November 06, 2001
Osteoporosis is a disease that can affect up to one in two females and one in three males over the age of 60. Often described as the 'silent killer', osteoporosis can cause bones to fracture easily and can lead to more serious complications, including death. While there is currently no cure for the disease, there are many simple and effective ways to prevent it. By Shannon Rooney.
Osteoporosis is a disorder of the bones where the aging process and natural depletion of reproductive hormones, most commonly at menopause, causes bones to become more porous and weak. Symptoms include aches and pains in the joints, and at advanced stages, bone fractures. There are a range of treatments from exercise and nutrition, natural therapies such as acupuncture and herbalism, to drug therapies including HRT.
Osteoporosis affects both sexes, can be inherited and is more prevalent in women than men. Current hormonal treatment for prostate cancer has been linked to new cases of osteoporosis in men.
Prevention always beats cure and a healthy lifestyle incorporating a strong diet and regular exercise is the best prevention for osteoporosis, as well as many other chronic diseases including arthritis and diabetes.
No matter what your age regular exercise is very beneficial to health and well being. The earlier you start the better, and best exercises for building bone density include weight bearing exercises, especially those strengthening the back. Careful weight training can also benefit the elderly. Long brisk walks as often as possible aid bone density, mobility and can ease osteoarthritic pain.
Minerals such as calcium are crucial for strong bones, and should be taken throughout life. Dietary sources of calcium include milk and soy drinks/tofu, (especially calcium-fortified), yoghurt, cheese, shrimp, dark green vegetables, canned salmon or sardines, black strap molasses, calcium-fortified tofu and almonds. The standard recommended daily dose (RDA) for adolescents and adults is 1200-1300mg, jumping to 2000mg for breast-feeding women.
Calcium supplements can also be taken, though high daily amounts of calcium (2000mg or more) can cause side effects, such as kidney stones. Two Harvard studies have found daily calcium dosage of 2500mg or more may increase a man's risk of developing prostate cancer. Keeping daily calcium intake below 1800/2000mg or so is recommended (unless breast-feeding).
Taking large amounts of antacids or sodium can impair calcium absorption (reduce the salt!), and supplements should be taken after meals.
Other minerals which have been shown to help with bone density include potassium, magnesium, phosphorous and zinc. Excessive doses of magnesium (RDA 350mg) may be harmful for those with diabetes or kidney disease. Vitamin D aids calcium absorption and is also recommended.
Studies suggest a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables reduce calcium elimination and help preserve bone strength. Diets rich in fast foods and carbonated soft drinks have been linked to weak bones.
Recent Chinese research into more effective treatments for osteoporosis has favourably compared a combination of acupuncture and Chinese medicinal herbs to hormonal treatment.
The recent study compared the effects of hormonal treatment; acupuncture; Chinese herbal medicine and a combination of herbal medicine and acupuncture in 100 mice.
After a month of daily treatment the mice's bone density was tested, showing the hormonal treatment increased the bone density slightly more than either acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine alone. However the group treated with the acupuncture and herbal medicine combination returned the highest bone density results.
Research leader Dr HS Tseng also conducted a six-month study on 68 osteoporosis patients, those receiving acupuncture and herbs reported less bone pain than those on HRT.
Hormones are crucial to bone density, which suffers from natural hormonal depletion during menopause. As menopause suddenly reduces oestrogen levels, the body exhibits it's shock at the sudden change through symptoms such as hot flushes, excessive sweating and decreased libido.
Treatments such as acupuncture and herbs serve to strengthen and aid the pituitary gland that releases hormones to the bloodstream, and substances such as yam cream can help to balance hormone levels and counteract menopausal symptoms.
Continual synthetic hormone treatment can interfere with the natural function of the pituitary gland, mimicking its action and making it 'lazy'. HRT treatments therefore tend to promote dependency and be long term.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) provides either oestrogen alone or oestrogen and progesterone in pill form. Taken daily it counteracts menopausal symptoms and helps with bone density, though there are potential side effects. While it is shown to give some protection against colon cancer, it has been linked to increased risk of breast cancer, and oestrogen HRT has been linked to uterine cancer. Other side effects can include increased risk of blood clots, and possible vaginal bleeding and breast pain.
Recent studies have shown a slightly increased risk of heart attack and stroke in the first two years of HRT.
Bisphosphonates are non-hormonal and stick to the bone surface and reduce actions of cells that break down and destroy bone tissue less effective. They have been shown to reduce the risk of further fracture in those suffering from osteoporosis.
Specific Oestrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMS) have been shown to increase bone mineral density in post-menopausal women. They also have benefits for the heart and may reduce the risk of breast cancer. They are not HRT and will not relieve menopausal symptoms.
Osteoporosis has many prevention and treatment options, which should be discussed with your doctor and/or complimentary medical practitioner.
For more information contact your state office of Osteoporosis Australia on 1800 242 141.
By Shannon Rooney
Reprinted with permission from Editforce