Osteoporosis & Brittle Bones
This disease of porous bone is characterised by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue that leads to an increased risk of fracture. Bone is living, growing tissue. It is made mostly of collagen, a protein that provides a soft framework, and calcium phosphate, a mineral that adds strength and hardens the framework. It is the combination of collagen and calcium that makes bone both flexible and strong. More than 99 percent of the body’s calcium is contained in the bones and teeth. The remaining 1 percent is found in the blood. There is a constant interplay of energy as old bone is removed and new bone is added to make the bones larger, heavier and denser and support growth. After 30 years of age this process slows and for many it stops later in life. However, bone decline is not an inevitable part of ageing.
Osteoporosis is called the "silent disease" because bone is lost with no signs, thus it often reveals itself in later life when a fall or physical stress causes a bone to break.
Apart from your age the other risk factors you cannot change include:
- Gender: although men do suffer with the disease, it is women who develop osteoporosis more often and especially after the menopause.
- Body size: small, thin women are at greater risk.
- Ethnicity: white and Asian women are at highest risk. Black and Hispanic women have a lower risk.
- Family history: if a family member has osteoporosis, or breaks a bone without real trauma indicating that they may have this condition.
Risk factors you can modify are:
- Sex hormones: low oestrogen levels due to missing menstrual periods or to menopause or loss of ovaries can cause osteoporosis in women. Low testosterone levels can bring on osteoporosis in men. These low levels can be remedied.
- Multiple pregnancies will deplete the bone reserves in the mother; she will need additional nutrition to compensate.
- Anorexia nervosa may lead to osteoporosis if it continues for long enough.
- Low calcium and vitamin D intake.
- Medication: the long-term use of certain medications, such as glucocorticoids used in asthma control and cortisone and some anticonvulsants. Antacids and other drugs that control acid may have a long term detrimental effect on calcium absorption; long term medication for low thyroid function may also affect bone density.
- Lifestyle factors: weight-bearing exercise builds bone - so an inactive lifestyle, some forms of disability or long-term bed rest can create problems. All can be remedied with special exercise programs. Exercise up to the age of 30 is of particular importance as these are bone-building years.
- Smoking and excessive alcohol intake can contribute to poor self-care, low nutrition and an increased risk of falls.
- Diet: low levels of absorbable calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium will prevent good bone structure. High protein diets - especially those high in meat - may be too high in the mineral phosphorus, which can upset the calcium and phosphorus ratio that builds strong bone.
- An inadequate supply of calcium over a lifetime contributes to the development of osteoporosis. Many published studies show that low calcium intake appears to be associated with low bone mass, rapid bone loss, and high fracture rates. National nutrition surveys show that many people consume less than half the amount of calcium recommended to build and maintain healthy bones.
Foods & herbs for the home
- Food sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese; however these foods are not well absorbed in many people, and create mucus. Rich sources of calcium that is more easily assimilated include dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spring greens, kale and spinach. Plant foods also contain a greater range of bone-associated minerals and vitamins. Other good sources are organic tofu and almonds.
- Vitamin D3 is vital for bone health. This vitamin is very low in general populations and markedly low in the elderly. It is manufactured by our skin in bright sunshine. Have your serum vitamin D levels tested by your doctor to determine whether you are deficient and to help you decide whether you need to take a supplement. Look for a good quality vitamin D3 supplement – avoid cheaper brands of vitamin D2 which can be poorly absorbed.
- Drink Superfood Plus on waking and at bedtime. It is very high in plant calcium and in this form it is quickly digested and absorbed.
- Make fresh nettle tea or use Organic Nettle Herb Tea, rich in the minerals that support bone.
- Strengthen digestion and balance acid levels with Meadowsweet Herbal Tea.
- If you have restless legs or leg cramps, pay attention to your magnesium requirements.
- Weight-bearing exercise helps to build bone in the legs, pelvis and spine while free exercises with hand weights will help wrists, arms and shoulders.
- Manage hormone fluctuations and plan ahead for the menopause. You can work with an experienced herbal practitioner to ensure better hormone health. You may find one in your area by exploring the practitioner database of The Association of Master Herbalists.
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