Women normally attain peak bone density between age 25 and 30 after which bone density starts to spiral down as menopause approaches. Progressive bone loss is an interplay of many complex factors. Many conditions can trigger the osteoclasts, cells that breakdown bone, to outpace the bone-building capacity of osteoblasts. Factors include:
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Smoking, alcohol consumption
- Being tall, thin and blue-eyed
- Physical inactivity
- Chronic dieting
- Diet high in refined carbs
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Ovulatory disturbances
- Hormonal imbalance
A drop in hormone levels that accompany menopause is a factor in many cases because most women undergo accelerated bone loss for about five years after menopause. Bone mass is partly maintained by estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Menopausal women who produce adequate levels of these hormones by peripheral conversion have higher bone density than those who don’t.
A diagnosis of osteoporosis is not a death sentence. There are many safe and natural solutions that you can use and follow to build your bones to new and healthier levels.
1. Hormone replacement
therapy with estrogen has received a lot of press for its bone-preserving properties. Estrogen replacement helps prevent bone loss associated with menopause and appears to decrease the risk of fractures by 50% or more with continued use. Testosterone is also important in preserving bone mass. Women with naturally high testosterone levels may have a lower risk for osteoporotic fractures. Low-dose testosterone supplements have been found to help maintain bone mass.
But this does not mean all women need hormone replacement. Before making a decision, you should get your hormone levels tested. Your body could continue producing even tiny amounts of estradiol or testosterone which can significantly decrease your risk of osteoporosis. If this is the case you won’t need to worry about taking prescription drugs to preserve your bone.
If you do take hormones, take the lowest dose possible. Bone protection is still possible even at very low doses. Ask your doctor about bioidentical hormones and natural progesterone in a 2% transdermal cream or pill. Dr. Jerilynn Prior, scientific director of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research in Vancouver, Canada, believes that progesterone is as effective as biphosphonates, the strongest anti-osteoporosis drug around. She recommends either 10 mg/day of synthetic progestin or 300 mg/day of natural progesterone.
2. Bone-building nutrients
Even if your diet is good, make sure to take the following supplements:
- Magnesium, 400 to 1000 mg
- Calcium, 500 to 1200 mg
- Vitamin D3, 800 to 5000 IU
- Vitamin C, 1000 to 5000 mg
- Boron, 2 to 9 mg
- Zinc, 6 to 50 mg
- Manganese 1 to 15 mg
- Vitamin K, 500 to 600 mcg
- Copper, 1 to 2 mg
- Beta carotene, 15 mg
Magnesium is as important as calcium in bone health. These two minerals work in a critical balance, hence they should be supplemented together. Green and leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli are loaded with these minerals. The advantage of getting vitamins and minerals from food over supplements is that they are much more bioavailable for the body to use in its most natural form. For instance, calcium supplements have been linked with plaque build up in arteries and heart attacks. But calcium taken from food is absorbed and used efficiently. So if you decide to supplement with calcium, make sure you take it with magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K because these nutrients are responsible for directing calcium to where it is supposed to go- to the bones.
3. Get enough Vitamin D
Calcium is virtually useless without vitamin D. While vitamin K directs calcium to your bones, vitamin D keeps the calcium in the bones. If a bone density scan shows any sign of osteoporosis, get your vitamin D levels screened. Serum vitamin D below 20 ng/L is a deficiency. To ensure you’re getting enough vitamin D, get enough sun exposure without sunscreen of up to 20 minutes per day. In the winter, you can use a tanning booth for a maximum of 10 minutes per week. Good food sources of vitamin D are liver, egg yolks and cod liver oil. Don’t rely on fortified dairy. Fortified milk does not contain enough vitamin D while skim milk does not contain any at all.
4. Eliminate alcohol and caffeine
Alcohol affects the function of osteoblasts and osteoclasts while caffeine promotes excretion of calcium in urine. Tea is the exception though. Tea contains a bit of caffeine but it has been shown to increase bone mass. Women who drink green or black tea have stronger bones than women who don’t.
5. Stop smoking
Chemicals in cigarette smoke affect the ovaries, prematurely decreasing hormone levels and affecting bone mass. Smoking also increases the breakdown of estrogens and lowers body weight, all of which contributes to low bone mineral density. Acupuncture can help you quit smoking should you need assistance.
6. Eat phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens are plant estrogens that mimic the functions of human estrogen. Soy and flax seeds are high in phytoestrogens and exert a beneficial effect on bone density. Soy has a dose-related positive effect on bone density and it can be especially helpful for those who cannot tolerate dairy products.
7. Relax and fight stress
Stress hormones produced by the adrenal glands called cortisol and epinephrine increases calcium loss through urine.
8. Do weight-bearing exercises
Weight-bearing exercises play a major role in maintaining healthyy bones. Research shows that weight training can slow and even reverse bone loss. Do three exercise sessions per week. If you are weight lifting, two sessions per week are enough. Activities such as yoga and brisk walking can help too.
Weight-bearing exercises of any kind sends electric currents through your skeleton, which draws minerals into the bone matrix. Like everything else in life, bones, muscles and joints work best when they are regularly tested with weight and resistance.
9. Reduce phosphate intake from soda and root beer
The coloring agent in these beverage and the phosphate they contain interferes directly with calcium metabolism.