By Dr. Mercola
Osteoporosis is a very common problem. It’s characterized by porous and fragile bones, which over time increases the risk of fractures, most often to hips, vertebrae and wrists.
The following information is important for a number of reasons, because there’s a lot of confusion about this condition, but I want to specifically clear up two major misconceptions.
Clearing Up Two Major Myths About Osteoporosis and Its Treatment
The first myth is that osteoporosis is due to a calcium deficiency. As you’ll soon see, that’s not simply the case.
The second misconception is that the treatment for it is to use bisfosphonate drugs like Fosamax, Actonel, or Boniva. This is one of the worst strategies for treating this condition, because even though it will increase your bone density, it is a poison! The reason these drugs work is because they actually kill certain cells in your bone called osteoclasts. These are the cells that destroy bone as part of your natural bone regeneration process.
When these cells die off, you’re left with only osteoblasts, which build bone. Hence you get bigger bone that is denser, but NOT stronger. Your bones actually become weaker, and in the long term increase your risk of developing a fracture.
Your bone undergoes a dynamic process, constantly being remolded based on the forces in your body, and you need to have both osteoblasts and osteclasts to remove old bone and rebuild new bone.
Another drug you want to avoid, especially if you have asthma or any other autoimmune disease, is steroids. Steroids are very detrimental for bone density, and will increase your risk of osteoporosis.
Eating Right for Healthy Bone Density and Strength
One of the important strategies for healthy bones is to eat the right kind of foods. If you eat a diet full of processed foods, it will produce biochemical and metabolic conditions in your body that will decrease your bone density, so avoiding processed foods is the first step in the right direction.
Eating high quality, organic, biodynamic, locally-grown food will naturally increase your bone density and decrease your risk of developing osteoporosis.
One food in particular worth mentioning are onions, which are high in gamma-glutamyl peptides that have been shown to increase bone density. But generally, you’ll want to eat lots of fresh vegetables.
There’s a common concern that eating a high protein diet will secrete calcium into your urine. But the truth of the matter is that more people are now eating low-protein diets, and your body needs protein, because amino acids are part of the bone matrix. If you don’t consume enough of specific amino acids your body can’t form strong, dense bones. So you’ll also want to make sure you eat plenty of high quality protein like free-range eggs and grass-fed meats.
One food you may want to consider avoiding is gluten — a specific protein in many grains, specifically wheat, but also barley, rye, oats and spelt. Gluten has been shown to decrease bone density.
Along with your foods, your omega 3 fat content has a lot to do with building healthy bone. Most everyone needs to take a high quality, animal-based omega 3 fat. I recommend krill oil, as I believe it’s a superior source of omega 3’s.
At the same time, to balance out your omega 3 and omega 6 ratio, you’ll want to reduce the amount of processed vegetable oils you consume. Oils like corn oil, safflower- and soy oil are loaded with omega 6’s. Additionally, canola should be avoided for other reasons.
Another supplement you may want to consider if you already have osteoporosis is vitamin K2, which has been shown to radically improve bone density. Fermented foods, such as natto, typically have the highest concentration of vitamin K found in the human diet and can provide several milligrams of vitamin K2 on a daily basis.
Additional Components that are Vital for Bone Density
Two additional components that are vital for building bone density and strength are vitamin D and proper exercise.
Vitamin D — Interestingly, you don’t need much vitamin D to protect you against osteomalacia (the term for the softening of bones due to defective bone mineralization, also known as rickets in children). In fact, most of our RDA’s are based on that observation, which is why they’re up to ten times lower than what many people need for optimal health.
Now we know that vitamin D is enormously important for an ever-growing number of conditions, which is why I recommend you regularly expose large amounts of your skin to safe amounts of sunshine (or use a safe tanning bed) to optimize your vitamin D levels.
If neither of those is available, then you’ll want to use an oral form of vitamin D3. However, if you take oral vitamin D, make sure you’re measuring your vitamin D levels with a reputable reference lab (in the U.S. I recommend LabCorp). Getting your levels up to about 60 ng/ml will help you optimize your bone density.
Proper exercise — The second component you can’t ignore if you want strong, healthy bones is weight bearing exercises like strength training. Remember, bone-building is a dynamic process, so you want to make sure you exert enough force on your bones to stimulate the osteoblasts to build new bone.
You may want to see a personal trainer or exercise therapist to give you specific exercises to build up the muscles around the bone that are most at risk, such as your arms and hips, as that’s where most of the damage occurs.
The Calcium Lie
Dr. Robert Thompson M.D. wrote an entire book, The Calcium Lie, addressing this important issue. Although he’d been able to resolve many illnesses with supplements and herbs and other less toxic alternatives to drugs, he’d come to realize that similar to the pharmaceutical industry, the nutrition industry had its own flaws.
He concluded that enormous amounts of money were being wasted on supplements that had little or no health benefit, and in some cases could actually worsen your health.
One of the tenets of his book is that bone is composed of at least a dozen minerals, and if you focus exclusively on calcium supplementation you are likely going to worsen your bone density, and will actually increase your risk of osteoporosis!
Dr. Thompson believes that the over consumption of calcium in the goal of preventing osteoporosis creates other mineral deficiencies and imbalances that will also increase your risk of heart disease, kidney stones, gallstones, osteoarthritis, hypothyroidism, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Interestingly, he proposes that one of the best practical alternatives is the use of naturally occurring ionic supplements, as ionic minerals are the most plentiful form of minerals found on earth. He believes that almost everyone needs trace minerals, not just calcium, because you simply cannot get all the nutrients you need through food grown in mineral depleted soils.
Unprocessed Salt – A Better Alternative to Calcium Supplementation
Dr. Thompson believes that unprocessed salts are one of the best sources of these ionic trace minerals responsible for catalyzing many important functions in your body.
I have been a long time fan of high quality salt, and even more so once I learned of Himalayan salt, which I believe is one of the healthiest salts on the planet. High quality salts like Himalayan contain vitally important trace minerals from the ancient oceans that are not contaminated with toxins, and which are very difficult to get in your food due to the challenges of modern agricultural practices.