WHAT IS OSTEOPOROSIS?
Osteoporosis means porous bones. There is a continuous breaking down and building up of bone cells all the time. Osteoblasts are the cells that break down bone cells, while osteoclasts build them up. When the breakdown phase is faster than the building phase bones become weak, subsequently leading to osteoporosis. Bones are made up of hardened connective tissue and calcified minerals and there are two main types: cortical bone, which accounts for around 80% of our bone mass and is found in long bones and in the skull, and trabecular bone, which accounts for the other 20% and is found in the ends of the long bones, the spine and the pelvis.
Trabecular bone is lost more rapidly than cortical bone. The ageing process will cause an inevitable reduction in bone density, tall and thin (Ectomorph) body types seem to be the most susceptible. However this condition is not exclusive to only one body type or gender, one in 3 woman and one in 12 men develop the disease. This is an age related disease, although there is evidence to suggest that a poor diet in adolescents could contribute to its onset in adulthood.
How is osteoporosis caused?
There are several factors that can contribute to osteoporosis.
Heredity - those with a family history of bone fracture or loss of bone density have a high risk of developing the condition.
Stress - this can be emotional or physical. Adrenal glands become over worked, impairs digestion, which in turn increases acidity in the body. Minerals are leached from bone to alkalize the lowering PH levels.
Premature menopause - oestrogen is an important bone-protecting hormone, it helps prevent bones being dissolved. Oestrogen is lowered during the menopause.
Exercise - the correct balance of exercise is essential for bone health, too much can lead to bone loss, however the correct amount of weight bearing exercise can help strengthen bones. Exercises have to be weight bearing exercises like running, hill walking and body weight resistance exercises. Swimming and bike riding are not as affective.
Medication - steroids, diuretics, laxatives and thyroxine can contribute to bone loss.
Weight - whether from simply not eating enough calories or due to an eating disorder, being underweight will increase bone loss. Fat cells produce the important hormone oestrogen.
Digestion - poor digestion will prevent essential nutrients needed for bone health. Low stomach acid needed for the breakdown and absorption of important minerals needed for bones.
Blood sugar imbalance - adrenal glands can be put under stress when blood sugar is imbalanced. Adrenal glands help with the production of oestrogen during menopause.
Poor diet - simply not eating enough, not eating the all-important nutrients needed for bones and also consuming too many foods high in animal protein. Animal protein increases the bodies acidity levels, calcium is then cleaved from bones to neutralise the acidity.
Excessive sulphate - sulphate can increase calcium loss. If you suffer from osteoporosis, avoid glucosamine sulphate supplements.
Excessive levels of heavy metals - aluminium can increase levels of bone loss.
As already mentioned the hormone oestrogen is vital for good bone health. During the menopause the ovaries stop producing oestrogen, this is the reason post-menopausal women are more at risk of osteoporosis. Irregular menstrual cycles before a woman reaches the menopause can also increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Eating a diet high in phytoestrogens can help to balance oestrogen levels. Phytoestrogens are adaptagenic molecules found in plants, which have a gentle oestrogenic affect, which can be significant when oestrogen levels are low. Phytoestrogens are found in soya, linseed, whole grains and legumes.
Smoking can cause premature onset of the menopause by up to a year and a half.
Stress can contribute to osteoporosis for several reasons. It increases acidity in the body, which causes calcium to be leached from bones and teeth. Digestion is impaired when your body is in a stressed state, therefore eating while stressed can impair digestion, inhibiting absorption of essential bone nutrients such as calcium and magnesium. While in a stressed state, adrenalin is released from the adrenal glands. Chronic stress can cause our adrenal glands to become overworked. This is significant because during and after the menopause the adrenal glands are needed to produce oestrogen when the ovaries stop producing it. If the adrenals are under-functioning they may not be able to produce enough oestrogen subsequently affecting bone health. It is therefore important to reduce stress as much as possible. The hormones released during chronic stress (adrenalin and cortisol) also have a bone thinning affect.
Blood sugar imbalance
To maintain energy and health, blood sugar (glucose) levels need to be kept at a steady level throughout the day. If blood sugar levels fall too low after a period of not eating or from eating the wrong foods, adrenalin is produced. This causes the release of glucose in order to raise sugar levels to provide energy. If blood sugar levels are allowed to constantly fall too low it can place the adrenal glands under stress, which as we have seen, can adversely affect the production of oestrogen after the menopause. Eating slow releasing carbohydrate with protein, and eating little and often is key to balancing blood sugar levels.
Poor digestion can impact the absorption of nutrients needed for bone health such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, boron and vitamin K. Digestion can be impaired by factors such as food allergies, lack of stomach acid (needed to break-down proteins), stress, lack of beneficial bacteria, some medication and lack of fibre. Digestion begins in the mouth so it's important to remember to chew food very thoroughly. You should also avoid eating when stressed if possible as this diverts blood away from the digestive system. Also avoid drinking too much at mealtimes as this dilutes stomach acid.
Diet - increase the following
Vitamins and minerals - increase your intake of magnesium, zinc, calcium, boron, vitamin K, vitamin D, B vitamins and the essential fats.
Phytoestrogens - increase your intake of phytoestrogens to balance oestrogen levels. These are found in fruit and vegetables, linseeds, soya beans, tofu, miso, soya milk, legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and whole grains such as brown rice, rye, buckwheat and oats. Note that not all soya is the same. Fermented soy products such as miso, natto and tempeh are easier to digest than unfermented products such as soya milk and tofu. Fermented soy products also have higher levels of phytoestrogens.
Flavonoid ipriflavone - increase your intake of the flavonoid, ipriflavone (an antioxidant), which has been found to enhance the effect of oestrogen on preventing bone loss. It also encourages the growth of bone building cells. Ipriflavone is found in alfalfa and beans.
Fruits and vegetables - include at least eight portions of fruit and vegetables in your diet each day. Fruit and vegetables are high in nutrients and phytoestrogens, and help to alkalise the body and so preserve calcium in the bones.
Essential fatty acids - increase your intake of essential fatty acids found in oily fish, nuts and seeds. Essential fats are needed to balance hormones, and can also increase calcium absorption from the gut and reduce its loss. Oily fish includes salmon (organic, wild salmon is best), mackerel, sardines, fresh tuna, herrings, trout. Snack on walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Grind seeds in a coffee grinder (include linseeds) and add the mixture to your porridge or to salads (once ground keep the mixture in the fridge to keep it fresh).
Organic foods - buy organic when possible. The use of pesticides can disrupt hormone balance, so it is best to eat organic food as much as possible. Buying organic grains such as oats, brown rice, rye bread should be prioritised. Grains are small, but a portion has a large surface area so they are covered with more chemicals than some other foods.
Calcium and vitamin D - calcium absorption requires the presence of other minerals, especially Vitamin D, magnesium and phosphorous. These are abundant in nuts, seeds, soya produce and whole grains. If taking a calcium supplement check that other minerals, especially magnesium, are also present. Regular exposure to sunlight is also important. 20 minutes without sun cream to maximise exposure. This increases production of Vitamin D, which aids calcium absorption.
Diet - decrease the following
Meat, fish and dairy protein - reduce your intake of meat, fish and diary protein as these foods make your body more acidic and cause calcium to be leached from the bones. Replace these foods with vegetable protein (e.g. nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, miso), which are less acid forming.
Fats - avoid saturated fats and hydrogenated fats. Saturated fats can block the absorption of other nutrients and also hinder the absorption of the essential fats. Saturated fats are found in meat and dairy products. Hydrogenated fats are found in many processed foods such as margarines, cakes and biscuits. These fats also interfere with the absorption of the essential fats.
Caffeine - reduce your intake of caffeine. The caffeine in coffee and tea depletes the body of essential minerals which are needed for a healthy hormone balance, causes rapid rises in blood sugar levels, and causes an acidic reaction. Substitute coffee with herbal teas and plenty of water.
Sugary foods - avoid sugary foods such as cakes, biscuits and chocolate. High sugar intake can cause imbalances in blood sugar level and can contribute to hormonal imbalances. Sugar also depletes the body’s supply of nutrients and causes an acidic reaction. Replace sugary foods with fruit, dried fruit and nuts / seeds, or a small amount of dark chocolate.
Alcohol - reduce your alcohol intake as alcohol interferes with vitamin D synthesis and subsequently calcium absorption, it also directly inhibits calcium absorption.
Salt - reduce or eliminate your salt intake as salt leaches calcium from the body.
Fizzy drinks - eliminate fizzy drinks as they contain phosphorous which draws calcium from the bones, and causes blood sugar imbalance.
Yeast - avoid yeast products (i.e. most breads and alcohol) as yeast is also high in phosphorous.
Useful tips for joint health
- Self-help techniques to improve joint mobility and flexibility include the Alexander technique, yoga, pilates, tai chi and qi gong.
- Start and end the day with some simple stretches.
- Always warm up before exercise with muscle stretching.
- Always having a 'cool down' period with further stretches at the end of exercise.
- Vary the type of exercise that you do.
- Avoid repetitive strain on a particular joint.
- Ensure good posture when working at a desk or on computers.
- Take regular breaks from desk work to walk around and stretch.
- Use both sides of the body evenly, for example switching sides when sweeping or carrying bags.
- Vary your sleeping position.
- Take a healthy diet.
- Supplementing with Glucosamine and Chondroitin can benefit the joints as these are key components of synovial fluid and cartilage.
Important bone health nutrients
- Calcium and magnesium - increases bone density, better taken at night as they have a calming, relaxing affect.
- Vitamin K - glues calcium into bone matrix.
- Zinc - essential for bone building.
- Vitamin D - needed for calcium and phosphorous absorption.
- Boron - needed to convert vitamin D into its active form, and helps in the production of oestrogen.
- Vitamin B6 - is an essential nutrient for many enzyme reactions related to bone building.