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is a loss of bone minerals, density, and bone strength, particularly of
the spine and long bones of the arms and legs. It is a common problem
of menopausal women, although definitely not limited to this group
only. Osteoporosis is a difficult problem to diagnose. Regular x-rays
are not that sensitive, and they reveal bone loss only after it is
fairly significant. The newer techniques available to measure bone
density, such as dual photon absorbtiometry, are more sensitive at
assessing early osteoporosis. These are most valuable as a reference to
see whether bones are losing minerals over the years.
There are no easy ways to observe early warning
signs of osteoporosis, therefore it is important to prevent the risk
with a good diet and exercise throughout life.
Some scientists believe that osteoporosis is a
“pediatric disease,” as we first build our bone strength as children.
Women should also be aware of observable warning signs, such as
periodontal disease, loss of height, or changes in the curvature of the
spinal column, such as the so-called “dowager’s hump.” The most
important factor is preventing the loss of bone matrix; this is much
easier than correcting bone loss after it occurs. A good diet and
regular exercise, including muscle building with weights, is most
helpful. There are other
components to maintaining healthy bones, including the minerals
magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, strontium, and silicon. Also,
researchers know that vitamin D helps the absorption and utilization of
calcium. Getting adequate sun exposure, at least 15-20 minutes daily
(without sunscreen) is important for adequate production of vitamin D.
Furthermore, two other nutrients help in bone health. These are vitamin
K and boron, which aid the utilization of calcium into bones.
Ipriflavone, a bioflavonoid that is being studied as a supplement, may
also help in bone building.
The hormone testosterone may support bone health as
well, and testosterone deficiency in women may contribute to
osteopenia--an earlier stage of bone loss--and osteoporosis. (Speak
with your healthcare practitioner about these areas for appropriate
testing and treatment.)
To prevent osteoporosis, it is wise to eat a good
diet and maintain an adequate calcium intake through foods and
supplements as you grow older. Many people eat a diet that is much
higher in phosphorus than in calcium. This can lead to improper bone
metabolism and loss of bone calcium. Meats, nuts, seeds, poultry,
boneless seafood, and even whole grains have a higher phosphorus than
calcium content. Soda pops have added phosphates, increasing their
phosphorus level. One advantage of using milk products is that they
have a good calcium-to-phosphorus ratio (with slightly more calcium).
Eggs and many vegetables, especially the green leafy vegetables, also
have lower phosphorus content. It helps to squeeze a little lemon or
vinegar over greens because calcium is best absorbed in an acid medium.
Premenopausal women should regularly consume
at least 1200-1500 mg of calcium a day from food and supplements.
Supplementing some calcium without phosphorus usually balances out
these nutrients. Adding about 250-500 IU of extra vitamin D (in
supplement form) and about 300-450 mg of supplemental magnesium a day
helps the calcium be best utilized and protects against osteoporosis.
Adequate boron, a trace mineral, may also be deficient in the diet, and
supplementing at the 2-3 mg level may help with calcium utilization. A
diet containing good amounts of fish, leafy greens, whole grains, and
dairy foods supports healthy bones. Phosphorus, zinc, copper, and
manganese are also important to building strong bones.
If osteoporosis is present, research suggests that
estrogen therapy may help slow its progress and even improve the bone
health, although it also poses risks. Fluoride, 2-4 mg per day in foods
or even taken as a supplement, has been shown to strengthen bones, but
it may have other concerns, such as a potentially increased risk of
cancer. (In general, I do not recommend fluoride supplementation for
anyone regularly consuming fluoridated tap water.)
Regular exercise has clearly been shown to minimize
bone loss. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, tennis, or golf,
help to strengthen the bones, probably more than swimming.
Although most common in older women, men and younger
women can also develop osteoporosis, usually because of a poor diet,
low calcium intake, and excessive vigorous exercise. Dancers, gymnasts,
and long-distance runners have this problem most commonly, and it is
exaggerated with anorexia and weight loss. These people often have
associated low body fat, low estrogen levels, and irregular or
nonexistent menstrual periods. A more nourishing diet, reduced
activity, and calcium-vitamin-mineral supplements can help to correct
this problem and prevent future ones.
Excerpted with permission from
the new edition of Staying
Healthy with Nutrition,
Summer 2006; Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA.
more information from Dr. Elson Haas visit elsonhaas.com
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