Did you know that osteoporosis affects one in three women over the age of 50, and one in five men?
With osteoporosis, you’ve lost enough bone density that you have an increased risk of fracturing your bones. The bones that are most likely to fracture are in your vertebrae and hips.
Although all your bones are susceptible, a hip fracture when you’re older can really be devastating, leaving you bedridden for long periods of time. This can increase your risk of blood clots, bed sores, and pneumonia. Elderly people can actually die from the complications of hip fractures.
When your vertebrae start to fracture due to osteoporosis, it can not only cause a loss of height, but your vertebrae start compressing your discs, resulting in severe pain and nerve issues.
Thankfully, osteoporosis is preventable.
Osteoporosis is more common in adults over the age of 50 because of the hormonal changes that occur at midlife. When your sex hormones start to decline, it affects your bone density.
It’s important to understand how your bones are formed so you can understand why keeping your hormones balanced is so crucial. First of all, estrogen is the hormone that prevents excessive bone loss, while progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and human growth hormone, all help to grow new bone.
Bone cells are called osteocytes, and there are two types. The first type are called osteoclasts, which resorb old bone. It’s necessary for your bone to constantly restructure so that every 12 to 18 months, you have a whole new skeleton. Osteoclasts eat away the old minerals in the bone and amino acid matrix that holds the minerals together in order for you to build new bone. Osteoclasts are inhibited by estrogen.
The other type of osteocytes are called osteoblasts. Osteoblasts lay down new bone by forming the amino acid matrix, which is like a web that holds the minerals to create the bone density. Osteoblasts are stimulated by hormones – progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and growth hormone.
Deficient hormones affect your bone density and cause osteoporosis, but there are other factors as well. Your lifestyle has a huge impact on your bone density. Exercise can increase bone density. If you’ve been sedentary most of your life, you’re going to have less bone density than if you were active.
When astronauts leave the gravitational pull of Earth’s orbit, they start losing bone, because gravity itself helps increase bone density. The best exercise to increase bone density is weight bearing exercises like walking, running, dancing, or jump roping. Weight resistance exercise where you lift weights, or use your own body weight as resistance also helps build healthy bones.
Your diet also plays a huge role in bone density. By the time you’re in your early 30s, you’ve laid down the maximum amount of bone that you’ll have for life. If you’ve had poor nutrition in childhood, and young adulthood, you’re going to have less bone density than you would have with proper nutrition. If you start off with low bone density, you’re more likely to develop osteoporosis by midlife.
What’s the best diet for healthy bones?
Bones and the hormones that influence their growth need a lot of nutrients. A plant-based diet, like the Mediterranean diet, provides enough micronutrients, including vital bone minerals. Make sure that you’re getting a variety of fruits, vegetables, and legumes to help increase your mineral intake.
While calcium is the most important mineral for bone density, there’s also other minerals like magnesium, boron and phosphorus that help build bone as well. These minerals can be found in a variety of plant foods. You need an adequate amount of protein, at least a half a gram of protein per pound of lean body mass every day, to provide the amino acids to create the optimal bone matrix.
In contrast, certain foods can contribute to bone loss. Excessive soda intake can actually increase the risk of bone loss, because the phosphorus in the carbonation will start to leach calcium out of your bones.
We also know that people who eat a very acidic diet, meaning mostly sugar, too many processed foods, and too much meat, have lower bone density than people who eat a more plant-based diet. The best for sources of calcium are from dairy products, although you can get calcium from certain plant foods. Leafy greens need to be cooked for the best absorption of minerals, and small fish with bones like sardines are an excellent source of calcium as well.
For optimal bone density, you also need to make sure that your body is making enough vitamin D. Just eating vitamin D is not adequate, as most vitamin D added to food is D2. Your body needs active vitamin D3. You may need to take a vitamin D3 supplement if your vitamin D is low. While anything under 30 is considered low serum-wise, keeping your vitamin D around 50 is better for your hormone health. Vitamin D helps act as a prohormone, which helps hormones get into cells. Vitamin D also helps protect your bones and boosts your immune system.
I make sure my patients with osteoporosis are eating a super healthy diet. I prefer they get most of their calcium from their diet, at least 1000 to 1200 milligrams a day. And if they need more, we supplement them with 500 milligrams or less of calcium. We make sure their vitamin D levels stay around 50, and if necessary, supplement them with a triglyceride form of vitamin D.
How do you measure bone density?
Bone density is measured by an x-ray called a DEXA scan. Dexa scans measure the amount of calcium in your vertebrae as well as your hips, and compare it to other people of your gender, height and ethnicity. Certain ethnicities tend to have lighter, less dense bones.
If you start to lose a little bit of bone, it’s called osteopenia, which can progress to osteoporosis, if you don’t take control of the loss.
DEXA scans are usually done every 12 to 18 months. Doing them any sooner than that will not show significant changes from any efforts you’ve made to try to increase your bone density.
There’s also a way to measure active bone loss. A urine crosslinks test measures the amino acid crosslinks of the bone matrix that are being leached out rapidly due to excessive bone loss. It’s a single urine sample that can be done more frequently, every eight weeks or so, to be sure that you are actually stopping bone loss.
What to do about your bone loss
Though things like exercise and diet can help prevent bone loss, estrogen therapy is key to stopping bone loss. There are drugs called bisphosphonates that can also help to reduce bone loss.
I typically repeat urine cross links tests to be sure my patients are not actively losing bone. Estrogen stops bone loss in women, while testosterone actually can help men because it can be converted into estrogen. We then start working on bone building through exercise, as well as hormone replacement. I then make sure my patients are making or getting adequate amounts of progesterone, DHEA, testosterone, and human growth hormone (HGH).
I never prescribe HGH without making sure that they’re getting the other hormonal bone building blocks. We have to be sure they’re doing weight bearing and weight resistance exercise so the growth hormone will actually build bone, and not grow things that we don’t want, like tumors.
And always, I recommend supporting the hypothalamus with Genesis Gold®. Without hypothalamic support, we have to use a lot more hormones to get our bones healthy again. I’ve had patients be able to reverse their bone loss with hypothalamic support, hormone supplementation, in addition to an intense exercise and dietary regime. With the right support, you can get those bones back and prevent osteoporosis.
We talk a lot about how to balance hormones in order to prevent and treat osteoporosis in our Hormone Support Group, which you can access through our free Hormone Reboot Training. I hope you’ll join us.