Can Your Lifestyle Be Causing Bone Loss?
Our bones have the job of providing a solid frame to support our organs, muscles and skin. Although we think of adult bones as being hard and unchanging, regardless of age bones are in fact living, dynamic tissue constantly functioning and changing. Bones house minerals that the body needs for metabolic processes to keep it healthy and functioning normally. Bones can weaken and be at risk of fracture when the balance of minerals flowing in and out of bones is disturbed and too many minerals are released without being replenished. When this equilibrium is upset, bone loss can occur resulting in osteopenia or osteoporosis.
Calcium is the mineral that is most often associated with bone health. It is the most abundant mineral in our body. Calcium is vital for the proper functioning of our muscles, nerves and heart. It is also important for blood clotting and a variety of enzymatic processes that occur in the body at the cellular level. Although it is a common belief that calcium is needed for bones to stay hard and strong, experiments have shown that when calcium is removed from bone, bone actually becomes extremely flexible and twisted like a pretzel without breaking. Healthy bone also needs minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, sodium and potassium.
Our skeleton is replaced approximately every ten years and bone density peaks at about age thirty. If skeletal bones can outlast the body for thousands of years after death, why is it that our bones deteriorate so rapidly while we are living? Could the food we eat be contributing to problems with bone health? An interesting fact to consider is that skeletal bones can last for thousands of years in neutral pH soil or sand, but will decompose much more rapidly if left in acidic soil.
It is noteworthy that osteoporosis (porous bone) is found much more commonly in city folk verses those that live in the country. It is also found to be more prevalent in countries that have the highest dairy intake. Why is this? Osteoporosis is also a fairly “new” dis-ease. Could it be that some bone loss is a normal part of aging that is now looked upon as a dis-ease so that we might treat it with medication? If we look at our lifestyle including the foods we are eating we may find the answers to some of these questions.
There are a number of dietary and lifestyle factors that are associated with osteoporosis. They include: gluten and dairy; poor vegetable intake (especially green vegetables); poor quality protein and fat intake; inadequate hydration; sedentary lifestyle or too much exercise; stress; hormone imbalance; medication and over the counter medication use and exposure to environmental toxins.
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, triticale and kamut. Gluten can contribute to bone loss in a variety of ways. For gluten sensitive or frank celiac patients the ingestion of gluten causes an inflammatory response at the intestinal border which results in a decreased ability to absorb nutrients including those important in bone health. Grains, generally, are also high in phytates. Phytates combine with minerals such as calcium and magnesium and the bond that forms cannot be broken during digestion. This restricts the absorption of needed minerals which end up being “wasted” by the body.
Casein (not whey) is the protein in dairy that seems to be most associated with health problems. There is also some cross reactivity with gluten such that the body will often respond to casein as it does to gluten causing inflammation in the microvilli and decreased nutrient absorption. Most milk consumed in this country is either low fat or nonfat. The problem with removing the fat is that it upsets the balance of nutrients within milk and actually makes it more acidifying which leads to bone loss. Contrary to popular belief, milk is not the perfect food. Milk from its mother is the perfect food for a calf to grow into a cow. For humans, organic, raw, unpasteurized, non-homogenized and cultured cow’s milk can have health benefits.
When we examine the diets of native societies, most subsisted on a high percentage of plant foods (not sprayed with pesticides) along with a small percentage of nutrient rich animal food (not factory farmed) and healthy fats. Because the SAD – Standard American Diet – is abundant in acidifying foods such as animal protein, sugar, grains and processed foods WITHOUT an adequate amount of fruit, vegetables and healthy fats to counterbalance the acidity, the body robs minerals from bone to balance blood acidity. The importance of plants as “bone” food cannot be underestimated. All we have to do is look at the animals with the largest bones such as elephants, giraffes and even some prehistoric dinosaurs with diets of only leafy greens.
Protein is also needed for healthy bone because is it essential for the formation of collagen which traps and holds mineral salts. Too little protein can raise the risk of bone fracture. But what kind and amount of protein is “right” for us? Vegetarians need to eat an abundance of vegetables with beans and nuts at each meal. Those who eat animal protein need plentiful amounts of vegetables, fruit and healthy fat for balance.
Healthy fats are important in bone health because they are needed to transport the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins are needed for proper calcium absorption. Because they are anti-inflammatory, healthy fats and these anti-oxidant vitamins also protect against free radicals which can contribute to bone breakdown. They also prevent calcium from being lost in the urine. Cholesterol is important because it is the precursor in skin needed to make vitamin D from the sun. Our sun and fat phobias are definitely contributing to our poor bone health.
People living in most US cities are bombarded with fake food made by the food industry. We have become socialized to expect a treat after a meal and on every special occasion – even after going to the dentist or doctor’s office. Fake foods contain addicting sugar and unhealthy fat. Sugar interferes with the absorption of protein, calcium and magnesium to the detriment of our bones.
Our bones are twenty five percent water, twenty five percent protein and the remaining fifty percent is mineral salts. Annemarie Colbin makes the following analogy, “Water keeps bones strong just as sap in a tree keeps it from breaking.” Dry trees crack and break just as dry bones will. Our fascination with drinking coffee, alcohol and sugary drinks all of which are diuretics, dry us out and keep us from drinking the water we need for proper hydration of our bones and body. Again, balance is the key as too much water can lower the concentration of minerals in the blood. So how much is enough? Drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds you will need to drink 75 ounces of water per day. If you exercise you will need an additional 16 ounces of water with electrolytes, to replace the minerals and electrolytes lost per hour of sweat producing exercise.
Speaking of exercise, we have become very sedentary beings sitting for long periods at a desk, riding in cars, taking the elevator and parking as close to our destination as possible to avoid walking. We need to move and that movement should be weight bearing preferably barefoot or in thin soled tennis shoes as thick soled running shoes tend to cushion us too much from the pull of gravity that is necessary to prevent bone loss. On the other hand, too much exercise especially in young females results in lower body fat with lowered estrogen levels and bone loss as a consequence.
Stress which is ubiquitous in our lives today is harmful because of its effect on the adrenal glands. Cortisol levels rise and this upsets both hormonal and glucose balance in the body. We have seen that high cortisol levels contribute to bone loss in patients with chronic cortisol excess as in Cushings and also in patients on long term steroid medication. Managing stress and balancing hormone and glucose (sugar) levels in the body therefore, can play an important role in bone health.
To summarize, these are things we can do to have healthy bones:
1) Limit grain consumption and focus on non-gluten grains such as brown rice, buckwheat, amaranth, millet, quinoa and gluten free oats
2) Avoid dairy unless it is organic, raw, unpasteurized, non-homogenized and cultured or fermented.
2) Consume healthy fats found in organic eggs, grass fed and free range meats, nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and cold water fish.
3) Cook with extra virgin olive oil at low heat, unrefined sesame, sunflower, coconut or palm oils or clarified butter which is free of casein.
4) Make sure you get enough protein. A rough gauge is to consume half your body weight in grams of protein each day – more protein may be needed for those who exercise strenuously.
5) Avoid sugar.
6) Drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day.
7) Avoid caffeine as it depletes calcium and increases fracture risk.
Caffeine = liquid stress – it raises your heart rate and blood pressure and can contribute to adrenal fatigue.
8) Limit alcohol as it depletes magnesium which results in decreased deposition of calcium in bone. Low magnesium also decreases parathyroid hormone which is important in calcium and phosphorus metabolism. Alcohol also decreases bone formation especially in men.
10)Consume sea salt which is full of trace minerals and is very alkalinizing. It also helps maintain water and pH balance in the body.
11)Daily weight bearing exercise.
13)Limit medications, especially steroids and cortisone which are known to be associated with bone loss. Over the counter medications such as antacids interfere with protein digestion and deplete phosphorus which is important in bone health. Fluoride causes brittle bones by interfering with the enzymes involved in collagen production. Anti-androgen therapy such as lupron used in men with prostate cancer and anti-estrogen therapy such as arimidex used in women with breast cancer have also been shown to cause bone loss emphasizing the importance of hormone balance in healthy bones.
14)Balance hormones naturally and avoid exposure to environmental toxins which contribute to hormone imbalance.
Dr. Deanna M. Cherrone is a board certified Internist who practices Functional Medicine at Natural Health & Healing, LLC located at 12 West Main Street in Avon, CT. She can be reached at 860-677-4600 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org