Definition

Decrease in bone mass and density, with loss of mineral and protein components.


Symptoms

Back pain, pain on weight-bearing (T8 and below), kyphosis, loss of height, spontaneous fractures, muscle spasms.


Etiologic Considerations — Primary

High-protein diet:

Induces calcium deficiency if the protein excess is animal in origin.

Poor calcium absorption:

Calcium absorption decreases with age.

Menopause

Excess sweets and refined carbohydrates:

Stimulate alkaline digestive juices, making calcium insoluble (calcium is more soluble in an acid medium).

Lack of exercise

Magnesium deficiency:

80 percent loss in refining of grains.

Phosphorus excess from excess meat, soft drinks, processed foods

Hydrochloric acid deficiency, enzyme deficiency


Etiologic Considerations — Secondary

• Lactase deficiency • Postoperative ulcer, stomach removal, dumping syndrome • Prolonged stress • Alcoholism • Pregnancy, lactation, menstruation, repeated births • Heavy metal toxicity: Excess aluminum or cadmium is associated with bone loss • Hormonal imbalance (parathyroid, thyroid) • Phytic acid • Oxalic acid • Drugs • Steroids • Antibiotics • Vitamin D, magnesium, calcium, and protein deficiency • Poor dentures, leading to reduced green vegetable intake • Distilled water, soft water • Extreme vitamin C deficiency • Sodium fluoride in water binds calcium • Excess bicarbonate of soda • Malabsorption syndromes • Cushing’s syndrome • Hyperparathyroidism • Acromegaly • Excess cigarette smoking • Bedridden: Lack of movement and disuse leads to atrophy • Aluminum excess: Causes pseudohyperparathyroidism • Stress


Discussion

Bone is not, as many people believe, an unchanging material. In fact, each of the body’s bones is constantly being remade. No single bone strut is ever permanent. Osteoblast and osteoclast cells are constantly dissolving and reforming bone. In addition, bone acts as a reservoir of calcium and other minerals. When the blood level of calcium begins to fall, calcium is mobilized from the bones.

It has been estimated that over 30 percent of the American population suffer from calcium deficiency. The recommended adult minimum daily requirement (MDR) for calcium has been set at 800 mg per day. Pregnancy, lactation, and growth demand extra amounts of calcium. In pregnancy and lactation the MDR is raised to 1,200 mg. For infants, it is 540 mg. Some people get less calcium than they need. The aged, for example, sometimes get 450 mg or less. To maintain calcium balance, the body mobilizes calcium from the bones through the action of the parathyroid hormone (PTH). This mobilization is most pronounced at night.

Calcium needs increase with age due to multiple factors, including poor digestion, lack green vegetables (if poor teeth or lack of dentures prevents their consumption), hydrochloric acid deficiency, lack of exercise, and others. Calcium absorption is fairly inefficient, with up to 70 to 80 percent being excreted in the gut. This percentage is even greater in cases of hydrochloric acid deficiency.

Unfortunately, calcium deficiency does not show itself early. Often the first sign of osteoporosis is a broken bone or bone irregularities seen on a routine chest X-ray. Calcium deficiency will be visible on an X-ray only after 30 percent of the bone is lost.

Excessive consumption of meat is another factor leading to calcium deficiency. Meat contains twenty to fifty times more phosphorus than calcium. This leads to a loss of calcium from the bones so the body can maintain a proper phosphorus/calcium ratio in the blood. Aggravating this situation even more is the excessive meat eater who also smokes cigarettes. Cigarettes increase the acidity of the blood, which inhibits conversion of vitamin D into its active form, leading to a pseudohyperparathyroldism with bone demineralization.

Many people believe they consume enough milk and cheese to prevent calcium deficiency. Unfortunately, however, calcium absorption from these sources may be very poor in cases of dairy intolerance. In addition, the pasteurization of milk destroys enzymes needed for absorption of dairy-based calcium by the human gut. A far better source of calcium is to be found in raw green vegetables, which are high in both calcium and magnesium. It is the general lack of raw vegetables in the diet that predisposes many people to osteoporosis. Vegetarians have less incidence of osteoporosis, and one reason for this may be that the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio is much more favorable in vegetables than in dairy or meat products. Calcium is also found in nuts, seeds, legumes, and fruits.

Certain foods have also been implicated in inducing calcium deficiency and osteoporosis. Foods containing calcium oxalate bind calcium and thus make it unavailable. These foods include spinach, chard, beet greens, and chocolate. Recent research, however, questions this conclusion. The amount of calcium oxalate in these foods appears only capable of binding approximately the amount of calcium within these foods themselves, and not that in other foods taken in the same meal. Still, caution is suggested, and one should avoid excessive use of these foods in the diet.

Phytic acid, found in wheat and oats also, will also bind calcium. Wheat, however, contains the enzyme phytase, which acts in the leavening process to split phytic acid, rendering it incapable of binding calcium. This occurs only in the leavening process. A diet high in unleavened bread (or bulgur or wheat berries) can inhibit uptake of zinc and calcium and cause rickets or osteoporosis, though this seems to be a problem only for those on severely restricted diets. Oats, on the other hand, contain very little phytase, and some studies have associated a high incidence of rickets and osteoporosis in Scotland with habitual consumption of porridge. Other studies, however, stress the ability of the gut to acquire the capability to split phytic acid if accustomed to oats over several generations.

An interesting note on milk in relation to calcium absorption is that lactose, the sugar in milk, has been found to favor calcium absorption in people of northern European stock. These people seem to have a larger amount of lactase, the enzyme needed to digest milk. This seems to be a survival factor in countries with little exposure to sun.

Other research has provided more insight into causes of osteoporosis. The evidence points to the conclusion that drinking milk does not prevent osteoporosis and seems to contribute to the cause. The largest investigation on diet shows that in populations where the dietary intake of calcium and dairy products is high, the level of osteoporosis (as well as many other diseases) is the highest, and populations that have lower intakes of calcium actually have a stronger skeleton. For example, 25 million American women over age 40 have been diagnosed with osteoporosis and arthritis. These women have been drinking in excess of 1 kilo of milk per day for their entire adult lives. Scandinavians are among the world’s heaviest milk drinkers, and they have the highest rates of osteoporosis.

Some African Bantu women take in only about 350 mg of calcium per day. They bear nine children on average, which they breast-feed each for 2 years, and they rarely (if ever) suffer calcium deficiency or osteoporosis. Stone-age people did not consume animal milk; they had large, strong bones. We now know that if we adapt to (or have been brought up on) a relatively low-calcium diet, the body becomes more efficient with it: less calcium is excreted in the urine, and the body increases its rate of calcium absorption from the gut.

What Are the Causes?

Perhaps the most significant causative factor of osteoporosis is a high intake of acid-forming foods, such as dairy foods, red meat, refined sugar, and grains. These foods create a highly acidic environment in the system, especially tissues and the blood. This causes calcium loss from the blood through the kidneys, which, in turn, causes calcium loss from the bones. The pH of the blood has to be kept within the very narrow range of 7.35 to 7.45—alkaline—or else tetany, coma, and death would follow rapidly. When the body becomes highly acidic, its homeostatic control mechanisms pull calcium from the bones—calcium being an alkali mineral—in order to buffer the threat this excess acidity causes to the whole system. It is a case of a part of the body being sacrificed for the benefit of the whole.

“Osteoporosis is in fact a disease caused by a number of things, the most important of which is excess intake of protein” (because of its acidity).1 The irony here is that the overall metabolic effect of dairy foods is acid forming, whereas vegetable proteins contained in soy, nuts, brown rice, and green leafy vegetables, are not acid forming and does not pull calcium out of the bones. The problem is further complicated by the fact that most people who consume milk products (cheese, butter, etc.) tend also to consume high levels of other proteins, such as meats and grains, which are also acid forming.

These high-protein diets, which regularly include animal proteins such as red meat, white meat, fish, and dairy foods, also create an imbalance in the body’s phosphorus-to-calcium ratio. Red meat contains anywhere from 20 to 50 times more phosphorus than calcium. This excess phosphorus stimulates the parathyroid glands, which mobilize calcium from the bones, and this extra calcium is then deposited around the joints, explaining the common finding in osteoporosis of porous bones with calcium build-up around the joints. Vegetarians have less osteoporosis than meat-eaters; a good vegetarian diet will have a much better phosphorus-to-calcium ratio. Another source of excess phosphorus is soft drinks.2

Lack of magnesium in the diet can also be an important factor.3 The ideal calcium to magnesium ratio is 2 to 1. Magnesium acts with the parathyroid hormones to control calcium, and adequate serum levels of magnesium are necessary for proper calcium metabolism. Hypomagnesemia can result in hypocalcemia and peripheral resistance to the effects of vitamin D. In fact, a high calcium intake intensifies magnesium deficit, so calcium-enriched foods or supplements can disrupt the calcium to magnesium ratio and cause a relative or absolute magnesium deficiency. Given that the dietary trend in the West is away from dietary magnesium sources, such as fresh, raw green vegetables, and especially given that a stressed person requires more magnesium, it is not surprising to see osteoporosis on the increase. The best dietary sources of magnesium are the fresh leafy green vegetables.

While on the subject of vitamin D and the parathyroid hormones, remember that vitamin D is synthesized by direct exposure to the sun. There is an increasing unhealthy phobia about getting sun on the skin, and women who tend to get less sun on their bodies also demonstrate higher rates of osteoporosis. (See under Skin Cancer).

Several drugs have been found that definitely will cause osteoporosis. These include the steroids and many antibiotics. Of these, steroids are the most important, since they are frequently taken over a period of years and create an acidic environment. A frequent finding in cases of rheumatoid arthritis with steroid medication is osteoporosis with spontaneous fractures.

Reduction in estrogen levels at menopause is also a factor, but it is a relatively small factor in the onset of osteoporosis, as you would expect since low postmenopausal estrogen is an entirely natural, designed occurrence. Although estrogens are frequently used as therapy for osteoporosis in postmenopausal women it is the opinion of many experts that not only does estrogen therapy have many dangerous side effects, including cancer, but many studies reveal that it has no more effect in correcting osteoporosis than do simple calcium and mineral supplementations, and calcium has no dangerous side effects, especially if taken in dietary forms (see under Menopausal Problems).

It appears that the best preventative of postmenopausal osteoporosis is a proper diet in which acid and alkaline foods are balanced, along with proper exercise in the sunshine, drinking lots of water, and adequate (not excessive) calcium levels prior to menopause. This means careful thought long before menopause begins.


Prevention and Treatment

Diet

The diet should have an excess of green leafy vegetables and adequate sources of protein, especially vegetarian in origin. A meat-free diet is best, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains (such as brown rice, barley, and millet), nuts, sprouted seeds and beans, and fermented dairy foods such as kefir and yogurt; in short, an unrefined vegetarian or lacto-vegetarian diet. Taking extra calcium foods just before bed is useful. Salads should have a dressing containing lemon juice or cider vinegar to increase calcium absorption. Contrary to popular belief, milk and dairy sources (with the exception of fermented dairy foods) are not a very good source of absorbable calcium and should not be increased in the diet. In fact, some cases may require reduction of dairy intake to establish proper mineral balance and reduce tissue acidosis.

Physiotherapy

  • Daily exercise*
  • Sun bathing daily, if possible
  • Sea bathing

Therapeutic Agents

Vitamins and Minerals — Primary
  • Chondroitin sulphate with MSM*
  • Zinc*: (for bone alkaline phosphatase) 25 to 50 mg two times per day.
  • Magnesium*: 2,000 mg two times per day.
  • Vitamin E*: 400 to 800 IU per day.
  • Vitamin D*: 400 to 1,000 mg per day.
  • Silica*: To ensure adequate collagen synthesis.

1. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1970)

2. A. Sebastian, S. T. Harris, J. H. Ottaway, K. M. Todd, and R. C. Morris Jr., “Improved Mineral Balance and Skeletal Metabolism in Postmenopausal Women Treated with Potassium Bicarbonate,” New England Journal of Medicine 330, no. 25 (1994): 1776–81.

3. Recent research suggest that osteoporosis might also be classified as a magnesium-deficiency disease.

Suitable Treatments
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Excerpts from Better Health Through Natural Healing 3rd Edition

First published in 1985, Better Health through Natural Healing has become one of the most successful and authoritative resources of its type, with more than 1.5 million copies sold worldwide. Since the original publication of this comprehensive guide, alternative therapies have become more and more accepted by the mainstream, and patients and practitioners of the wider medical community are embracing complementary medicine as an effective treatment option for a range of medical conditions.

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