A crippling disease that is preventable and reversible.
By John R. Lee, M.D. and Virginia Hopkins
Although cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among American women, osteoporosis is the disease they are most likely to develop as they age. Four out of ten white women in the U.S. will fracture a hip, spine, or forearm due to osteoporosis. As many as five out of ten will
develop small fractures in their spine, causing great pain and a shrinking in
height. This amounts to 15 to 20 million people affected by a crippling and
painful disease that is almost entirely preventable and reversible.
Osteoporosis is a gradual decrease in bone mass and density that
can begin as early as the teen years. Bone mass should be at its peak in our
late 20s or early 30s, but thanks to a poor diet and lack of exercise, many
women are already losing bone in their 20s. Bone loss occurs more rapidly in
women than in men, especially right around the time of menopause, when an
abrupt drop in estrogen and progesterone accelerates bone loss.
When you think of your bones you may imagine a dead skeleton, but
your bones are living tissue, just like the rest of your body, and they need a
good supply of nutrients and regular exercise. New bone is constantly being
made, while old bone is being reabsorbed and excreted by the body. Our larger
long bones, such as our arm bones and leg bones, are very dense, and they are
completely replaced about every 10-12 years. Our less dense bones, such as our
spine and the ends of our long bones, are less dense and turn over every 2-3
years. Thus, as you can see, we always have the opportunity to be creating
better bone for ourselves.
We all hear about how having enough calcium in the diet and taking
estrogen can help prevent osteoporosis, but there is a much bigger nutritional
and lifestyle picture to look at when we are talking about preventing this
bone-robbing disease. You'll be happy to know that for the vast majority of
women, there is no need to take estrogen to prevent osteoporosis.
The most important element of bones is minerals. Without minerals
we don't have bones. The most important bone minerals are calcium, magnesium,
potassium, phosphorous and fluoride. Equally important is the balance between
the minerals. Too much phosphorous or fluoride will create poor bone structure.
(Nearly all of us already ingest too much fluoride.) Without enough magnesium,
the calcium can't be absorbed onto the bone. Vitamins are also involved. For
example, vitamin B6 works with magnesium to get calcium onto your bones.
The hormones testosterone, estrogen and progesterone are also
actively involved in the making and unmaking of bone. Testosterone and
progesterone build bone, while estrogen appears to indirectly slow bone
In osteoporosis, the old bone is being reabsorbed faster than new
bone is being made, causing the bones to lose density and become thinner and
more porous. The integrity and strength of our bones is related to bone mass
and density. The bones of a woman with osteoporosis gradually become thinner
and more fragile. A progressive loss of bone mass may continue until the
skeleton is no longer strong enough to support itself. When that happens, bones
can spontaneously fracture. As bones become more fragile, falls or bumps that
would not have hurt us before, can cause a fracture. Bone loss seems to be most
severe in the spine, wrists and hips. Unfortunately there are usually no signs
or symptoms of osteoporosis until a fracture occurs.
Early Signs of Osteoporosis
Sudden insomnia and restlessness
Nightly leg and foot
Persistent low back pain
Gum disease, loose teeth
loss of height
Your Risk of having osteoporosis is higher if you:
Are a woman
Have a family history of osteoporosis
Went into menopause early
low calcium intake
than two alcohol drinks daily
Are on chronic steroid therapy (e.g.
Are on chronic anticonvulsant therapy
Are taking drugs
which can cause dizziness
Eat too much animal
Use antacids regularly
Drink more than two cups of