How to Prevent Osteoporosis...Chinese style...

I had a long-time patient come in the other day who happens to be in her lower 80’s. She was coming in for her monthly “tune-up” as she calls it, and told me about how she slipped and fell on the ice last week while walking her dog. It happened so fast that she didn’t even know it was happening until she was looking up from the flat of her back.

Since she was alone, she slowly managed to get up and walk back home. She had someone bring her to the Urgent Care Clinic who did x-rays and nothing was broken. A few days later she happened to have her routine yearly check up with her regular doctor. They looked at her previous years bone density test (which was borderline) and the doctor decided that she should get the osteoperosis injection to help prevent osteoporosis.

She wasn’t too excited about it. She knew that there were significant side effects from any of the osteoporosis medications and with the shot, there was no stopping should there be any unwanted side effects (unlike a pill that you can stop taking, the shot is a train that you don’t get to get off for the next 6 months when it starts to wear off).

Knowing that her last bone density test was borderline and she just gave her body a good test (by falling on the pavement without any fractures), she decided to pass on her doctors recommendation for more pills or shots.

When she came to see me a week later she asked me what I thought about all that. She asked me what I knew about the pro’s & cons of the pharmaceuticals for osteoporosis. I was honest with her and explained why I agreed with her decision. She had heard something about how Fosamax actually causing more fractures and osteo-necrosis (bone death). I told her that there were indeed several studies that link the anti-osteoporosis medications with increased hip fractures and jaw bone death. Scary stuff since they are supposed to do just the opposite.

One way to understand how these medications work is the metaphor that they act as a “spackle” for all of the microscopic fractures that our bones normally experience in day to day life. Just like our skin, the old cells are sloughing off and being replaced by new cells that fill in the gaps. With medications such as these, they fill in the gaps with something else… something harder and less pliable than normal bone tissue… leading to more breakable bones, not less. So the osteoporosis medications will indeed made your bones more dense, but they also make them more breakable.

So what else can someone do? Well, taking more calcium doesn’t work either. It turns out that osteoporosis isn’t due to a lack of calcium or magnesium or vitamin D. Most people already have too much calcium floating around in the blood stream…. which is linked to higher incidence of heart issues. Osteoporosis is more of a hormonal dysfunction rather than a vitamin & mineral deficiency.

As an aside; if you did want more calcium in your diet, milk is one of the least efficient places to get it. The calcium in milk is not a very assimilable (absorbable and usable) form. Green leafy vegetables is a far more efficient source of calcium. More on that later.

Yes, osteoporosis is a hormonal problem, not a calcium problem. That is why it is almost exclusively a post menopausal woman issue; when the hormones of youth have shifted.

On a side note, another thing to avoid is fluoride from your city water. This is a whole other topic for another day, but fluoride found in city water has been linked to disrupting hormones and interrupting proper bone regeneration. Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste if you feel that you must, but stop drinking it; that absolutely does not help your teeth; fluoride works is a topical application, not a nutritional supplement that you ingest. Its poisonous and a known neurotoxin. You can buy special fluoride filters to remove the fluoride form your city water. More on that later…

So what are some non-pharmaceutical ways to prevent osteoporosis? First, and most importantly, start early. The number one prevention for is weight bearing exercise. Squats, dance, Yoga, Pilates, boot camp, weight lifting…things like that. If you start in your 20’s  and 30’s or 40’s, so much the better. The bones are one of those parts of the body that get stronger the more you try to wear it out. So today go find someone in your community that is an expert on exercise. You might find them at the YMCA or the local gym, or that cool church in town that is into that sort of thing or even the Senior Center. They always have exercise classes there and have the know how to give you a great ‘sane and sensible’ workout specifically for your current state of health. So no matter where you are beginning from, start now.

Acupuncture has also been shown to balance out these hormones and potentially been linked to prevention of osteoporosis brakes. But more importantly is getting great nutrition, plenty of direct sunshine (at least 20 minutes per day on your head and bare shoulders) and a good Chinese herbal formula from your local acupuncturist or herbalist. Talking to your friendly neighborhood acupuncturist/herbalist would be a great place to start… (after talking to your doctor first). J