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Bones for Life

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The word osteoporosis comes directly from Latin, meaning "porous bones." Not a desirable condition. Bones need to be dense and solid in order to support an active, healthy body. Porous bones are brittle, fragile, liable to break without warning, to shrink in size over time and create long-term pain and misery.

The word osteoporosis comes directly from Latin, meaning "porous bones." Not a desirable condition. Bones need to be dense and solid in order to support an active, healthy body. Porous bones are brittle, fragile, liable to break without warning, to shrink in size over time and create long-term pain and misery. Contrary to popular opinion this often begins decades before menopause.

Knowing how osteoporosis happens gives you the tools to prevent or reverse this devastating condition. During your teen years, you will form between 40 to 60 percent of your bone mass!

Mom was right. For your body to grow well, it absolutely requires optimum nutrition. In eating whole, plant-based foods, you will take in a variety of health-giving minerals and vitamins.

All of us, teens and adults alike, have bodies that are in a continual process of rebuilding and repairing. When your meals and snacks include more than rare instances of trans-fatty foods, animal proteins (meats), soft drinks, coffee, black teas (not herbal), caffeine, salt, sugar and yeast, a healthy mineral balance is lost. Typically eating large amounts of foods containing oxalic acid (such as spinach, chocolate, rhubarb and asparagus) when you are not eating calcium-rich foods will also cause calcium losses. All these items will increase calcium excretion and force your body to steal calcium from your bones.

Shun Sinful Sugar

When the minerals calcium, phosphorus and magnesium are not in proper combination with each other, bone loss occurs. Do you remember the game played with a tower of wooden blocks, in which players take turns removing blocks until the tower topples? Think of those blocks as vitamins and minerals in your body, and you'll have a clear idea of what a poor diet does to your bones. You might not get into trouble until you've been playing the game for a while.

Forget pop! Most sodas contain more sugar than a big bowl of ice cream and sugar causes big calcium losses. What's worse are the large amounts of phosphates in carbonated drinks and yeast. When we take in so much phosphorus, we overturn the proper calcium/phosphorus balance (2.5:1). This causes huge losses of calcium throughout your body particularly from bones.

According to the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, teen girls who drink pop are more prone to have bone fractures and osteoporosis later in life than girls who avoid pop. When there are inadequate amounts of vitamins D (sunlight, fish oils) and C (fresh fruits and vegetables) in your diet, calcium is not used properly and bones are poorly built. An absence of the trace minerals manganese, iodine, silica, sulfur and boron will result in poor absorption and use of calcium, as well as poor storage of calcium (in your bones). ("Trace" minerals means that our bodies require very small amounts of these nutrients.)

So what foods should young people be eating? Lots of organic foods. Rich sources of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and manganese are raw milk cheeses and yogurt, tofu, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, carrots, broccoli, dark leafy greens, oatmeal, good blackstrap molasses, dried peas and beans, eggs, nuts, whole grains and most herbs.

Sulfur is found in the broccoli family (cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, mustard greens, kohlrabi), garlic, onions, eggs, legumes and nuts, while silica is abundant in whole grains and some herbs.

Exercise Essential

You shouldn't be surprised to learn that vegetarian women have a lower risk of osteoporosis than their meat-eating peers. Some recent studies indicate that eating fruits and vegetables rich in potassium and magnesium is more important to bone density than calcium intake. In fact, the National Dairy Council funded a study in 1985 to prove drinking milk made strong bones-and buried the findings. The women who drank milk actually lost bone density during the study!

So if you're thinking that building strong bones relies heavily on good nutrition, you're on the right track. However, great food alone won't stave off osteoporosis. Exercise is a huge factor in bone health. Astronauts and bed-bound convalescents show significant bone density loss after only a brief period of being off their feet. Exercise like aerobics, walking, jogging, running, skipping, dancing, tennis, racquetball, badminton, volleyball, soccer and basketball is essential to building and maintaining strong bones. One study indicated that the intensity of exercise is far less important than exercising daily or almost daily. Another study found that calcium supplementation has very little effect on bone growth and density compared to a good diet and exercise.

Here are some interesting facts: runners have higher than average bone density in their spines, while tennis players have a greater bone density in their serving arm than in the other.
But what else can you do?

Avoiding cigarettes is good for your bones because nicotine interferes with your body's ability to use calcium. (Smoking will also speed up menopause. If you smoke, expect to reach menopause five years ahead of your friends.) Quite a few prescription medications will also interfere with proper calcium absorption and storage. Here's the list: antibiotics, antacids, anti-seizure agents, anticoagulants, diuretics and steroids (birth control pills, cortisone preparations and hormones). What amounts of minerals, trace minerals and vitamins should you take? What herbs have proven helpful?

A variety of studies have been done to halt established osteoporosis. Horsetail as a tea, taken two to three times daily, or in powdered form from your health food store has demonstrated its ability to increase bone density (and heal and build cartilage). Another double-blind study had one group of post-menopausal women taking calcium (1,000 mg), manganese (5 mg), copper (2.5 mg) and zinc (15 mg). Not only did the supplemented group not lose bone density, they actually increased it "significantly."

Copper and zinc are found in their proper ratio, and in abundance, in blackstrap molasses (take one to two tablespoons per day), as well as in nuts, seeds and whole grains. (If you take zinc supplements, it's possible to upset this balance and cause a copper deficiency that leads into anemia. However, with all the copper pipes in our plumbing, we might just already be taking in more copper than we need.)

If you consistently eat whole, unprocessed food and avoid those unnatural foods that strip your body of the calcium it needs, as well as exercise moderately, expect strong bones. And remember use them so you don't lose them! However, avoid excessive exercise, over-training and harsh dieting, especially in your teen years. These can cause losses of essential fat stores that your body depends on for making and storing estrogen. Estrogen is very important for your body to absorb, use and store calcium. Keep that tower of blocks solid, and years from now, you'll still be walking tall.

A Recipe for Strong Bones

Consume about 1,000 mg of calcium daily (calcium carbonate is the best source of usable calcium in a supplement, according to studies), 400 mg of phosphorus, 500 mg of magnesium, 200 600 IU vitamin D (except during warm, sunny times when you can expose skin to outside weather for 15 minutes each day), from 500 2,000 mg vitamin C, 2,000 3,000 mg kelp (iodine source).

These servings can easily be provided with a healthy diet of organic, whole, unprocessed foods; otherwise, make up the balance with supplementation. With nutritious organic foods on your plate, trace amounts of silica, sulfur, manganese and boron will be served up, too. Take herbs such as horsetail (rich in silica and minerals!), stinging nettle (another rich mineral source, includes vitamin D, which is rarely found in plants), black cohosh, oat straw, alfalfa, raspberry leaf, barley grass, dandelion, parsley, rosehips and yucca in tea, tincture or capsule form. These offer a range of elements to foster healthy bones.

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