- 3 Natural Ways to Build Bones and Prevent Osteoporosis
- Calcium, Vitamin D, and Your Bones
- 1. Engage in Weight-Bearing Exercise
- 2. Eat Plants and Fermented Foods
- 3. Get More Sleep
- Natural Osteoporosis Treatment
- Osteoporosis Diet
- Osteoporosis Prevention
- What is the best natural treatment for osteoporosis?
- 1 – Try a vitamin D supplement
- 2 – Increase magnesium intake
- 3 – Address low stomach acid
- 4 – Tackle stress
- 5 – Make dietary changes
- 6 – Avoid fizzy juice and caffeine
- 7 – Do some moderate exercise
- Should I take calcium for osteoporosis?
- A New Disease?
- 1. Stop the Pop!
- 2. Cut down on Protein
- 3. Keep Your Stomach Acid!
- 4. Cut out Caffeine!
- 5. Get the Right Kind of Calcium
- 6. Get Some Sun!
- 7. Have Your Hormones Checked
- 8. Change Your Diet
- 9. Reduce Stress
- 10. Exercise More
- For a natural approach to osteoporosis, take these 6 steps
- Natural approach to osteoporosis — you have real choices!
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine
3 Natural Ways to Build Bones and Prevent Osteoporosis
A friend once expressed frustration that her mother would no longer sit or stand erect. She attributed her mom’s slouch to laziness, but in truth osteoporosis had caused compression fractures that collapsed the front of her mom’s vertebrae.
When osteoporosis weakens the vertebrae, they gradually become wedge-shaped, creating the pronounced curve in the upper back that’s often called a “dowager’s hump.” Once that happens, neither starch nor willpower will straighten your spine.
Osteoporosis is common, occurring in upwards of 10 percent of adults over age 50, according to a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. But it isn’t an inevitable part of aging.
Bones are dynamic structures, constantly remodeling themselves through the addition and subtraction of material. During the third decade of your life, your bone mass peaks. After that, it’s a downhill process — one that accelerates in women after menopause as their estrogen levels drop.
Older men can also develop osteoporosis, though bone loss starts later in men — around age 65 or 70 — than in women. Aside from age, risk factors include having a family history of the condition, being small and thin, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, and being physically inactive.
Calcium, Vitamin D, and Your Bones
Another risk factor for osteoporosis is not getting enough dietary calcium, the mineral that makes bones strong and also aids myriad bodily functions, such as muscle contractions and nerve signal transmission. When blood levels of calcium fall, your bones “give up” calcium to restore normal levels. Bones are like a mineral savings account: If you keep withdrawing calcium and other minerals, your bones weaken.
For years, doctors have advised older people to take calcium and vitamin D supplements to maintain bone density. The Institute of Medicine recommends 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily for women over 50 and men over 70, and 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D.
The big question is: Do these supplements help maintain bone density?
Possibly not, according to two papers published in September 2015 in the British Medical Journal. The first paper examined 59 studies on the impact of getting additional calcium in food or supplements (calcium plus or minus vitamin D) on bone mineral density. The extra calcium produced small increases in bone mineral density for the first year or two, but this change was found to be unlikely to reduce bone fracture risk (the most dreaded consequence of osteoporosis).
The second BMJ article directly addressed the issue of bone fracture prevention. Researchers analyzed studies investigating the impact of dietary calcium, milk and other dairy products, and calcium supplements on fracture risk in women over 50. Their conclusion? None of these interventions provided appreciable protection against bone breaks. Furthermore, calcium supplements can cause undesirable effects, including constipation, cardiovascular events (including heart attacks, stroke, and angina), and kidney stones.
So what can you do to protect your bones and avoid the pain and disability of fragile, broken bones? As it turns out, behaviors that preserve bone also help prevent other major diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. In addition to staying away from tobacco and heavy drinking, here are a few things you can do to preserve your bones.
1. Engage in Weight-Bearing Exercise
Weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises stimulate bone formation and slow age-related bone loss.
Some weight-bearing activities include:
- Jumping rope
- Climbing stairs
Muscle-strengthening exercises (also called resistance training) require you to work against additional weight, such as free weights, weight machines, elastic bands, and your own body (push-ups and chin-ups, for example). If you’re a yoga enthusiast, you’ll be pleased to know that a 10-year-long study published in Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation showed that a 12-minute daily yoga routine increased bone mineral density in the spine, femur (thigh bone), and possibly the hips.
For more information on bone-preserving exercises, check the National Osteoporosis Foundation website. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides instructional videos for exercises you can do at home and in the gym.
If you already have osteoporosis or any other chronic condition, check with your doctor before jumping on the treadmill.
If you have osteoporosis in your spine, avoid heavy lifting, sit-ups, abdominal “crunches,” and any activities that involve extreme bending or twisting.
2. Eat Plants and Fermented Foods
Many fruits and vegetables contain a number of bone-friendly nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin K, vitamin C, and protein. Edible plants also provide anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants, which counter inflammation and oxidative stress, respectively — two cellular conditions associated with aging and many chronic diseases, including osteoporosis. Research has also linked higher intake of fruits and vegetables with better bone mass. A Swedish study published in 2015 in the Journal of Bone Mineral Research looked at men and women between ages 45 and 83 and demonstrated that those who shunned plant foods had an 88 percent higher rate of hip fracture compared to people who ate the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, may also positively affect bone: They contain probiotics (live microorganisms, mainly bacteria) with health benefits, and these “good” microbes colonize your intestinal tract, among other bodily surfaces. Animals raised in a germ-free environment so that they’ll have no intestinal microorganisms lose bone more rapidly than those with normal, healthy microbes. In theory, consuming probiotics in fermented foods or supplements supports a healthy population of gut microbes. Preliminary research in lab animals indicates that probiotic supplements and fermented milk products increase bone mineral density.
3. Get More Sleep
A study published in 2015 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that men and women over age 50 who habitually slept less than six hours a night had a substantially increased risk of osteoporosis. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep to awaken refreshed; if you can stay alert through 20 minutes of C-SPAN, you’re probably getting enough.
The following bone-fortifying recipe comes from 500 Time-Tested Home Remedies and the Science Behind Them, written by me, Barbara Brownell Grogan, and Barbara Seeber. We hope you always stand tall.
Super Green Sauté
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup diced pecans
- ¼ cup raisins
- 4 cups collards, chopped, stems removed
- 4 cups turnip greens, chopped
- ½ cup water salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Sprigs of parsley
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté about a minute. Stir in the pecans, raisins, and greens and sauté another 4 to 5 minutes until the greens wilt. Remove from heat, transfer to plates, add salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with parsley.
Conventional osteoporosis treatment usually involves the use of medications, exercise and dietary changes. There are a number of different medications available that can help stop bone loss, however, not all types of suitable for all people. The type of medication that your doctor will recommend depends on factors like: your age, gender, medical history (for example, if you have had cancer or an autoimmune disease) and underlying causes of bone loss (such as your diet and lifestyle).
Some medications that are used to manage osteoporosis include: (9)
- Bisphosphonates (most are suitable for both men and women).
- Rank Ligand inhibitors (suitable for both men and women).
- Bisphosphonates intended for women only, such as Boniva.
- Parathyroid hormone-related protein agonists.
- Hormone replacement therapy (most are for women only). These can include estrogen agonist/antagonist (also called selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM)), or tissue specific estrogen complex.
Natural Osteoporosis Treatment
Even though it’s best if osteoporosis is diagnosed and treated in its early stages, you can still take steps to manage symptoms and help stop the disease from progressing. Below are ways to support bone health and reduce symptoms like pain and loss of mobility.
1. Healthy Diet
What are the best foods to eat when you have osteoporosis? Make it a priority to eat enough protein and foods that provide essential nutrients, especially calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and vitamin K (more on specific recommendations can be found below).
About half of your bones’ structure is made of protein, so a low-protein diet does not support healing as well as a high-protein diet. However, it’s important to balance protein intake with mineral intake.
How much protein should you eat daily? The recommended daily allowance for adults is between 0.8 grams per kg of body weight per day, up to about 1.0 grams/kg/day. Good protein foods include grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, pastured eggs and poultry, fermented cheese and yogurt, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. (10)
2. Physical Activity
Exercise is beneficial for people with osteoporosis for many reasons: it can help to build bone mass, improve balance and flexibility, relieve stress, reduce inflammation and more. (11) What exercises should you avoid if you have osteoporosis? To be safe, avoid all activities that require lots of jumping, bending forward from the waist or too much twisting of the spine.
Walking and other weight-bearing activities are best for supporting bone strength. Types of exercises that are recommended most for people with low bone density include:
- brisk walking (a treadmill may be best to prevent falls)
- using an elliptical
- bodyweight exercises like squats and assisted push-ups
- tai chi
You can use a chair, wall, bands, light weights and tubes to assist you. Even gentler forms of exercise are helpful; some studies have shown that adults who practice tai chi have a 47 percent decrease in falls and 25 percent the hip fracture rate of those who do not. (12)
If you experience pain and soreness for more than one or two days after exercising, this is probably not the right type of exercise for you. Always speak with your doctor or physical therapist if you’re unsure of what type is best.
To improve bone density, weight training exercises are essential. I recommend strength training ideally three times a week for at least 30 minutes at a time. It’s best to do “compound movements” that strengthen multiple parts of the body at once. Examples of compounds exercises include: squats, barbell and dumbbell presses, dips, all types of push-ups, deadlifts, jumping rope and pull-ups. If you’re new to strength-training and this sounds intimidating, consider working with a personal trainer or attending group exercise classes for help. (14)
I also recommend trying vibration platforms. You stand on one of these platforms for about 5–20 minutes daily to help naturally improve bone density.
3. Help Prevent Falls
The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that each year about one-third of all people over age 65 will fall, and many times this will result in a fracture/broken bone. Here are steps you can take to reduce your risk of falling and injuring yourself when at home or out and about:
- Use a walker or cane if needed.
- Get up slowly from sitting or lying down.
- Keep your home well lit, and use a flashlight when walking outside in the dark.
- Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes that help you balance (sneakers, low-heeled shoes with rubber soles, boots, flats instead of heels, etc.)
- Use hand rails when available to support you as climb stairs.
- Be careful about walking on slippery roads or sidewalks after it’s rained or snowed.
- Avoid walking on wet, slippery, highly polished marble or tile.
- Clean walking paths around your home, such as by clearing your porch, deck, walkways and driveway.
- Keep a light outside your front door on.
- Inside your home, place items you use most often within easy reach. Use assistive devices to help avoid straining, stooping or injury. Use a sturdy stepstool is needed.
- Consider wearing a personal emergency response system (PERS) if you live alone.
- Remove all loose wires, cords and throw rugs. Keep floors and carpets free of clutter that might make you trip.
- Install grab bars in your shower/tub or bathroom walls.
- In your kitchen lay down non-skid mats or rugs.
- Keep stairwells well lit.
- Try not to rush around in a hurry, since this makes falling more likely.
4. Essential Oils
Putting essential oils topically on affected areas, as well as through consumption, may increase bone density and aid bone repair or help with osteoporosis-related pain. (15, 16) I recommend using essential oils such as ginger, orange, sage, rosemary and thyme oils topically about three times per day. Mix several drops with a carrier oil such as coconut oil and apply to any painful areas.
Other essential oils sometimes suggested for osteoporosis include wintergreen, cypress, fir, helichrysum, peppermint, eucalyptus and lemongrass oil. Also consider healing therapies such as aroma-touch, acupuncture and massage to help reduce stress.
5. Sunshine to Boost Vitamin D Levels
Aim to get about 20 minutes of sunlight exposure on your bare skin daily, which is the best way to prevent a vitamin D deficiency. To make enough vitamin D, you need to expose large areas of your skin to the sun without sunscreen, but only for short periods of time. The darker your skin tone, the more sunlight you will need to make enough vitamin D.
Studies also suggest that older adults have a harder time making vitamin D than younger people, even with the same amount of sun exposure. (17) If you live in a cold climate and don’t get outside much (such as during the winter), or if you’re older than 60, it’s recommended that you supplement with vitamin D3 cover your bases.
- Magnesium (500 mg daily) — Magnesium is required for proper calcium metabolism. (18)
- Calcium (1000 mg daily) — Choose calcium citrate which is best absorbed. (19)
- Vitamin D3 (5,000 IU daily) — Vitamin D helps improve calcium absorption. (20)
- Vitamin K2 (100 mcg daily) — Needed to form a protein critical for bone formation. (21) Take a high quality vitamin K2 supplant or eat more vitamin K rich foods.
- Strontium (680 mg daily) — A metallic element that can help improve bone density. It’s found naturally in seawater, nutrient-rich soil and certain foods, but most people need to supplement to get enough. (22)
7. Discussing Medication Use With Your Doctor
If you take steroids to treat an existing health condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, Crohn’s disease, cancer or lupus then you should take extra precaution to exercise, eat a mineral-rich diet and quit smoking in order to protect your bones. Common steroid medicines can include cortisone, dexamethasone (Decadron®), methylprednisolone (Medrol®) and prednisone.
Taking these medications for three or more months has been shown to increase your risk for losing bone mass and developing osteoporosis. While these drugs might be necessary to manage serious health conditions, you should still talk to your doctor about the dose that’s right for you or possible alternatives based on your risk for bone loss.
What is the best natural treatment for osteoporosis? A critical part of osteoporosis treatment and prevention is eating a nutrient-dense diet, since your body needs a lot of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium, to protect your bones. The best type of diet to eat for bone health is an alkaline diet. An alkaline diet can help balance ratios of minerals that are important for building bones and maintaining lean muscle mass, including calcium, magnesium and phosphate. Alkaline diets also help improve production of growth hormones and vitamin D absorption, which are both protective of bones as you age. The foods below help to provide important nutrients that build and maintain bone density:
- Raw cultured dairy — Kefir, amasai, yogurt, and raw cheese contain calcium, magnesium, vitamin K, phosphorus, and vitamin D rich foods all of which are vital for building strong bones.
- Foods high in calcium — Calcium is an essential structural component of the skeleton, so calcium deficiency can contribute to broken bones. Some of the best source of calcium include all dairy products, green vegetables (like broccoli, okra, kale and watercress), almonds and sardines.
- Foods high in manganese — Manganese is involved in the formation of bone mass and helps balance hormones naturally. Some of the best sources include whole grains like teff, brown rice, buckwheat, rye, oats and amaranth, beans and legumes, macadamia nuts and hazelnuts.
- Wild-caught fish – Osteoporosis may be related to chronic inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids found in certain fish help reduce inflammation. The best sources include wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and halibut.
- Sea vegetables – These vegetables are high in critical minerals for bone formation, plus they provide antioxidants that are supportive of overall health. Try to include algae, nori, wakame, agar or kombu in your diet.
- Green leafy vegetables – Bones need vitamin K and calcium to stay strong, which green leafy vegetables are full of. Some of the best sources include kale, spinach, Swiss chard, watercress, collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens and escarole.
- Alkaline foods – Osteoporosis may be related to an acidic environment, so eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can help promote a more alkaline environment that prevents bone loss. The most alkaline foods are: green vegetables, fresh herbs and spices, grapefruit, tomatoes, avocado, black radish, alfalfa grass, barley grass, cucumber, kale, jicama, wheat grass, broccoli, cabbage, celery, beets, watermelon and ripe bananas. One of the best things to have is green juices made from green vegetables and grasses in powder form, which are loaded with alkaline-forming foods and chlorophyll.
- Other quality proteins — Remember that in the elderly, diets too low in protein can impair bone health. (23) However, very high-protein diets are not the healthiest either because they tend to be overly acidic, so striking a balance is important. Aim to eat a moderate amount of clean, high-quality proteins with every meal, such as grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, pastured eggs and poultry, fermented cheese and yogurt, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.
What foods should you not eat if you have osteoporosis? The foods below can worsen bone loss and may contribute to low bone mass or osteoporosis:
- Too much alcohol – Increases inflammation that can lead to more calcium being leached from bones.
- Sweetened beverages – The high phosphorus content found in soda can remove calcium from bones. Sugar also increases inflammation.
- Added sugar – Increases inflammation which can make osteoporosis worse.
- Processed, red meat – A high intake of sodium and red meat may result in bone loss.
- Caffeine – Excessive caffeine intake can result in bone loss.
- You should also avoiding smoking, which worsens many chronic health conditions.
Talk to your doctor right away if you experience a bone fracture, persistent bone pain, a worsening hunch in your back, or repeat injuries. It’s important to address bone loss as soon as you can, since it usually only worsens with age.
Make sure to let your doctor know about any conditions you may have dealt with in the past (an eating disorder, autoimmune condition, etc.), your exercise routine, diet and other risk factors.
- Osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both. This causes weak bones and increases the risk for bone breaks/fractures and injuries.
- Causes of osteoporosis include: aging, poor diet, lack of exercise, hormonal changes, calorie restriction, certain medications, and a number of health conditions including cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases.
- Osteoporosis treatment usually involves exercise, a healthy diet, supplements and sometimes medications.
- To help manage osteoporosis symptoms, be sure to eat a mineral and protein rich diet, prevent falls and slips, do weight bearing exercises daily, get enough sunlight to make vitamin D, use essential oils and manage stress.
Read Next: What Is Collagen? 7 Ways Collagen Can Boost Your Health
It’s never too early to start thinking about what you can do to prevent osteoporosis. From the foods you eat to the amount of regular physical activity you get, the choices you make impact your health—right down to your bones.
Below are four areas to focus your efforts in preventing osteoporosis:
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D
- Know your T-score
- Quit smoking and cut alcohol consumption
- Exercise regularly
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D are two nutrients that work together to play an especially important role in bone health. Calcium is necessary to build new bone, and vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium.
- While calcium and vitamin D will not completely prevent or cure osteoporosis, you should make them part of your daily diet.
Most foods contain nutrients—including calcium and vitamin D—that will help your body function properly. Depending on your needs and/or dietary restrictions, you may also want to take a supplement to boost your calcium and vitamin D intake. There are many brands and types of supplements, so.talk to your doctor about product and dosing recommendations.
T-scores and Bone Mineral Density (BMD)
A bone mineral density (BMD) test effectively detects osteoporosis. This painless test will determine your T-score, which indicates your osteoporosis risk.
Though you should always make healthy lifestyle choices, it’s important to take an osteoporosis test to see if you need to take greater preventative measures. The sooner you understand your risk, the sooner you can understand how important prevention is to you.
To learn more about T-scores, read our article about osteoporosis diagnosis. If you’re concerned that you’re at risk for osteoporosis, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor about a BMD test.
Nix the Cigarettes and Curb Alcohol Consumption
Certain lifestyle habits—namely smoking and alcohol consumption—can negatively impact the health of your bones. If you drink, do so in moderation. Excessive amounts of alcohol affect your body’s calcium levels and may reduce your ability to produce more bone. Moderate drinking will not harm your bones, but do not drink more than two drinks a day.
While you can still drink in moderation, you should cut out smoking completely. Smoking contains harmful chemicals that damage bone cells and may inhibit calcium absorption.
In women, smoking decreases estrogen’s ability to aid in bone health. You will also be less likely to exercise if you’re a smoker, as smoking puts unnecessary stress on your cardiovascular system.
Your bones are similar to your muscles in that they grow stronger when they’re used. Having strong bones is important—stronger bones are far less prone to osteoporosis-related fractures.
That’s why regular exercise is a key element in preventing osteoporosis. Both cardiovascular (such as walking, biking, or running) and strength training exercises (such as lifting weights or yoga) are ideal ways to strengthen and condition your bones.
No matter what exercise you do—whether it be simply walking your dog or taking Pilates lessons—it’s important that you keep up your exercise program. Recommendations vary on how often you should exercise, but you should aim for about 30 minutes on most days of the week.
A Final Note
While there are many ways you can help protect your bones, there is not one treatment or combination of treatments that can guarantee you’ll never develop osteoporosis. The best prevention is a life-long commitment to healthy lifestyle choices like physical activity and good nutrition.
Updated on: 05/03/17 Continue Reading Osteoporosis Facts and Tips View Sources
- Mayo Clinic Osteoporosis Definition page. Mayo Clinic Health Information Web site. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/osteoporosis/DS00128. Accessed April 27, 2009.
- Preventing Bone Loss at Any Age. In the National Osteoporosis Foundation’s Boning Up on Osteoporosis, Second Edition. 2008: 17-31.
Minerals are incorporated into your bones during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. Once you reach 30 years of age, you have achieved peak bone mass. If insufficient bone mass is created during this time or bone loss occurs later in life, you have an increased risk of developing fragile bones that break easily.
Fortunately, many nutrition and lifestyle habits can help you build strong bones and maintain them as you age. Here are 10 natural ways to build healthy bones:
1. Eat Lots of Vegetables
They’re one of the best sources of vitamin C, which stimulates the production of bone-forming cells. In addition, some studies suggest that vitamin C’s antioxidant effects may protect bone cells from damage.
Vegetables also seem to increase bone mineral density, also known as bone density. Bone density is a measurement of the amount of calcium and other minerals found in your bones. Both osteopenia (low bone mass) and osteoporosis (brittle bones) are conditions characterized by low bone density.
One major risk factor for osteoporosis in older adults is increased bone turnover, or the process of breaking down and forming new bone.
2. Consider Taking a Collagen Supplement
Collagen is the main protein found in bones. It contains the amino acids glycine, proline and lysine, which helps build bone, muscle, ligaments and other tissues.
Collagen hydrolysate comes from animal bones and is commonly known as gelatin. It has been used to relieve joint pain for many years.
3. Eat High-Calcium Foods
Calcium is the most important mineral for bone health, and it’s the main mineral found in your bones. So, eat high-calcium foods throughout the day. Because old bone cells are constantly broken down and replaced by new ones, it’s important to consume calcium daily to protect bone structure and strength.
The RDI for calcium is 1,000 mg per day for most people, although, teens need 1,300 mg and older women require 1,200 mg. However, the amount of calcium your body actually absorbs can vary greatly. It’s best to spread your calcium intake throughout the day by including one high-calcium food at each meal, such as sardines, salmon, broccoli, beans, almonds, and seeds.
4. Get Plenty of Vitamin D and Vitamin K
Both vitmains D & K are extremely important for building strong bones.
Vitamin D plays several roles in bone health, including helping your body absorb calcium. Achieving a blood level of at least 30 ng/ ml (75 nmol/l) is recommended for protecting against osteopenia, osteoporosis and other bone diseases.
You may be able to get enough vitamin D through sun exposure and food sources such as fatty fish, liver and cheese. However, many people need to supplement with up to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily to maintain optimal levels.
Vitamin K2 supports bone health by modifying osteocalcin, a protein involved in bone formation. This modification enables osteocalcin to bind to minerals in bones and helps prevent the loss of calcium from bones.
The two most common forms of vitamin K2 are MK-4 and MK-7. MK-4 exists in small amounts in liver, eggs and meat. Fermented foods like cheese, sauerkraut and a soybean product called natto contain MK-7.
5. Consume Enough Protein
Getting enough protein is important for healthy bones. In fact, about 50% of bone is made of protein.
Researchers have reported that low protein intake decreases calcium absorption and may also affect rates of bone formation and breakdown. However, concerns have also been raised that high-protein diets leach calcium from bones in order to counteract increased acidity in the blood.
Nevertheless, studies have found that this doesn’t occur in people who consume up to 100 grams of protein daily, as long as this is balanced with plenty of plant foods and adequate calcium intake.
6. Avoid Very Low-Calorie Diets
Dropping calories too low is never a good idea. In addition to slowing down your metabolism, creating rebound hunger and causing muscle mass loss, it can also be harmful to bone health.
Studies have shown that diets providing fewer than 1,000 calories per day can lead to lower bone density in normal-weight, overweight or obese individuals.
To build and maintain strong bones, follow a well-balanced diet that provides at least 1,200 calories per day. It should include plenty of protein and foods rich in vitamins and minerals that support bone health.
7. Include Foods High in Magnesium and Zinc
Calcium isn’t the only mineral that’s important for bone health. Several others also play a role, including magnesium and zinc.
Magnesium plays a key role in converting vitamin D into the active form that promotes calcium absorption. Although magnesium is found in small amounts in most foods, there are only a few excellent food sources. Supplementing with magnesium glycinate, citrate or carbonate may be beneficial.
Zinc is a trace mineral needed in very small amounts. It helps make up the mineral portion of your bones. In addition, zinc promotes the formation of bone-building cells and prevents the excessive breakdown of bone. Good sources of zinc include beef, shrimp, spinach, flaxseeds, oysters and pumpkin seeds.
8. Consume Foods High in Omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids are well known for their anti-inflammatory effects. They’ve also been shown to help protect against bone loss during the aging process.
In addition to including omega-3 fats in your diet, it’s also important to make sure your balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fats isn’t too high. Plant sources of omega-3 fats include chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts.
9. Perform Strength Training and Weight-Bearing Exercises
One of the best types of activity for bone health is weight-bearing or high-impact exercise, which promotes the formation of new bone.
Studies in children, including those with type 1 diabetes, have found that this type of activity increases the amount of bone created during the years of peak bone growth.
Studies in older men and women who performed weight-bearing exercise showed increases in bone mineral density, bone strength and bone size, as well as reductions in markers of bone turnover and inflammation.
10. Maintain a Stable, Healthy Weight
In addition to eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight can help support bone health.
For example, being underweight increases the risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis. This is especially the case in postmenopausal women who have lost the bone-protective effects of estrogen.
In fact, low body weight is the main factor contributing to reduced bone density and bone loss in this age group.
On the other hand, some studies suggest that being obese can impair bone quality and increase the risk of fractures due to the stress of excess weight.
Overall, repeatedly losing and regaining weight appears particularly detrimental to bone health, as well as losing a large amount of weight in a short time.
What is the best natural treatment for osteoporosis?
1 – Try a vitamin D supplement
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium which keeps our bones strong and healthy. If there is an insufficient level of vitamin D, however, the body is less able to absorb this crucial mineral, leading to symptoms such as low mood, aching joints and poor digestion. As well as this, a deficiency makes adults more prone to bone fractures and osteoporosis. In contrast, research shows that a sufficient supply of vitamin D slows bone density loss which, in turn, decreases the risk of fracture.1
As vitamin D is largely obtained from exposure to the sun, this problem is common in areas where there is a limited supply of good weather, though people who do not spend enough time in the daylight, such as office workers or the elderly who are unable to get outside, are also prone to it. Faulty vitamin D receptors and poor dietary intake can also contribute to deficiency – vitamin D is found in oily fish, cheese and egg yolks, for example, so vegans and vegetarians are particularly at risk.
Taking a vitamin D supplement is sensible if you have osteoporosis as it helps the body to absorb calcium, a key mineral for the bones. As they are generally better absorbed by the body, a liquid supplement is preferred.
You can find a selection of these over at Jan de Vries but if you are looking for suggestions then I’d recommend BetterYou’s DLux1000 Vitamin D Oral Spray. It is often the case that people take too much vitamin D so if you are worried about this try taking the supplement every second day rather than every day.
2 – Increase magnesium intake
Magnesium is very important for those with osteoporosis as it helps calcium to be absorbed, but also contributes to the conversion of vitamin D into its most active form (vitamin D, as we now know, is also very important for calcium absorption).
Magnesium deficiency, which is more common in Western countries, can be countered by eating more wholegrain foods, nuts and dried fruits, as well as by taking a magnesium supplement.
A liquid supplement is best as this is more easily absorbed into the bloodstream. You can find a range of suitable products over with our friends at Jan de Vries. Floradix’s Liquid Magnesium Supplement is a popular choice as it’s super tasty and very gentle on the stomach.
3 – Address low stomach acid
Low stomach acid can arise for a number of reasons. It could be a result of age, for example, as we become less efficient at making stomach acid as we get older. Other things that contribute to the problem include stress, poor dietary choices, nutrient deficiencies and infection. Taking antacid medication long term may also lower levels of stomach acid.
Low stomach acid is a risk factor for osteoporosis as it makes it difficult for the body to solubilise and ionise calcium, which has a very important part to play in bone maintenance and health.
Try using bitter herbs such as Centaurium before meals if you have any problems in this respect. This helps digestion so should be taken 5 minutes before meals.
4 – Tackle stress
Stress is a risk factor for osteoporosis because it reduces digestive ability. Low stomach acid can then arise as a result of poor digestion which, as I’ve just explained, may then affect calcium levels.
With stress often comes lack of sleep and disrupted blood glucose regulation as well. Since the latter affects bone density, this demonstrates further how stress can be a risk factor for osteoporosis.
Stress Relief Daytime contains a gentle mix of Valerian and Hops to ease symptoms of mild stress and anxiety. For additional tips on how to manage stress in the long term I recommend reading some of the pieces of our stress hub.
5 – Make dietary changes
A high intake of animal protein, caffeine, processed foods and refined sugar can cause high levels of acidity in the bloodstream which is not good for the health of the bones. Instead, a diet full of fresh produce is preferred. As one particular review concluded, fruit and vegetables continue to be under-consumed, despite the fact that they provide important micronutrients and phytochemicals that are useful for bone remodelling.5
This particular review, which looked at evidence from 20 trials evaluating the role of wholefoods on bone health, also found emerging evidence to suggest that dried fruits such as prunes could help to support bone health, mainly by providing meaningful amounts of vitamin K, manganese, boron, copper and potassium.
Nutrients such as selenium, copper and iron, which can be found in a range of foods, may also have roles to play in bone health. Therefore, we should aim to eat a healthy, varied and balanced diet, particularly during sensitive windows of bone turnover such as during the menopause.
In addition, research also shows that salt intake can have an effect on calcium levels.6 When sodium intake becomes too high, the body gets rid of it via urine, however, calcium is excreted at the same time. High levels of calcium in the urine may contribute to the development of kidney stones, while inadequate levels of calcium in the body can lead to thin bones and osteoporosis. Therefore, it makes sense that if we want to improve bone health, we will have to cut down our intake of salt.
Chips and crisps are the obvious culprits when it comes to high salt content but don’t forget that processed meats, ready meals, white bread and even pre-packaged sauces also contain high quantities. As an alternative to these, why not try making some homemade low salt snacks and meals instead? You can find a range of easy recipes over on our recipe hub.
6 – Avoid fizzy juice and caffeine
High quantities of fizzy juice and caffeine can reduce phosphorus levels which will not do the bones any favours. High levels of phosphate in the blood negatively affect vitamin D levels and, since this helps to absorb calcium, it can go on to weaken the bones.
Swap the lemonade and cola for a refreshing smoothie – you can find a variety of recipes to suit your own tastes over on our recipe hub. If you are a coffee lover, however, our natural Bambu drink offers up an alternative, bone-friendly option given that it is absolutely free from caffeine.
7 – Do some moderate exercise
Physical exercise is also very important for strong bones and inactivity has been linked with an increased chance of osteoporosis. 20-30 minutes walking on a daily basis is a good starting point but you may also want to try some low impact sports such as swimming and golf. Your doctor will also be able to offer information on what kind of exercise classes may be suitable.
Adults need around 160 minutes of exercise a week so why not do half an hour, five days a week. Our Get Active Advisor Louise has lots of advice to offer on sporting activities so browse her hub for inspiration.
Should I take calcium for osteoporosis?
We all know that calcium is beneficial for the bones, right? Did you know, however, that it is actually quite hard to become deficient in calcium as a result of your diet alone?
Individuals with an eating disorder, the elderly who have restrictions on their diet (if they can’t get out to the shops, for example, or are reliant on ready meals), and anyone using recreational drugs can be prone to the issue.
If your diet is varied, though, it is unlikely that you will become deficient in calcium as a result of what you are eating. Therefore, instead of trying a calcium supplement I would focus more on vitamin D which, as I have explained, helps calcium absorption.
Furthermore, research published in the British Medical Journal in 2015 concluded that increasing calcium intake through dietary sources and taking calcium supplements produces small, non-progressive increases in bone mineral density (BMD) which is unlikely to lead to a clinically significant reduction in the risk of fracture.7 They concluded that we need to do more than just increase our calcium intake to help the health of our bones; hence I’ve given you lots of options above!
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1 Feskanich et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77(2): 504-511
2 Hiigs J, Derbyshire E and Styles K. Nutrition and osteoporosis prevention for the orthopaedic surgeon: a wholefoods approach. EFORT Open Reviews 2017; 2 (6): 300-308
4 Tai V et al. Calcium intake and bone mineral density systematic review and meta-analysis. British Medical Journal 2015; 351: h4183.
Half of all women will have osteoporosis by age 60. One in five women will have a hip fracture in her lifetime, and 50% of them will never walk again. Men are not immune to this problem. 30% of osteoporosis happens in males, and 50% of men who suffer hip fractures will die within one year.
A New Disease?
Osteoporosis which is so prevalent now, was virtually unheard of a hundred years ago. It was a rarity until the turn-of-the-century. So what happened? Did our genes change in a hundred years?
No! Genetic material takes thousands of years to change. The only thing that changed was our environment. Our diet and lifestyle are much different than they were hundred years ago and it has caused an epidemic of osteoporosis. So, what do we do? How can we reverse this process?
Here are 10 ways you can prevent or reverse osteoporosis:
1. Stop the Pop!
Carbonated beverages such as soft drinks, Champagne, and sparkling water leach calcium from your bones. A Harvard study on 16 to 20 year-old women showed that half of them were already showing bone loss as a result of excess soft drink intake. Carbonated beverages also have excess phosphates, which cause even more calcium loss.
2. Cut down on Protein
Excess protein intake causes acidity in the body, which in turn causes calcium to be lost in the urine. Most people need only two to 4 ounces of lean protein, three times a day. The average American diet contains two to three times this much.
3. Keep Your Stomach Acid!
Many people are on acid blocking drugs, such as Nexium, Protonix, Prevacid, Tagamet, and Zantac, for problems such as heartburn and hiatal hernia. Stomach acid is necessary to absorb minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Blocking stomach acid significantly increases the risk of osteoporosis.
These drugs were meant to be used for six to eight weeks at a time, not for years at a time! In fact, most heartburn symptoms are not due to excess stomach acid. Two thirds of the patients on acid blocking agents have too little stomach acid, not too much!
4. Cut out Caffeine!
Each cup of coffee that you drink makes you lose 150 mg of calcium in your urine. Chemically decaffeinated coffee is not the answer either though, because it contains harmful chemicals that interfere with the detoxification process. Naturally decaffeinated teas are a better option, but if you must drink caffeinated coffee, at least increase your calcium intake by 150 mg for each cup you drink.
5. Get the Right Kind of Calcium
Tums is one of the worst sources for calcium. In addition to being composed of calcium carbonate, which is a poorly absorbed form of calcium, it decreases the stomach acid even further. Calcium citrate and calcium hydroxyapatite are the best forms of calcium to take. They need to be taken on an empty stomach for best absorption, and only 500 mg at a time (that’s all our bodies can absorb at one time). A total dose of 1000 to 1200 mg per day is adequate for most menopausal women.
6. Get Some Sun!
Vitamin D deficiency is also epidemic in our society. Vitamin D helps to absorb calcium, and put it in the bones. It is also important for immune system modulation, depression, and autoimmune disorders. It is made in your skin when you get out in the sun. The farther you are from the equator, the less vitamin D you make in your skin. Most supplements contain 400 to 800 IU which is inadequate for most people in northern latitudes.
Since a skin cancer is such a concern, most people use sunscreen when they go out in the sun. Sunscreen blocks over 90% of your vitamin D production. But instead of putting yourself at risk for skin cancer, the best solution is to take supplements. Vitamin D levels can be measured by your physician, and the supplements can be titrated accordingly.
7. Have Your Hormones Checked
Hormonal decline is one of the most common reasons for bone loss after menopause in women. Andropause, the male equivalent of menopause, also causes bone loss in men. Adequate levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are important for bone maintenance.
Excess levels of cortisol, insulin and parathyroid hormone can also cause bone loss. Most physicians never check for these levels. An elevated calcium level in the serum is a clue that parathyroid hormone might be in excess. Excess refined sugars and starches in the diet cause elevated insulin levels. Excess stress causes elevated cortisol levels.
8. Change Your Diet
Excess refined sugars and starches, elevate your insulin levels and cause an increase in osteoporosis. The ideal diet is one called a “low glycemic index” diet. Glycemic index is a measure of how quickly food turns into sugar in the bloodstream. Low glycemic index foods do not raise blood sugar or insulin levels quickly, and include lean proteins, beans, vegetables, and good fats (nuts, olives, olive oil, fish, fish oils, avocados). Increasing fiber intake is an easy way to lower sugar and insulin levels. Fiber taken just before meals helps to slow down the absorption of sugars and fats, and can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, as much as medication.
9. Reduce Stress
Stress raises cortisol levels. If cortisol levels are high for long periods of time it can cause bone loss. Cortisol antagonizes insulin and leads to insulin resistance, eventually raising the blood sugar and causing calcium loss in the urine. As little as 25 teaspoons of sugar can cause calcium to be lost in the urine.
Stress reduction can include specific activities aimed at invoking the “relaxation response” such as yoga, tai chi, meditation, massage and prayer. It may also include getting more sleep, taking a vacation, getting psychotherapy to help with toxic relationships, and making an effort not to “burn the candle at both ends”.
10. Exercise More
When the muscles pull against the bones during exercise, it stimulates the bones and tells them that they are needed. Any weight-bearing exercise such as walking, hiking, climbing stairs and weightlifting can increase bone density. As little as 15 to 30 minutes a day can be helpful. Weightlifting does not need to be with heavy weights either, it can be with as little as 2 – 5 pound hand or ankle weights. Or you can use your own body weight and let gravity to do the job. Floor exercises such as leg lifts and sit ups, will work just fine. Exercises such as swimming and cycling though great for muscle strength and fitness are not weight-bearing so aren’t the most beneficial for your bones.
– identify possible sources of environmental or food poisoning motivating the patient to avoid them;
– use a chelating agent for heavy metals where there is evidence, with examinations of the hair, urine or saliva, of intoxication (EDTA, DMPS, DMSA, Zeolite, Chlorella, Alpha-Lipoic Acid, etc.);
– detoxify the liver and the extracellular matrix with herbal, homeopathic or homotoxicologic medicines;
– use anti-inflammatory substances, natural or homeopathic, as Turmeric, Ginger, Bromelain, Papain, MSM, Quercetin, Boswellia, Ribes nigrum MG1DH, Arnica, etc.;
– prescribe natural therapies to rebalance autonomic, endocrine or immunological systems;
– supply any deficiency of vitamins (D, C, K, group B) or minerals;
– replace, where possible, synthetic drugs with natural ones (e.g. the Statins with diet and fermented red rice, gastroprotective drugs with diet and bicarbonate salts, etc.) or nutritional therapies;
– define a personalized diet that takes into account any intolerances (gluten, lactose, nickel, etc.), metabolic diseases (diabetes, dyslipidemia, etc.), index and glycemic load, acid-base balance of extra-cellular matrix, nutritional deficiencies or excesses, adequate intake of phytoestrogens, errors in daily food choices, digestive difficulties or alteration of bowel functions, concomitant diseases (liver, kidney), etc.;
– advise the patient regular visits by the dentist to maintain proper dental hygiene, remove any amalgam of mercury and prevent periodontal disease;
– help the patient to find the right biorhythm sleep-wake, helping him with natural substances (passionflower, valerian, etc.) and urging him to undertake a process to acquire techniques of stress management as Meditation, Yoga or Tai Chi. In case the patient seems to be open and ready, advise the patient to take a path of awareness and personal growth;
– and of course, invite him to do regular physical activity, expose himself to sunlight, not smoking, drink moderate amounts of alcohol and coffee, avoid drinks, sodas and refined salt.
Just as every animal in the forest has perfect bone health, so the human skeleton was designed to last a lifetime. Today, however, weak bones and needless low trauma fracture are all too common. Half of the US population over the age of 50 has either osteoporosis or osteopenia and one in two women and one in four men will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Many millions are told each year that they should take bone drugs, even though the benefits of these drugs are questionable and the risks well known. In lieu of drug therapies (or in addition to) many women search out natural treatments for osteoporosis. I am here to tell you that there is a better way to build bone and prevent fractures, and that way is the Better Bones, Better Body® program, my time-tested, natural approach to osteoporosis.
For more than 25 years I’ve worked with thousands of women and men to strengthen their bones, even when for some it looked as though osteoporosis would be a life sentence. Our Better Bones, Better Body® Program natural approach to osteoporosis and bone health has proven to be highly effective, not just for strengthening bones, but for your enhancing total body health. With our life-supporting program you will create your own Better Bones and Better Body!
Our motto is that everything we do for bone should be good for the entire body. It’s for this reason that we use a whole body, science-based approach. To fully maximize your bone health the Better Bones, Better Body® Program utilizes six distinct components which together offer the most comprehensive approach to osteoporosis prevention and treatment available.
For a natural approach to osteoporosis, take these 6 steps
1. Personalized Case Assessment
Carefully assessing each individual case is an important component of the Better Bones Better Body® Program. Is the bone loss normal or excessive? What do bone density tests really tell us? Is one losing excessive bone right now? Is one at risk of a needless osteoporotic fracture? If so, what are the reasons for any existing bone weakness? Have all the appropriate medical tests been done to uncover any hidden causes of bone loss? Should one consider bone drugs? All these items and more are assessed in your first appointment.
2. Develop an Alkaline Diet
Acid-alkaline imbalance is a well-documented driving factor behind aging bone loss. In the Better Bones, Better Body® Program, I will teach you how to assess your acid-base balance and how to follow our Alkaline for Life Diet®. Should you want to start alkalizing on your own, our Alkaline Diet Starter Kit has everything you need to understand the importance of pH balance, develop an Alkaline Diet, and successfully alkalize.
3. Individualized Nutritional Supplementation
Dozens of nutrients are essential for optimal bone health, but most of these we seriously under-consume.
Maximization of all key bone-building nutrients is essential, as is the correct balance between nutrients and the proper alkalizing form of each nutrient. In your new client appointment, I will assess your nutrient adequacy and provide you with a personalized nutrition supplement protocol to help you begin to rebuild bone strength naturally.
Learn about my Better Bones Builder – A comprehensive bone formula which contains all 20 key bone building nutrients based on my 35+ years of research around osteoporosis.
4. Enhance Digestion and Absorption
Our amazing bodies are formed from the foods we eat, digest and assimilate. Strong digestion is essential for delivering the nutrients and energy essential to maintain and build bone. Toxins such as heavy metals, pesticides, plasticizers, petrochemicals, viruses and fungus have their own way of interfering with cellular functioning and nutrient utilization. As part of taking a natural approach to osteoporosis, the Better Bones, Better Body® Program will address and help you resolve your digestive and toxic burden issues.
5. Exercise into Bone Health
Research shows that our bones respond to the load put upon them and that exercise builds bone and muscle strength while enhancing balance and preventing falls. Hundreds of clinical trials document how strength training builds bone mass and reduces fracture incidence.
In the Better Bones, Better Body® Program, I guide you in the development of a personalized strength training exercise program. You will learn specific exercises suited to your liking and needs which strengthen the spine, hip and entire skeleton. In addition, you will be introduced to our Better Bones Exercise for Osteoporosis channel.
6. Stress, Worry Reduction and the Nourishing of Emotional Resilience
At the Center for Better Bones, we recognized that stress directly damages bone — decades before scientists noted this link. For many years we have helped women understand that worry, anxiety and stress directly deplete bone. This damage occurs largely via the sympathetic nervous system and adrenal stress hormones. The Better Bones, Better Body® Program will guide you in developing your own plan for reducing anxiety and creating emotional resilience, mindfulness and peace of mind.
Together we will explore the concept that nothing holds more power over the body than thoughts held in the mind. We will explore the possibility that non material forces of such as thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, stress responses and expectations could be as powerful as the material nutritional and lifestyle factors.
In closing, I like to say that “The Better Bones Better Program is just what the doctor ordered”, and here’s why:
In 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General published the first ever federal guidelines for protecting our nation’s bone health,
The illustration below depicts the Surgeon General’s recommendations, which directly reflects our time-tested Better Bones, Better Body® Program.
The Surgeon General’s Osteoporosis Treatment Pyramid
Notice how the Surgeon General first recommends a natural approach to osteoporosis: nutrition, physical activity, and fall prevention. After this first level of intervention, the Surgeon General suggests assessment and treatment of underlying causes, if necessary. If all else fails, then bone drug therapy is the last resort recommendation.
What generally happens in the doctor’s office, however, is quite different than what the Surgeon General recommends. You yourself have probably noticed that drug therapy is generally the first step most doctors take when they see osteoporosis or osteopenia, not the last step. This quick move to drug therapy exposes millions of people needlessly to the risks of bone drug therapy. Even more, it a represents a missed opportunity — an opportunity to use osteoporosis as “wake-up call” to take charge of your health and develop a program to build Better Bones and a Better Body, naturally!
Natural approach to osteoporosis — you have real choices!
I encourage you to remember that your body is capable of building and strengthening bone on its own when given the needed support and resources to do so. If you’re concerned about your risks of osteoporosis or osteopenia, know that our Better Bones, Better Body® natural nutritional and lifestyle recommendations will be powerful protectors of bone and promoters of body-wide health.
I’m Dr. Susan Brown. I am a nutritionist, medical anthropologist, writer, and speaker. Get my free weekly newsletter here.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine
For those who are at risk for osteoporosis or already have the disease, treatment may help boost bone mass and prevent (further) bone loss. While calcium by itself does not cure or prevent osteoporosis, getting enough calcium is an essential part of any prevention or treatment program. Making lifestyle choices, such as eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and doing weight-bearing exercises can also enhance bone strength.
Studies suggest that diets rich in the following foods and nutrients may help prevent bone loss in both men and women:
- Calcium. Low-fat milk, cheese, and broccoli are rich in calcium. Orange juice and cereals often are fortified with calcium
- Magnesium. Avocado, banana, cantaloupe, honeydew, lima beans, low-fat milk, nectarine, orange juice, potato, spinach
- Potassium. Whole grains, nuts, spinach, oatmeal, potato, peanut butter
- Vitamin D. The body makes vitamin D after exposure to sunlight. It is also found in fatty fish, fortified cereals, and milk.
- Vitamin K. Leafy greens, cauliflower
Exercise can help prevent bone loss. Although it is best to begin exercising when you are young (to help build bone), it is never too late to get the benefit. Weight-bearing exercise (walking, weight lifting) stimulates bones to produce more cells, slowing bone loss. Exercise also improves balance, flexibility, strength, and coordination, thereby reducing falls and broken bones associated with osteoporosis.
The standard treatment for osteoporosis for postmenopausal women used to be estrogen, but there are new options for men and for women who are wary of estrogen’s risks. Most medications slow down the rate at which bone is reabsorbed (antiresorptive). One drug can help the body make new bone (bone forming).
- Estrogen (with or without progesterone) boosts bone density and reduces the risk of fracture by slowing bone loss, boosting the body’s ability to absorb calcium, and reducing the amount of calcium excreted in the urine. Estrogen by itself can increase a woman’s risk for developing cancer in her uterine lining (endometrial cancer), so many doctors have prescribed a combination of estrogen and progesterone. However, evidence now shows that this combination increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks. Talk with your doctor to understand the risks and benefits of taking estrogen. There are other options for treating osteoporosis.
- Alendronate (Fosamax), ibandronate (Boniva), risedronate (Actonel), and zoledronic acid (Reclast). These medications belong to a class of drugs known as bisphosphonates. These drugs have been shown to boost bone density, slow or stop bone loss, and reduce the risk of fractures. Side effects are uncommon but may include abdominal pain and heartburn, which can be reduced by taking the medications with 8 oz. of water first thing in the morning before eating anything else, and standing upright for at least 30 minutes after taking them. Reclast is given intravenously (IV).
- Raloxifene (Evista), from a class of drugs called Selective Estrogen Receptor Modifiers (SERMS), raloxifene has estrogen-like effects on bone (it prevents bone loss), but does not increase the risk for breast cancer. Side effects can include hot flashes and blood clots. Premenopausal women should not take raloxifene.
- Calcitonin (Miacalcin) does not improve bone density as well as the bisphosphonates, but it does slow bone loss, reduce spinal fractures, and ease pain associated with bone fractures. An alternative for women who cannot take estrogen or bisphosphonates.
- Parathyroid hormone (Forteo) used in low doses, this drug can increase bone production. It can only be taken by injection. It is often prescribed for postmenopausal women and men at risk of fracture. Children should not take parathyroid hormone.
Surgery and Other Procedures
A procedure called kyphoplasty can treat kyphosis, the humplike deformity sometimes caused by osteoporosis. A catheter inserts a balloon into the middle of a collapsed vertebra and then expands so the height of the vertebra is restored. The surgeon then injects bone cement into the vertebra to hold its shape. Vertebroplasty is another procedure in which cement is injected into the vertebra to reinforce it.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Nutrition and Supplements
Eating fruits and vegetables and consuming adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D are crucial in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Keeping bones healthy throughout life depends on getting enough of specific vitamins and minerals, including phosphorous, magnesium, boron, manganese, copper, zinc, folate, and vitamins B12, B6, C, and K. Avoiding sodium, alcohol, and caffeine will also enhance bone health.
Calcium: Calcium helps the body build bone. Recommended intakes of calcium are as follows (note that you generally get from 500 to 700 mg of calcium in your diet):
The recommended intake for older women is 1,500 mg/day, except for those on estrogen, who need only 1,000 mg/day.
Good dietary sources of calcium include:
- Low-fat dairy products (such as milk, yogurt, and cheese)
- Dark green, leafy vegetables (such as broccoli, collard greens, and spinach)
If you do not get enough calcium from food alone, you may want to take a calcium supplement. There are several varieties available. Ask your doctor which one is right for you:
- Calcium citrate (Citrical, Solgar) most easily absorbed and costs more
- Calcium carbonate (Tums, Caltrate, Rolaids) least expensive and must be taken with meals or a glass of orange (acidic) juice; may cause gas or constipation
- Calcium phosphate (Posture) easily absorbed, does not cause stomach upset; more expensive than calcium carbonate
Calcium supplements should be taken in divided doses during the day, because your body can only absorb 500 mg of calcium at a time. Work with your doctor to make sure you get enough, but not too much, calcium, especially if you are taking any medications.
Vitamin D: In order to absorb enough calcium, your body also needs vitamin D. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends the following:
- Adults under age 50: 400 to 800 IU/day
- Older adults (51 to 70 years old): up to 2,000 IU/day
Vitamin K (150 to 500 mcg): Vitamin K, which the body makes in the intestine, helps bind calcium into bone. A recent study suggests that at menopause, vitamin K may start to lose its ability to bind calcium, so even women with normal levels of vitamin K may not have enough to maintain bone health. Eating 3 servings of low-fat dairy or dark, leafy greens per day can help. Talk to your doctor about whether you need a supplement. However, be especially careful about taking a supplement if you also take blood-thinning medications (diuretics), such as warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin, and others, because vitamin K may interact with these medications.
Soy isoflavones: Isoflavones are phytoestrogens, plant chemicals that have some of the same effects as estrogen. Because estrogen helps protect against osteoporosis, researchers theorize that isoflavones may also help stop bone loss. Studies are conflicting, however. The best source of soy isoflavones is through diet (tofu, soy milk, and soybeans). When isoflavones are eaten in foods, they do not appear to have the same negative effects that supplemental estrogen does. If you have a history of hormone-related cancer, talk to your doctor before taking soy. Soy contains phytic acid, which may block the aborption of calcium and other critical minerals.
Ipriflavone (600 mg per day): Ipriflavone, a synthetic isoflavone derived from natural isoflavones found in soy, red clover, and other food sources, may also help prevent and treat osteoporosis. Most studies, though not all, indicate that ipriflavone, when combined with calcium, can slow bone loss and help prevent fractures of the vertebrae (spine) in postmenopausal women. Talk to your doctor before taking ipriflavone.
Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil (4 g per day): A few studies have shown that supplements containing essential fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil, can help maintain or possibly increase bone mass. Essential fatty acids appear to increase the amount of calcium your body absorbs, diminish the amount of calcium lost in urine, improve bone strength, and enhance bone growth. Foods rich in essential fatty acids (including cold-water fish, such as salmon) can help raise the amount of essential fatty acids in your diet. People who are taking blood-thinning medication (anticoagulants) should not take fish oil supplements without talking to their doctor first.
Preliminary studies also suggest that the following nutrients may help prevent or treat osteoporosis:
- Carotenoids. Studies show that carotenoids protect bone mineral density in older men and women
- Zinc stimulates bone formation and inhibits bone loss in animals.
- Vitamin C may limit bone loss in early years of menopause. Studies show mixed results.
- Melatonin is involved in bone growth. Since levels of melatonin drop as you age, it is possible that melatonin may contribute to the development of osteoporosis. More studies are needed. People who take antidepressants or psychiatric medications should not take melatonin without a doctor’s supervision.
(See the “Warnings and Precautions” section for a list of supplements that people with osteoporosis should avoid.)
Although most herbs have not been studied extensively for the treatment of osteoporosis, some have estrogen-like effects that might offer protection against bone loss. However, they may also carry some of the same risks as supplemental estrogen. They may also interact with blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin) and others. Talk to your doctor before taking any of these herbs.
- Black cohosh ( Actaea racemosa or Cimicifuga racemosa ). Black cohosh contains phytoestrogens (estrogen-like substances that help protect against bone loss). It is often used to relieve menopausal symptoms, although evidence for its effectiveness is mixed. People who have a history of hormone-related cancers, or have a high risk of developing hormone-related cancers (such as breast cancer, among others) should not take Black cohosh except under the supervision of your physician.
- Red clover ( Trifolium pratense ). Isoflavones extracted from this herb may slow bone loss in women, but it is not clear whether the whole herb is effective. More tests are needed to prove its effectiveness. Red clover may possibly interact with several medications, and due to its estrogen-like effects. If you have a history of hormone-related cancers, or are at high risk for such cancers, you should not take Red clover except under the supervision of your physician.
Other herbs that may help prevent or treat osteoporosis (evidence is lacking so far) include:
- Horsetail ( Equisetum arvense ) contains silicon, believed to strengthen bone
- Kelp ( Fucus vesiculosus L .) used for musculoskeletal disorders; rich in minerals so may be a complementary treatment for osteoporosis
- Oat straw ( Avena sativa ) boosts hormone levels that stimulate cell growth