Osteoporosis: Fact and Fiction

If you’ve seen the ads on TV or in magazines, you probably think your chances of getting osteoporosis are pretty high. Perhaps you’ve even been taking calcium-enriched antacids like TUMS to treat acid reflux and prevent osteoporosis? If so, this newsletter is for you!

First of all, antacids and other medical treatments for acid reflux do not prevent osteoporosis. In fact, they can actually LEAD to osteoporosis because they rid the body of stomach acids required to digest and absorb minerals essential to healthy bones. (As a side note, many people with digestion problems have too little, rather than too much, stomach acid. Supplements like hydrochloric acid can often be helfpul.)

Secondly, osteoporosis is a terrible disease, but it is also quite preventable. The pharmaceutical industry has a vested interest in getting you to believe your chances of getting osteoporosis are high: the makers of osteoporosis-prevention drugs made over $2 billion in 2002.

In 1994, an industry study defined osteoporosis in such a way that half of all postmenopausal women suddenly met requirements for the disease. Having low bone density, which is a risk factor for developing the disease, became a disease itself. And these bone density results were based on comparing a woman’s bone density to that of a healthy 20-to-35-year-old woman. This means that completely healthy women in their 50s and 60s were suddenly considered to have a disease because their bone density compared poorly to a 20 year old’s! To make matters more confusing, there are no standards in place for machines that measure bone density (called dual energy x-ray absorptiometry machines, or DEXA). This means that you can be considered normal on one machine and severely osteoporotic on another!

CALCIUM AND OSTEOPOROSIS

The World Health Organization recommends a diet with 400 mg of calcium per day, which is about half the amount recommended in the US. For most people, this amount is enough. African Bantu women do not eat dairy foods, and they consume only half the amount of calcium consumed by the average American woman. Yet there are virtually no cases of osteoporosis in the Bantu women who exceed age 60! When Bantu women moved to wealthier societies and began eating rich foods, osteoporosis became more common, indicating that simple whole food diets play a significant role in bone health.

Simply supplementing your diet with calcium tablets is not enough to ensure bone health. For one thing, bones are made of more than just calcium, and other minerals are required for effective calcium absorption. Magnesium, in particular, is also essential for bone health, and it is often in short supply in our diets because of soil depletion from erosion, chemical fertilizers, and diets high in refined grains. The truth is that you can maintain healthy bones by exercising regularly (resistance exercises and weightlifting can be helpful); using as few prescription drugs as possible; avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco; and eating whole foods.

HIGH-CALCIUM FOODS

If you’re looking for high-calcium foods to add to your diet, here’s a few to try. (Keep in mind that organically grown vegetables have a higher nutritional content that conventionally grown veggies.)

Veggies

1 cup collard greens = 300 mg Calcium

1 cup broccoli = 150 mg

1 cup kale = 179 mg

1 cup spinach = 278 mg

1 cup rhubarb = 348 mg

Fish

1 3 ½ oz. can sardines = 300 mg

1 cup canned salmon = 431 mg

Beans and Legumes

1 cup chickpeas = 150 mg

1 cup black beans = 135 mg

1 cup pinto beans = 128 mg

Nuts and Seeds

3 T sesame seeds (ground for absorption) = 300 mg

1 cup almonds = 300 mg

1 cup hulled sunflower seeds = 174 mg

1 cup brazil nuts = 260 mg

1 cup hazelnuts = 282 mg

Mineral Waters

1 liter Perrier = 140 mg

1 liter Mendocino = 380 mg

1 liter San Pellegrino = 200 mg

Dairy

1 cup milk = 300 mg

1 cup nonfat yogurt = 294

1 cup lowfat cottage cheese = 150 mg

DON’T FORGET MAGNESIUM

Most Americans are actually more deficient in magnesium than calcium. Our soils are depleted, and foods are picked from the vine before they’ve have a chance to mature with full mineral content. Calcium must have magnesium to be used properly by the body, and just taking a calcium supplement without addressing magnesium may actually cause more problems. Calcium on its own can be constipating, and excess calcium, especially of the wrong source, can be deposited in joints and create joint stiffness and bone spurs.

Correct mineral balance is essential to the pH of your body, which is essential to good health. Remember, you get minerals, especially calcium, from a lot of sources, even water. It’s what your body does with it that is important. Avoid doing things that deplete the body of its natural calcium reserves, such as drinking soda (because of phosphates), smoking, and overeating sugars (this makes your body acidic, and then calcium from your body, especially the bones, must be used to alkalize it).

Sources:

Northrup, Christiane. Women’s Bodies. Women’s Wisdom.

West, Bruce Dr., “Health Alert.” Volume 19, Issue 11. November, 2002.

The information in this article cannot be substituted for medical advice about your unique body. Call for an appointment to discuss questions or concerns.

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