Bone Loss: Treating with Diet & Exercise

From Women’s Health, January 2005

Q: I’m a 70-yr old female. What can I do naturally to improve my bone health and vertebrae deterioration? (H.G., Schooleys Mt., NJ)

A: Sounds like you already know that you have problems with your bones, because you have lost height (more than 2 inches from your maximum adult measurement) or have confirmed bone loss with a DEXA scan (this is a special x-ray of your low back, hip and thigh bone and sometimes arm bone or heel). The healthiest bones are flexible, not brittle, and it’s important NOT to depend on calcium alone for bone building. The highest rates of osteoporosis exist in countries where intake of dairy products is high (for example Sweden, Denmark and the US). Calcium alone will make bones brittle and MORE susceptible to breaking. This doesn’t mean calcium is bad: on the contrary, calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and critical for strong bones. A good bone-healing multi will always contain about 600-1000 mg of Calcium, ideally in various forms (not just calcium carbonate, but also calcium citrate and malate), also a nearly equal dose of Magnesium, at least 400 IUs of Vitamin D to allow for mineral absorption, and the trace minerals boron (2-3 mg), silica (200 mcg), and strontium (300 mg). Strontium has received a lot of press lately for consideration as the single most important bone nutrient after calcium.

Carbonated soft drinks strip minerals from bones by creating a highly acidic environment in the stomach which draws alkalinizing minerals from the skeleton to neutralize the acidity. Avoid all soda pop. Bio-identical estrogen is helpful as a last resort unless you have a family history of blood clots or hormonal-type cancer.

Bones are complex, and when healthy they have an electrical charge which keeps the minerals flowing off and on the bone constantly. When a long bone is slightly bent, it creates a battery-like effect with the negatively charged minerals (sulfur, chloride) gathering on one side of the bone and positively charged minerals (calcium, magnesium) collecting on the opposite side. That’s why weight bearing exercise is important — it literally creates a healthy stress on the bones which CURVE them so they remain more lively. People on bed rest (in a hospital, for example) quickly lose bone because of lack of weight bearing exercise. So, walk every day if you can. Jump roping is even better (1000 jumps per week) if your knees and bladder can handle that!

And please don’t forget to practice your balance. You are much less likely to break a bone if you don’t fall! The one-legged yoga stances are wonderful for maintaining good balance. Try standing on one leg whenever you are standing in line, or at the kitchen stove or sink.