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Bone Up on Bone Disease


In North America, osteoporosis continues to be the single most common bone disease, with 40 per cent of all white women developing it in their lifetime. Yet in several other countries throughout the world, almost no one develops it.

In North America, osteoporosis continues to be the single most common bone disease, with 40 percent of all white women developing it in their lifetime. Yet in several other countries throughout the world, almost no one develops it. What are we missing?

We continue to be told that dropping estrogen levels at menopause are the cause of osteoporosis. But in 1985, the Mayo clinic found that half of all vertebral bone loss took place prior to menopause. Susan Brown, PhD, author of Better Bones, Better Body points out that if falling estrogen levels caused osteoporosis, all women would develop it. They don’t.

In several cultures, post-menopausal women have lower estrogen levels and fewer instances of osteoporosis than women in the West. Vegetarian women have lower estrogen levels but higher bone density than meat eaters. Recent research has found that estrogen levels in women with and without osteoporosis are the same.

Even more interesting, not one study using estrogen alone has shown any increase in bone mass. The reason is simple: although estrogen slows bone loss for the few years that it accelerates during menopause, the effect wears off a few years later. Estrogen cannot rebuild new bone. Women’s estrogen should drop at menopause–it’s no longer needed for reproduction and artificially high estrogen levels increase the risk for breast cancer.

For those at risk for osteoporosis, an exciting nutrient called ipriflavone is now available. Ipriflavone is a flavonoid found in alfalfa, propolis and other plants in small amounts. It direcly influences bone health. Unlike estrogen, ipriflavone does so safely and effectively.

Studies have revealed that ipriflavone works in several ways to aid bone health: it enhances the action of calcium, inhibits bone loss; promotes bone formation; promotes the deposition of the bone matrix; aids in mineral absorption into the matrix; and improves bone strength. In other words, it does everything you want a bone-promoting nutrient to do.

Numerous studies have shown that ipriflavone taken with calcium is an effective means to preventing bone loss. And now, a recent study using ipriflavone on its own found that ipriflavone is effective all by itself in treating osteoporosis.

Calcium Balance

Obviously calcium is important to bone health. The crucial factor isn’t how much calcium you take in to prevent bone loss, it is how much you lose. In North America, most women get plenty of calcium, but they also take in so many things that leach calcium that they end up with very little calcium still in their systems. People in cultures in which osteoporosis is virtually unheard of only take in 175 to 540 milligrams of calcium per day. However, they don’t consume many substances that leach calcium.

Studies show that Japanese women only need 550 mg of calcium a day, while North American women need 1,241 mg a day to off-set their diets. Excessive animal protein, sugar, phosphorus, caffeine, salt, tobacco, alcohol, cortisone and antibiotics cause this excessive calcium loss.

Research shows that eliminating animal protein can reduce calcium loss by 50 percent and that vegetarians have superior bone density. Part of the reason is because when the body breaks down protein, it produces acid that must be buffered before it can be excreted. The body uses calcium to buffer acids but that calcium is drawn from the bones.

Perhaps this is one reason why a 12-year study done at Harvard Medical School found that women who drank two or more glasses of milk a day had a 45-percent higher risk of hip fractures than women who drank less milk! Milk is high in animal protein. It also contains phosphorus which leaches calcium. Phosphorus is also found in meat and soft drinks and soft drinks have been linked to increased bone fractures. They are also high in sugar and caffeine. Sugar not only reduces calcium absorption, it increases the excretion of calcium and other key bone nutrients. The risk of hip fracture increases with caffeine consumption.

Bone-Building Nutrients

Calcium doesn’t work alone. Too much isolated calcium may cause deficiencies of magnesium and low magnesium levels are associated with osteoporosis.

Studies show that taking magnesium increases calcium absorption and bone density. It also increases the absorption of vitamin C and helps to convert vitamin D into its active form. Magnesium also stimulates hormones that preserve bone and regulates those that break it down.

Vitamin C is essential for the synthesis and repair of bone. It enhances calcium absorption and the effects of vitamin D and stimulates cells that build bone. Vitamin D helps the body absorb and deposit calcium into bone tissue.

Vitamin K helps produce osteocalcin, which helps attract calcium to bone tissue. Without vitamin K, bones would be as soft as chalk. Since vitamin K supplementation is illegal in Canada, the best way to get it is to eat plenty of leafy green vegetables and drink green tea. Antibiotics wipe out the friendly flora that produce vitamin K, so if you take antibiotics, take probiotics to replenish the friendly flora.

Boron (also illegal in Canada) is another nutrient crucial for bone health. The best way to get boron is through leafy greens, apples, cherries, almonds, hazelnuts, beans and pears. Nettle is one of the best bone herbs there are, since it contains boron and a whole lot more for bone health. Just three mg a day of boron has been shown in studies to prevent calcium and magnesium loss in post-menopausal women.

Other important nutrients for the bones are B6, B12 and folic acid, the trio that blocks homocysteine. Homocysteine interferes with collagen cross linking, which causes defective bones.

Deficiencies of manganese can increase bone breakdown and decrease bone mineralization. Zinc is crucial to bone health. It helps with calcium absorption and vitamin D activity.

Anyone who takes all of these nutrients and is still having bone trouble should look to their digestive systems. Low digestive enzymes prevent the absorption and utilization of nutrients that build bone. Taking digestive enzymes can help.

Finally, try drinking the following herbs as teas for bone health: nettle, rich in silica, calcium, magnesium, vitamins D and K and boron; camomile, rich in calcium; alfalfa, rich in minerals, vitamins D and K; and dandelion, rich in silica, minerals, vitamins D and K, boron, calcium and B vitamins.

These teas are highly absorbable and taste quite pleasant. Consume three to four cups a day for strong bones.



Innovation for Good

Innovation for Good

Neil ZevnikNeil Zevnik