Osteoporosis, a leading cause of bone fractures, is a metabolic disease in which the structure of bone tissue breaks down, leaving bones thin and brittle. As part of the natural life-cycle of bone, old bone tissue is continuously being reabsorbed and new bone is forming. Until about age 30, bone mass increases because new bone forms faster than old bone breaks down. After 30, the rate of new bone formation gradually declines, leading to overall loss of bone mass.
Osteoporosis is caused by an accelerated rate of bone loss. It is most common among post-menopausal women, although it also affects men and younger people of both sexes. About 25 per cent of women over 65 show signs of osteoporosis, while the figure for elderly men is less than 10 per cent.
The wrists, hips and spine arc most often affected.
Causes of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is most commonly caused by hormonal changes in postmenopausal women that cause them to lose calcium from their body at previously unprecedented rates. Others, however, develop osteoporosis because of a deficiency of silica or phosphorous (which help the body assimilate calcium) or because of an issue with their thyroid and parathyroid glands, which are normally responsible for the metabolism of calcium. Parathyroid glands secrete hormones to tell the body when there is a calcium shortage, and excess calcium stored in the bones, joints, and soft tissue, is let into the blood, which tends to cause a reduction of bone mass. Parathyroid gland malfunction often happens when an individual consumes an excessive amount of acidic foods or animal protein, is overly stressed, or accumulates hazardous waste in the body, as they parathyroid glands are tasked with balancing the blood’s pH level and does this by releasing calcium from the bones.
Additionally, there are a number of factors which increase a person’s likelihood of developing osteoporosis. These factors include the following: a family history of osteoporosis, being a woman of Northern European descent, being a woman with a small-framed body, excessive dietary intake of meat, caffeine, sugar, refined carbohydrates, or phosphates contained in sodas or processed foods, frequent consumption of alcoholic beverages, smoking cigarettes, and leading a sedentary lifestyle.
Prevention of Osteoporosis
Prevention of osteoporosis starts with a healthy diet that is low in animal products and high in plant foods, as this will facilitate the growth, strengthening, and repair of bones. Leafy green vegetables are high in vitamin K, beta carotene, vitamin C, fiber, calcium, and magnesium. All of these vitamins and minerals facilitate healthy bones. Vitamin K is particularly important, as it contains osteocalcin, which is the essential calcium building matrix protein involved in bone formation. Other ways to get calcium are through eating nuts, seeds, broccoli, and milk. For example, the Chinese likely have low rates of osteoporosis because they consume plenty of sesame seeds and use sesame oil to cook.
Yoga may help to prevent osteoporosis. Yoga, when practiced correctly, helps bones develop in a healthy manner, corrects posture (which reduces the likelihood of spinal fracture), improves coordination and balance, and keeps muscles firm and limber. Yoga also tends to strengthen an individual’s arms, which can be helpful to prevent further injury because the arms will be able to support a fall better. Older women especially may benefit from yoga, as it can prevent dowager’s hump, a condition in which the chest caves in and the shoulders slump forward. This condition puts a lot of pressure on the spine and limits body movement. Yoga poses that are especially useful in preventing or treating osteoporosis include Downward Facing Dog, the Warrior Pose, and the Cobra.
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Early signs of osteoporosis include gum disease and lost teeth, insomnia, back pain, height loss, and leg cramps at night. Osteoporosis is often characterized by lower back pain and unexpected bone fractures due to lack of bone density and mass. Others find that they grow shorter or develop skeletal deformities.
How Osteoporosis is Diagnosed
Osteoporosis is generally diagnosed using a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), which measures bone density, strength, and mineral content. Usually a DEXA is given after an initial bone fracture to see if the person has osteoporosis and is likely to have more fractures. Women with a family history of osteoporosis should have regular bone density scans.
Osteoporosis Possible Treatments
Traditionally, medical treatment for osteoporosis has started with the introduction of synthetic estrogen into an individual’s body. However, this treatment has been linked to uterine and breast cancer. Thus, many have sought alternative treatments. Women can consume a natural hormone called progesterone from the herb wild yam. Progesterone promotes healthy bone development without the potential side effects of synthetic estrogen. Additionally, progesterone has the potential to replace depleted calcium in bones, while estrogen only stops the outflow of calcium. Progesterone is available as a pill or in skin cream.
Women often turn to vitamin and mineral supplements to help treat their osteoporosis. For example, women over the age of 25 should get 500 to 1000mg of calcium each day in addition to their normal dietary intake. Women over 40 should get 1500 to 2000mg of additional calcium each day. Women already taking estrogen supplements should still get an additional 1200 to 1500mg of calcium each day. In addition to calcium supplements, women should ensure that they are getting enough magnesium citrate, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin K, beta carotene, selenium, boron, strontium, folic acid, silica, copper, zinc, and manganese. Generally, all of these are available in a single multivitamin, though it may be necessary to take a separate zinc vitamin to ensure that the nutrient is properly absorbed into the body.
Women should also take care to get daily exercise, which may prevent the development of osteoporosis. Weight-bearing aerobic exercise and weight lifting can be highly beneficial, even after an osteoporosis diagnosis (though a doctor should be consulted about the exercise program if an individual already has osteoporosis). Aerobic exercise allows muscles to participate in a continuous workout, strengthening the muscles around bones. Jogging and dancing help facilitate the placement of calcium in the bones by showing the body where stress will be placed. Even non weight-bearing exercise, such as biking, rowing, and swimming, can be useful because it enhances flexibility.
Individuals should also make sure that they warm up before workouts and cool down after them. Warm ups allow the individual to do simple athletic movements to get the body ready for a workout by enhancing the circulation of blood through the muscles. Warming up also prevents injury to the muscles. After a workout, individuals should take care to stretch their muscles out in long, continuous pulls (bouncing tightens muscles and leads to injury).
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