Our bones are an important asset of our body. They make up our body’s framework and give it the support and strength it needs to build a strong foundation for survival. Our bones are a complex mixture of minerals and vitamins and require attention time and time again in order to not disrupt their natural balance. While we tend to practice negligence when it comes to taking care of ourselves, the consequences are so dire that the phrase ”Better safe than sorry”, becomes all the more significant and valid.
There are a number of complications that arise as a result of not taking care of our bones adequately and deprivations that lead to various bone diseases. One such disease that plagues a vast majority of the human population is Osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a bone disease characterized by a decrease in bone density, where the body loses too much bone mass, causing them to become fragile and susceptible to breakage and bone fracture. The fractures may be caused due to falling or tripping, but in severe conditions, this can result from just minor activities such as sneezing or minor bumps. Osteoporosis literally translates to “porous bone”. When seen under the microscope, bones have a honeycomb structure with pores in between them. When a person is suffering from osteoporosis, the holes in the honeycomb structure become much larger than normal. The result is excessive loss of bone mass or density and bones becoming susceptible to fracture. An osteoporotic bone has an abnormal tissue structure. Here are some other facts about osteoporosis.
• Fractures caused by osteoporosis are more common than cases of stroke, heart attacks, and breast cancers combined
• Osteoporosis is responsible for 70 to 90% of the hip fractures caused annually
• This disease can develop at any age and can affect people of any sex; male or female
• The risk increases with age and females are more susceptible to develop osteoporosis than men
• Women become even more susceptible after menopause, as they start to lose bone mass at a higher rate
• The most common sites to encounter osteoporotic fractures are the spine, hip, shoulder, and wrist
• As the levels of estrogen decrease in the body, the osteoblasts, aka the cells that produce bones, are unable to perform their function as effectively as they did before
• It is believed that every 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men suffer from osteoporosis
• Osteoporosis is responsible for over 80% of fracture cases in people over the age of 50
• Osteoporosis is said to be a “pediatric disease with geriatric consequences”, as peak bone is achieved at an early age (16-20 for women and 20-25 for men). Therefore, building strong bones since childhood is the best way to prevent the development of osteoporosis in the future
• Humans begin to experience bone loss in their mid-30s
• No single cause for the development of osteoporosis has been identified as of yet
Although there are many treatment options available for osteoporosis, including medications and estrogen replacement therapy, let’s take a look into some of the more natural ways to manage osteoporosis;
1. Getting adequate basic nutrients;
We live in a time and era where our most basic bodily requirements are not fully met. We consume foods that aren’t natural and organic, get less exposure to sun, eat processed foods with harmful chemicals, consume meats that aren’t hormonally manipulated, eat unhealthy junk food etc. our diets rarely consist of fruits and vegetables, despite the fact that the easiest way to stay healthy and nourished is to incorporate fruits and vegetables into our diets and cut down protein consumption. The most important nutrients needed by our bones are calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin-D. Although eating healthy food generally meets our daily requirements of these nutrients, sometimes we may have to incorporate supplements to meet our needs. Other nutrients known to benefit bone health include; phosphorus, potassium, zinc, Vitamin-B12, Vitamin-C, Vitamin-K etc.
2. Cut down protein consumption:
Everyone loves eating meat, but taking too much of it is detrimental to your bone, as well as overall health. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Too much protein in the body causes excess acid production, which in turn causes too much calcium loss in the urine. Therefore, it is necessary to keep your protein intake in check.
3. Stomach acid isn’t bad:
Acidity is rather disturbing and we take all kinds of medications to rid ourselves of the problem. Prolonged intake of antacids causes a decrease in stomach acid which eventually leads to weakened bones, as acid is necessary for nutrient absorption. By blocking the production of stomach acid, the risk for osteoporosis increases. Therefore, be wary of prolonged exposure to stomach acid blocking agents.
4. Sunlight is necessary:
Nobody wants to get that unhealthy tan and unnecessary exposure to sunlight, leading to increased risk of developing skin cancer. But sunlight is mandatory for our bodies and getting some sun is essential for bones. Vitamin D deficiency has become nothing less than an epidemic in today’s world. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and its deposition in the bones. Vitamin D is produced by your skin cells when they are exposed to sunlight. However, too much sunlight and direct exposure can lead to skin cancer. Therefore, many people opt for Vitamin D supplements, which provide around 400 to 800 IU of Vitamin D. The amount of sunlight needed by our bodies differs according to where on Earth we are located. The further away you are from the equator, the lesser your skin will produce Vitamin D.
5. Hormones for healthy bones:
Women reach menopause around the age of 50 where the levels of hormone decrease and their periods stop. Andropause is the male equivalent of menopause. As the levels of testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone decline; bone loss increases and leads to osteoporosis. One of the major reasons causing osteoporosis is hormonal imbalance and deficiencies. Not just sex hormones, but hormones such as cortisol, insulin and parathyroid hormones also have an influence on bone health. Elevated levels of insulin indicate bone loss. Elevated levels of calcium in serum might indicate excessive levels of parathyroid hormone. Cortisol is a stress hormone and also affects bone health. It is important to keep your hormones levels in check in order to prevent or worsen osteoporosis.
6. Diet is important:
Elevated insulin levels caused by excessive consumption of refined sugars and starches may worsen osteoporosis. It is therefore important to adopt a “low glycemic index” diet. A low glycemic diet consists of foods that do not increase your insulin or blood sugar levels too drastically. It includes lean meat, beans, good fats, and vegetables. Fiber also helps in maintaining a healthy diet. When taken before meals, they help in digestion and lower the blood sugar and cholesterol levels by slowing down sugar absorption.
Calcium is essential for bone health. Your body needs calcium and phosphorus to build and maintain healthy bones. Calcium is a mineral that cannot be produced in the body. Therefore, all the calcium needed by your body has to come from outside sources. If your calcium intake is inadequate, your bones and muscles will become weak and susceptible to breakage. The RDA for calcium is around 1200 milligrams a day (for women above the age of 51 and men over 70 years old). It is also important to realize the right kind of calcium to intake. Calcium carbonate is a form of calcium that is poorly absorbed and also decreases the stomach acid levels. Calcium hydroxyapatite and calcium citrate are the forms of calcium that are best for the body. The recommended intake is around 500 mg at one time. It is important to realize that calcium alone will never be enough. If your body is Vitamin D deficient, the calcium will not be absorbed and thus offer no advantage. Calcium-rich foods include dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese etc, as well as dark green vegetables (kale, collard, spinach etc), tofu, seeds (sesame, poppy, chia) etc. Calcium supplements can be prescribed to you if your doctor deems it necessary.
8. Foods to be wary of:
Foods that are rich in phosphorus are bad for bones as they cause excessive bone loss. Foods like red meat, soft drinks etc. Alcohol consumption should also be limited as they can increase insulin and sugar levels and damage bones. Caffeine also promotes bone loss. A single cup of coffee could make you lose around 150 mg of calcium in the urine. Smoking is also hazardous, as in every other situation.
As it goes for your overall health, exercise is also beneficial for healthy bones and managing osteoporosis. Exercise for osteoporosis focuses on bone strengthening, such as running, walking, and aerobics etc. Exercise isn’t just beneficial for physical health but is also essential for your mental health.
10. Say goodbye to stress:
Stress causes bone loss by elevating cortisol levels, which in turn causes insulin resistance and increased blood sugar levels. Adopting activities such as yoga, meditation, soothing exercises, getting adequate sleep etc can help you keep your stress levels at bay.
In short, the best treatment for osteoporosis includes taking good care of your bones at an early age and maintaining bone health throughout the years by making necessary adjustments in diet and lifestyle. A bone density test can be taken to check whether you are suffering from osteoporosis or not, before the incidence of a broken bone. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!