menopause is associated with an increased requirement for folic acid which, if unmet, may result in elevation of serum homocysteine and therefore osteoporosis. Where do we get folic acid? Green leafy vegetables and, yup, high quality sonic dehydrated supplements.

Vitamin B6 is essential for bone health because it is required for enzymatic cross-linking of collagen strands. That means it reinforces the net upon which calcium grows and forms bones. Vitamin B6 also breaks down and destroys homocysteine, a metabolite of methionine, which damages bone.

Osteoporosis kills by causing hip fractures in elderly women which in turn result in fat emboli to the brain causing strokes. A fate as horrible as it is preventable. A more exotic way that osteoporosis kills occurred in June 1971 when three cosmonauts aboard the Soyuz 11 succumbed upon returning from a 24 day mission in space. Space osteoporosis can result in 20% depletion of calcium reserves leading to muscle weakness and neurological dysfunction. A message to you couch potatoes out there: Weightless environments inform the body that bones are not needed so calcium is lost in the urine. So if you’re hopelessly addicted to TV, at lest treat your bones to a Buns of Steel workout video periodically. As with everything else, bones operate on a “use-it-or-lose-it” economy.

As with most sound heath practices, the treatment of osteoporosis bears out the truth of the old saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. So keep your bones healthy in the following three ways: First, replenish your depleted reserves with absorbable chelated minerals and sonic dehydrated vitamins; secondly, detoxify what you are toxin on (tobacco, alcohol, birth control pills, sugar, caffeine and carbonated drinks) and perhaps most importantly of all, thirdly, move those buns of steel. Spring is in the air. Time to frolic or at the very least, if you can’t tear yourself away from the TV, at do increase your exercise behavior by throwing away the TV remote control!

To Your Health!

 

Bradford S. Weeks, M.D. © 1993

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