Outwit osteoporosis


Bone up on strategies to treat and prevent this growing disease

Your chances of having healthy bones get "thinner" every year. Nowadays, you have a fifty-fifty chance of having a fracture from osteoporosis in your lifetime if you are a white woman over 50. But it can — and does — strike at any age.

Osteoporosis (literally, "porous bones") is a progressive degeneration of bone structure, density, and strength. Bone tissues degenerate and gradually lose minerals, especially calcium, and become brittle, fragile, and tend to break easily. Backache, loss of height or stooped back, easily fractured bones, loss of jawbone, blood clots, and pneumonia head the list of symptoms, yet many people with osteoporosis suffer no symptoms at all until a crisis hits.

From about age 35, everyone's bone structure becomes less dense. But in osteoporosis, bone weakness goes beyond normal aging. In this abnormal condition, bone becomes exceptionally thin from mineral loss and poor-quality protein matrix. Combine aging with inadequate calcium intake for many years, poor childhood bone formation, or less calcium taken into the bones after menopause, and the outcome can be a severe case of osteoporosis.

Today, 10 million Americans have osteoporosis. Between 18 million and 34 million more are estimated to have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk. Nearly 25 percent of white, Asian, and brown-skinned women have some degree of osteoporosis after menopause. Black women have been shown to have greater bone density, which reduces their risk.

The two major risk factors are peak bone mass and rate of bone loss. Less well-established factors are low weight-to-height ratio, prolonged bed rest, high alcohol consumption, low calcium intake, smoking, high protein/ phosphate intake, high caffeine consumption, and physical inactivity.

Osteoporosis leads to bone fragility and an increased susceptibility to fractures, especially of the hip, spine, wrist, ribs, and forearm, though any bone is at risk. In America, 1.5 million osteoporotic fractures occur each year. Devastating hip fractures comprise 20 percent of that number. Only 15 percent of hip-fracture patients can walk across a room unaided six months later.

A woman's lifetime hip-fracture risk is equal to the combined total risk of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers. And hip fractures are life threatening — women who suffer hip fractures are up to 20 percent more likely to die within one year of the fracture than women who haven't suffered a hip fracture. One-quarter of those who were ambulatory before their hip fracture require long-term care afterward.

Within the next 50 years, 25 percent of Americans will be 65 or older. Women over 65 represent the fastest-growing population segment in the United States. Osteoporosis will be a major public health concern. However, it's not inevitable, as osteoporosis is to a great extent preventable and treatable.

Remedy 1. The Builder. Use the Right Calcium.
Bones are made largely of calcium. Researchers studied all commercially available calcium forms and found that calcium citrate malate (calcium salt of citric acid and malic acid) appears to absorb best. Studies show that up to 42 percent of the calcium in calcium citrate malate is absorbed, compared to about 22 percent of calcium carbonate.

In another study of women aged 21 to 30, 250 mg of calcium citrate malate, given three times per day, was absorbed better than an equivalent calcium carbonate supplement (37.3 percent versus 29.6 percent, respectively). In the same study, calcium citrate malate was also absorbed better than calcium from milk.

It is also important to note that calcium absorption increases the larger you are. A study of women given a standardized source of calcium suggests that a difference in 8 inches in height could correlate to a 30 percent difference in absorptive ability. Although this may sound alarming, these results demonstrate that a standard amount of calcium for all women regardless of size should be reevaluated.

Remedy 2. The Helper. Vitamin D Strengthens Bones.
Vitamin D regulates the growth and development of many different cells and maintains strong bones. The need for vitamin D increases with age, and deficiency is common among the elderly. Up to 80 percent of all hip-fracture patients have vitamin D deficiency. Substantial doses of vitamin D increase bone mass and reduce osteoporosis. Studies show that elderly persons with higher vitamin D levels have increased muscle strength and a lower number of falls. A study using vitamin D plus calcium over a three-month period lowered risk of falling by 49 percent compared with calcium alone, attributed to improved musculoskeletal function.

Remedy 3. The Fixer. Ancient Herb Heals Bones.
To help restore damaged bone tissue, consider Chinese teasel root, also known as dipsacus root (aka xu duan, Dipsacus asper), which is a mainstay of Chinese herbal joint therapy. It's the main herb used in China to heal traumatic injury and has broad benefits for the musculoskeletal system and for pain. Xu means connect, and duan means severed; the herb reconnects damaged bones or severed tendons. Use up to 15 g per day as powder in capsules or brewed into tea.

If you have a family history of osteoporosis, you're at greater risk for the condition, as postmenopausal osteoporosis may be hereditary.

Product Example
Lane Labs' AdvaCal: Contains high levels of calcium and HAI, a patented bone-building amino acid extract.

Himalaya Herbal Healthcare's OsteoCare An herbal extract blend that helps maintain healthy bone structure.

Jarrow Formulas' Herbal Bone-Up: In addition to calcium and vitamin D, this advanced formula contains four botanicals that help maintain and build bone.

Legend for Chart:
A - Osteoporosis aid
B - Form to use
C - Dose
D - Comments
Calcium Citrate malate
500 to 1,000 mg per day divided in 2 to 3 doses
Be sure to factor in your dietary calcium intake to determine
correct supplementation level
Vitamin D Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3)
2,000 IU per day
Essential for bone health
Chinese teasel root Capsules
5 to 15 g per day
Repairs joint tissue



By Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, DN-C, RH

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