What Every Woman Should Know About Osteoporosis

These simple, healthy habits can help make your bones stronger.
By Linda B. White, M.D.
August 1, 2008

Weight bearing activities such as jogging can help prevent the development of osteoporosis.
ISTOCKPHOTO


Content Tools

Related Content

Easy Tips to Protect Yourself from Osteoporosis

Whether you like milk or not, incorporating calcium into your diet is an important factor in bone he...

To Your Health: New Food Facts and an Update on Lyme Disease

A diet allegedly eliminates cholesterol without sacrificing red meat and dairy products; a study on ...

Living Off Grid - Our Boneyard

How we avoid most clutter but manage to keep good leftover products for future use.

Natural Garden Amendments

Here are some ways we use natural materials to improve our garden and orchards.

Your bones are dynamic structures. When you’re young, well-nourished and well-exercised, you make more bone than you lose. But bone mass peaks in your 20s, and from that point, it’s all downhill. However, the rate of bone loss depends on several factors, and there are things you can start doing right now that will keep your bones stronger as you age.

What you want to avoid is osteoporosis — bones so porous they’re vulnerable to fracture. According to the National Institutes of Health, 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and 34 million more have osteopenia (bone mass below normal, but not bad enough to qualify as osteoporosis). Anyone can develop these conditions, but women past menopause are most at risk, as they’ve run out of bone-preserving estrogen.

It’s much better to prevent osteoporosis than to treat it. Here are key points toward keeping bones strong:

1. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Edible plants contain a wide spectrum of bone-essential nutrients — protein, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, boron, and vitamins D, K, and C. A varied, plant-based diet provides most of these nutrients. People who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables have higher bone density scores and less evidence of bone loss. Your bones do need protein, but too much animal protein makes your body more acidic, thereby increasing calcium loss in the urine.

2. Consume calcium. In addition to dairy, sources of calcium and other bone-building nutrients include dark-green leafy vegetables (kale, collard and mustard greens); calcium-enriched tofu, soy milk, rice milk and orange juice; molasses, almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, dried beans, seaweed and corn tortillas; calcium-rich herbs, which you can make into teas or vinegar extracts, include nettles, dandelion, yellow dock, red clover, sage and oatstraw; and  stinging nettles (wear gloves when you handle the fresh leaves) and dandelion leaves cooked as you would any leafy green. 

Because many women don’t consume enough calcium, supplementation is often recommended. Total daily intake (from food and supplements) for teenagers is 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams. Women 19 to 50 need 1,000 milligrams (1,400 if pregnant or nursing). Women over 50 need 1,200 milligrams if on hormone replacement therapy and 1,500 milligrams if not.

3. Move your body. Sedentary people are at risk for osteoporosis. Weight-bearing activities (jogging, jumping rope, climbing stairs, aerobics classes) and resistance training (lifting weights) stimulates bone deposition. Exercise also improves the balance, flexibility and strength necessary to avoid bone-cracking falls.

4. Expose your naked, un-sunscreened skin to sunlight 10 minutes a day. In spring and summer, ultraviolet rays are strong enough to activate vitamin D in the skin. A few foods contain vitamin D — cod liver oil, oily fish, shiitake mushrooms, eggs and fortified milk, soy milk and orange juice — but our primary source is sunshine. This vitamin stimulates calcium absorption from the intestinal tract. Inadequate levels are linked with osteoporosis and bone fractures. Most North Americans don’t maintain healthy blood levels from sunlight and diet. Women over 65 are often advised to take 800 IU a day. Lately, vitamin D researchers have been calling for at least 1000 IU a day — several times the current guidelines for 200 to 600 IU.

5. Watch out for the bone robbers:

  • Soda, particularly cola drinks, contains phosphates (and too much lowers blood levels of calcium) and too often replaces bone-friendly beverages such as milk. Teenage girls who drink a lot of cola beverages are at increased risk of bone fractures.
  • Cigarette smoke and alcohol (more than two drinks a day) are both linked to osteoporosis and fractures.
  • Estrogen loss. No matter your age, if you’ve stopped having your periods (for reasons other than pregnancy) talk to your doctor about how best to protect your bones.
  • Chronic stress. The stress response activates the hormone cortisol, which causes bone loss. Taking cortisone and related drugs also reduces bone mass. Do your best to keep your mood mellow.

6. Maximize your bone mass while you’re young. The earlier you begin to acquire the healthy habits described above, the better. The more bone you deposit by the time you enter your fourth decade, the lower your chances of going broke. If that opportunity has passed, you can work to slow the rate of bone loss (and to educate your daughters, younger sisters and friends).

7. Get tested for osteoporosis. This condition causes no symptoms until you feel the pain of a fractured bone. Dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) offers a safe, painless and reliable measurement of bone mineral density. Doctors often recommend a baseline DEXA scan as a woman begins menopause, then periodic scans to monitor bone loss.  

Do you have experience with osteoporosis? Are you taking steps to prevent it? Share your thoughts by posting a comment below.


Previous | 1 | 2 | Next






Post a comment below.

 

JoAnn_9
2/27/2010 8:17:24 PM
I was diagnosed with osteoporosis 6 years ago at age 58 and my MD told me to go to the gym and lift weights! So I did, and I just had a bone density scan in the normal bone density range. I also changed my dietary habits, completely cutting out dairy, meat and poultry and eating wild salmon twice a week. I take calcium and Vit D supplements, getting my Vit D levels checked annually. I know that meats are acidic at the cellular level, and can draw calcium from the bones to maintain a normal acid-base balance. But the fact that countries with the highest dairy and animal protein intakes have the highest rates of osteoporosis was a wake-up call. I eat pretty much a vegan diet plus the fish, and feel better than I did 20 years ago. I'm fit and strong from the exercise and weight lifting. My mother was right about almost everything EXCEPT " drink your milk for strong bones." That is Marketing 101 by the dairy industry.

jeetendra solanki_2
8/18/2008 12:36:15 PM
your these web pages are ery very informative. my mother have this problem of an age of 70+...we are living in india i m totally agree with Mel reslor's comments.her observation regarding asian , africans v/s europeans is absoutely correct. as we have been seeing that in our country India non veg. food is not been in vast practice on the ground of religious matter. while on other hand the poorest pocket of people uses green leafy vegetables and all segments of our country mostly uses green vegetables .yhey do not use too much dairy product and meat etc, so they get benefit of all this factors and consequetively posses lowe rate of osteporisis.

jeetendra solanki_1
8/18/2008 12:34:16 PM
your these web pages are ery very informative. my mother have this problem of an age of 70+...we are living in india i m totally agree with Mel reslor's comments.her observation regarding asian , africans v/s europeans is absoutely correct. as we have been seeing that in our country India non veg. food is not been in vast practice on the ground of religious matter. while on other hand the poorest pocket of people uses green leafy vegetables and all segments of our country mostly uses green vegetables .yhey do not use too much dairy product and meat etc, so they get benefit of all this factors and consequetively posses lowe rate of osteporisis.

Heidi Hunt_2
8/18/2008 11:08:00 AM
(Submitted by Linda White) Your question brings up a good point. My article didn’t address treating osteoporosis, but rather preventing it with non-drug methods. I recommend you make an appointment to discuss your concerns about Fosamax with your doctor. Most treatments carry some kind of risk, and that rule can also apply to “natural” remedies. Estrogen is great for bones, but raises the risk of reproductive cancers and blood clots. Some of the drugs designed to mimic estrogen’s favorable effects on bone (but not its risky effects on, say, the breast) also have drawbacks. A new trial published in last week’s New England Journal of Medicine showed that one such drug, tibolone, decreased the risk of fracture, breast cancer, and possibly colon cancer in older women with osteoporosis, but doubled the risk for stroke. One thing to consider is that fracture is much more common in menopausal women than cancer, stroke or heart attack. As you know from your father and grandmother, a fractured hip can lead to permanent disability and even death. Like you, I look at my family history and am more concerned about osteoporosis and fracture than any other medical calamity (aside from dementia). If my doctor diagnosed me with osteoporosis, I would take a drug (after reading up on its efficacy and safety) and continue exercising, eating well, taking vitamin D and other recommended vitamins. You might also ask your doctor to check your blood levels of a form of vitamin D called 25(OH)D. Doctors don’t routinely perform this test, but it’s the only way to know you’re deficient (and many people are deficient). If the level is low, then you need to take vitamin D to raise it into the ideal zone. Vitamin D researchers have recently come to the conclusion that we may need more vitamin D than previously thought. Some consider a blood level of around 70 nannograms/milliliter to be ideal. Good luck. Here is a recent article on vitamin D http://www.motherearthnew

Darcy_1
8/16/2008 3:32:43 AM
Can you direct me to solutions now that I have been diagnosed with osteoporosis - due to chemotherapy and early menopause - and I didn't get tested as early as I could have so it progressed. My father and his mother both fell and broke a hip then quickly deterioriated and died. I really don't want to go that way. I have been taking Fosamax but many people are not telling me that it's dangerous. Thanks

Heidi Hunt_2
8/15/2008 3:07:31 PM
(From Linda White) Thanks for the educated response about dairy and osteoporosis rates, and the link to the PCRM story. Given the word limit of the article, I didn’t have the space to talk about calcium contents (much less bioavailability) of various dietary sources. Yes, some ethnic groups are often lactose intolerant. And many plant sources contain calcium and other bone-essential nutrients. (Unfortunately, many Americans don’t consume many calcium-rich plants such as leafy greens.) And you need vitamin D (from sunlight, diet, supplements) to absorb the calcium you ingest. And you need to exercise to stimulate bones to take building blocks such calcium into new bone. Maximizing bone requires a multifaceted approach, and the best approach for one person may not suit another.

Mel Reslor
8/11/2008 7:06:04 PM
Dr. White's article is better than most on the subject of calcium and osteoporosis. I would emphasize - Avoid the calcium robbers, the animal proteins (cow's milk and meat) they are high in sulfur amino acids and would take calcium out of the body. Milk is not a good source of calcium for building strong bones. Increasing calcium intake does not necessarily prevent or delay osteoporosis. The world-wide figures for calcium consumption give further evidence - areas of low calcium intake 400 mg/day also have low osteoporosis and bone fracture rates Rural Africa and Asia fall into this category. areas of high calcium intake 800-1200+ mg/day have some of the highest bone fractures and osteoporosis. Europe, U.S. the industrialized nations fall into this category. Asians, Africans are largely lactose intolerant (milk-sugar) and often avoid dairy products. They have the lowest osteoporosis rates in the world. Scandanavians (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark) have high rates of dairy consumption and can tolerate milk lactose. They have the highest osteoporosis rates in the world. Jessie, who commented earlier, may actually be blessed. Refraining from cow's milk (which casein accounts for 80% of its protein) will prevent a major cause of calcium loss. Cow's milk results in calcium loss as it takes more calcium to buffer the sulfur-amino acids to be removed from the body. Animal proteins are high in sulfur. Milk has a lot of calcium but with it is the protein that results in a net loss in terms of retained calcium. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has a good article on their site: http://www.pcrm.org/health/prevmed/strong_bones.html - mel

Mel Reslor
8/11/2008 7:05:44 PM
Dr. White's article is better than most on the subject of calcium and osteoporosis. I would emphasize - Avoid the calcium robbers, the animal proteins (cow's milk and meat) they are high in sulfur amino acids and would take calcium out of the body. Milk is not a good source of calcium for building strong bones. Increasing calcium intake does not necessarily prevent or delay osteoporosis. The world-wide figures for calcium consumption give further evidence - areas of low calcium intake 400 mg/day also have low osteoporosis and bone fracture rates Rural Africa and Asia fall into this category. areas of high calcium intake 800-1200+ mg/day have some of the highest bone fractures and osteoporosis. Europe, U.S. the industrialized nations fall into this category. Asians, Africans are largely lactose intolerant (milk-sugar) and often avoid dairy products. They have the lowest osteoporosis rates in the world. Scandanavians (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark) have high rates of dairy consumption and can tolerate milk lactose. They have the highest osteoporosis rates in the world. Jessie, who commented earlier, may actually be blessed. Refraining from cow's milk (which casein accounts for 80% of its protein) will prevent a major cause of calcium loss. Cow's milk results in calcium loss as it takes more calcium to buffer the sulfur-amino acids to be removed from the body. Animal proteins are high in sulfur. Milk has a lot of calcium but with it is the protein that results in a net loss in terms of retained calcium. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has a good article on their site: http://www.pcrm.org/health/prevmed/strong_bones.html - mel

Heidi Hunt_2
8/8/2008 11:28:59 AM
(Posted for Linda White) The effect of progestogen on bone is controversial. Some studies show a bone-building action, others show no effect. Estrogen prevents bone from being broken down. It’s precipitous drop during perimenopause leads to a brisk loss in bone mineral density. (Progesterone declines earlier than estrogen, but without the dramatic impact on women’s bones.) Testosterone stimulates bone formation. This hormone declines gradually in both sexes. Other hormones are involved in bone metabolism, including growth hormone, thyroid hormone, parathyroid hormone, and cortisol. I don’t believe that Dr. Lee’s theories have been substantiated in scientific studies. It’s hard to know with other-counter-creams how much, if any progesterone, is in the product. Giving progesterone-only contraceptives raises the risk of osteoporosis in premenopausal women. And oral “natural” progesterone is available, and often combine with “natural” (bio-identical) estrogen during perimenopause. But progesterone alone doesn’t stop hot flashes or preserve bone – not to my knowledge anyway. I’d put more hope in the ability of phytoestrogens in soy, red clover and flax seeds to preserve bone (even if they’re not terribly successful in eliminating hot flashes). There is a bit of evidence that the herb black cohosh has a positive effect on bone as well. Here’s an abstract from the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology about the progesterone creams:. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2007 Oct;27(7):655-9. Links Transdermal natural progesterone cream for postmenopausal women: inconsistent data and complex pharmacokinetics. Elshafie MA, Ewies AA. Faculty of Health Wellbeing & Science University Campus of Suffolk, UK. Transdermal progesterone cream (PC) is propagated as a possible alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in the management of menopausal symptoms and treatment of osteoporosis. Nonetheless, considerable concerns were raised regarding the inco

Alex Ross
8/6/2008 4:08:36 PM
Consuming pasteurized dairy products are of little benefit as the processing of the milk renders the majority of the calcium that occurs naturally, insoluble, plus the Vitamin-D the milk is "fortified" with is most likely synthetic.

Daniel K.
8/5/2008 10:48:55 PM
In the first part of this you stated that the bone building hormone was estrogen. Take a look at the work of Dr Lee. He has written several books that deal with this subject. Progesterone is the bone building hormone and most women seem to get Osteoporosis after they quit their monthly dose of Progesterone at ovulation. The Estrogen is what takes the bone apart and the Progesterone is what builds it back. One of the books he wrote is What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause Check out http://www.johnleemd.com We hear about all these drugs that help with Osteoperosis and nothing about natural Progesterone because the drug companies cannot patent it and will not do the studies. Progesterone will increase bone density and help with the other things that go along with Pre and post Menopause.

Jessie Fetterling_2
8/4/2008 11:59:15 AM
My grandmother has osteoporosis, so I've always been worried that I will eventually get it, especially because I'm allergic to milk. Ever since I was little, I've drunk a lot of orange juice and taken calcium supplements to keep up with my calcium intake and prevent osteoporosis. In fact, I've started eating chocolate-flavored,chewable calcium supplements from viactiv. I definitely recommend them to anyone that wants a little flavor in their everyday pill-taking routine.








Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.