Down to the Bone: Get Safe, Natural Support

Long considered a risk-free prescription drug, Fosamax and other bisphosphonate medications have been linked to osteonecrosis  (death of bone tissue) in the jaw. Initially researchers believed that this condition occurred only with intravenous bisphosphonates in cancer treatment, but new evidence links jaw problems with oral bisphosphonates, an increasingly popular way to prevent or slow osteoporosis. The American Dental Association now recommends a comprehensive oral exam before or right after anyone begins taking Fosamax or similar drugs.

About Osteoporosis
The human skeleton is in a constant state of regeneration, as bones break down and rebuild. Hormones, organs like the kidneys and liver, and our immune system all work together to ensure that bone is maintained. Best discovered through a bone scan, "porous" bone-or osteoporosis-occurs when bone breaks down more quickly than the body can rebuild it. This "silent" condition afflicts close to 30 million people-and more than 80 percent of them are women.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • genetic heritage (especially among those of Asian or northern European background)
  • corticosteroid use and side effects of other drugs (blood-thinners, diuretics, and more)
  • thyroid disease (thyroxin activates bone breakdown)
  • smoking, which increases inflammatory factors promoting bone loss
  • small, thin build sedentary lifestyle
  • low stomach acid, making calcium absorption difficult
  • early menopause
  • high-caffeine, high-sugar intake
  • stressful lifestyle or Type A personality
  • no pregnancies

Estrogen helps prevent bone loss and protects the body from excessive secretion of inflammatory cytokines, which pull calcium from the bone. Stress causes bone to break down faster than it can be replaced and also lowers levels of antiaging and immune-balancing DHEA.

Go Natural
A healthy diet-throughout the lifespan-is critical to strong bones. Sadly, many young people today fail to get enough bone-building nutrients from dairy and green, leafy vegetables. Consumption of soft drinks, which lowers calcium levels and raises phosphate levels, also weakens bone. Even salty processed foods threaten bone health.

To protect your skeleton, maintain a balanced protein intake (50 grams daily for 138-pound women and 63 grams for 174-pound men). Enjoy broccoli, canned salmon (including the bones), leafy greens, sesame and sunflower seeds, and organic yogurt. Also consider vegetable-based protein sources, including legumes. Increase your intake of fermented soy (miso, soy sauce, and tempeh).

Get active! Regular workouts-especially weight-bearing exercises like stair-climbing, hiking, jogging, skiing, and weight-training-help preserve bone mass and even increase bone mineral density. If you already have bone loss, add balance and posture exercises. But don't overexert yourself: Too much exercise can suppress hormonal and immune balance, actually leading to osteoporosis.

Bone-Building Supplements
In addition to a daily iron-free multiple, take calcium in divided doses with meals throughout the day and at bedtime. Nutrition expert Lorna R. Vanderhaeghe recommends 1,000 to 1,500 mg total each day, in balance with other bone-strengthening minerals. You need at least half as much magnesium as calcium to guarantee absorption of bone-building nutrients, she explains.

Besides a 2:1 calcium to magnesium ratio, other protective minerals include:

  • boron (also available in broccoli powder), 3 to 5 mg daily, which mimics estrogen's benefits and reduces calcium excretion
  • silicon, 12 to 25 mg daily, for the formation of bone collagen
  • manganese, 15 to 30 mg daily
  • zinc, 15 to 20 mg daily

Vitamin K, found in leafy greens, boosts production of osteocalcin, useful for bone mineralization and strength: Take 150 micrograms daily. Soy isoflavone supplements (100 mg) significantly increased bone mineral density in a recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids, quercetin, and turmeric help reduce inflammation associated with calcium loss.

Some experts find that ipriflavone (available in alfalfa and bee propolis) stimulates the secretion and synthesis of calcitonin from the thyroid, as well as aiding bone formation and density. The subject of more than 60 clinical studies, this supplement appears more effective than the prescription drug calcitonin at decreasing fracture rates, and it inhibits inflammation that pulls calcium from bones. "No bone rebuilding program should be without ipriflavone," adds Vanderhaeghe.

selected sources An A-Z Woman's Guide to Vibrant Health by Lorna R. Vanderhaeghe ($10.95, Health Ventures, 2004)  "Drug for Bones Is Newly Linked to Jaw Disease" by Gina Kolata, New York Times, 6/2/06  "Effects of Soy Isoflavone Supplementation on Bone Mineral Density" by Brenda Milot, ELS, HerbClip, 7/31/06  "How Taking Fosamax Can Lead to a Serious and Painful Jaw Disease," Women's Health Letter, 8/06  "Osteonecrosis of the Mandible or Maxilla Associated with the Use of New Generation Bisphosphonates" by M. C. Farrugia et al., Laryngoscope, 1/06  User's Guide to Calcium & Magnesium by Nan Kathryn Fuchs, PhD ($5.95, Basic Health, 2002)

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