STRONG BONES: How to Build Them and Keep Them
Bones are like massive bridges. They have to support an enormity of weight and pressure. Yet important maintenance must somehow be accomplished while the structure is still in use. Small areas are constantly being broken down and reformed: sections get removed and stronger new bone is deposited. In youth, bones grow in width, length and increase in density until about age 30. From then on breakdown is faster than bone formation, and density begins a gradual decline. Or the rate can be speedy depending on your lifestyle.
Osteoporosis is a condition of decreasing bone strength that makes fractures more likely. Estimates are that about half of all New Zealand women will be affected: one of the world’s highest rates. The incidence for men too is on a marked increase. By age 50 one in five men will suffer a fracture. For over sixties the rate becomes one in three. Hip fractures for both sexes are associated with a 25% mortality rate within one year. 50% of people require extensive hospital care after a major fracture and only 25% recover. If people have fractures, why would they be dead within a year? The answer may be linked to mineral levels.
The building blocks of bones are minerals particularly calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and phosphorous. Just like individual building materials for bridges, these must be in appropriate proportion to each other for ideal structural strength. They also require the hormone-like regulation of vitamin D; other crucial vitamin and mineral support factors such as vitamins B6, folic acid and B12 which can halve fracture risk (reduces excess homocysteine linked with hormonal imbalance and bone materials unable to bond); vitamin K (‘glue’ that binds Ca to the skeleton); silica (promotes collagen formation for bones and skin); and boron (improves Ca and Mg absorption; lessens excretion; concentrated in parathyroid, which also regulates hormones).
The Real Reason Falls are Associated with Death
If Ca is mentioned most people think of bones. While Ca is an undisputed participant, without sufficient Mg – its key partner in life – those bones will be brittle (see my website TIPS page for Magnesium). Similarly Ca allows muscles to contract, but only with enough Mg are muscles and their owners able to relax. So critical for heart muscle, arterial flexibility, blood pressure and nerve function are these minerals that if there are inadequate levels in the blood for these purposes, then they are withdrawn from the bone ‘bank’.
This may be the real connection between a bad fall and subsequent death. Weak bones are not the cause but a pointer to the real culprit: low mineral levels that are as lethally weakening to cardiovascular and other systems as they are to bones. This is also why blood tests for these minerals are inadequate. Tests only reveal which minerals are in circulation. They do not inform you as to whether this means overall, systemic sufficiency. It may merely indicate that emergency withdrawals keep being made from storage sites. Like big spenders they may look affluent but are emptying their reserves.
Another common assumption is that mineral quantity is most critical. The issue is complex and involves at least three other more significant factors: how well the minerals ingested are absorbed; how much of them are excreted before being put to work; and the ratio of one mineral teammate to another. For instance people in Japan and China consume far less Ca than New Zealanders but tend to have far higher blood levels and stronger bones. Dairy-keen nations such as Finland have high Ca intake but low Mg and thus a far greater risk of both weak bones and cardiovascular disease. Reaching for a Ca supplement due to an oversimplified slogan that “you must have Ca for your bones” may further worsen its ratio with Mg and thus encourage these health issues (TIPS: Calcium).
The problems and limited logic are similar with the drug Fosamax, which offers a risk reduction of only about 1%. It does not build new bone but kills cells (osteoclasts) responsible for the normal breakdown of weak, unhealthy areas of bone before rebuilding can start (by osteoblasts). After one year, natural regeneration is prevented. Bones may look good on a scan but become brittle – probably why users still break them. Users double their risk of atrial fibrillation. This can cause fatigue, palpitations, fainting, heart failure and stroke. There is increased risk of ulcers, digestive inflammation, liver and kidney damage, and bone death in the jaw. Many of my clients have had few benefits from Fosamax, yet many side effects. Their density improves when they switch to holistic strategies including my favourite bone and joint formula. Natural anti-inflammatories and tailored nutrient teamwork achieves what drugs often prevent (TIPS: Medications).
Bone Building Requires Teamwork
Despite deceptive advertising, cow’s milk is only middling on the list of Ca containing foods. Plus it’s too high in Ca compared to Mg for balance. Stressful lives, refined foods and low soil levels (most fertilizers are high Ca, low Mg), all contribute to Mg deficiency that worsens with high Ca intake. Excess Ca can be deposited as dangerously obstructive plaques in blood vessels such as arteries and in the brain. Cow’s milk is also high in phosphorous (common throughout the modern diet), which in excess impedes absorption of both Ca and Mg. This gets discussed at dairy industry dietetic conferences but not in their public advertising campaigns. However the worst offender for pouring too much phosphorous into the diet is soft drinks. Regular intake is especially inappropriate for growing children and teens.
Good mineral stores are crucial, but even the best building materials are useless without effective job supervision. The formation and maintenance of bones is primarily managed by hormones. For instance the body uses calcitriol – an activated hormonal form of vitamin D – to manage the job of how much Ca gets absorbed, excreted or deposited in bone. When Ca intake is low then calcitriol can increase absorption and restrict excretion. Excessive ingested Ca can upset this regulatory mechanism.
Playing a substantial coordinating role are also the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone, calcitonin from the thyroid, as well as parathyroid and growth hormones. Common sense suggests that any factors that adversely affect hormonal balance should be minimised and those that assist should be maximised. The worst dietary sources of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC) are non-organic dairy products (TIPS: Modern Milk: No Longer A Natural Food), then fatty meat especially beef (EDC are stored in animal fat, including our own, and larger animals store more). Environmental sources include pesticides, herbicides, plastics heated in microwaves; chemical fumes from toiletries and cleaning agents (for options see TIPS: Chemicals), cigarettes, petrol and by products (in many skin and baby care items).
Smoking particularly leads to bone loss, estrogen imbalances, poor mineral utilisation, slower healing and complications with fractures. It prevents oxygen and nutrients traveling to bones and joints for repair. Nicotine is a high source of heavy metals. These are heavier ‘bully’ minerals like cadmium, mercury, lead and aluminium that kick needed minerals out of storage sites and take up residence instead. This weakens bones and is especially toxic to the brain and nervous system. Reduce exposure, and help the liver get rid of their accumulation by daily eating soluble fibre, which is capable of binding to and eliminating them. Top sources: psyllium, prunes, figs, mango, linseed, rice bran, oat bran, seaweed and legumes.
Many people have an overly acidic system – metabolic acidosis – which will decrease mineral absorption, storage, and impair bone building. Particularly acidic foods are: refined sugar; excess protein; excess highly refined salt (most pre-prepared foods); soft drinks; and coffee. Since blood should be alkaline, the Kidneys (TIPS) pull out alkaline minerals (chiefly Ca, Mg and potassium) from bones, teeth, muscles (such as the heart) to neutralise acidity. Redress this imbalance this by ensuring intake of sufficient alkaline foods (most vegetables and fruit – especially raw; seaweed; and Chlorofresh: liquid chlorophyll concentrate). Additionally bone-weakening are substances that act as diuretics, forcing minerals and water out through your urine. This is particularly true of caffeine and alcohol, with alcohol additionally affecting sex hormone levels – within minutes of consumption estrogen levels can rise by 300%.
What to Eat On a Building Site
Fortunately the means to efficient mineral consumption and hormonal support are similar and pleasant. Engage in enjoyable and practical forms of regular exercise. The pressure exerted during exercise improves bone density and supportive musculature, as well as healthy weight and stress management (stress depletes alkaline minerals). As usual with the human body though, one extreme is as damaging as the other. Excessive exercise and being underweight, ups the likelihood of osteoporosis – especially for women and evident with many female athletes – as does being obese and sedentary. This is because too much or too little weight leads to a disturbed sex hormone balance that adversely affects bone building instructions.
Enjoy some of that exercise outside, perhaps walking or gardening. Natural light – at least 15 minutes per day without sun block – needs to shine on bare skin in order to manufacture an important form of vitamin D, which is also being touted for its likely role in preventing cancer and autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis. Shade is fine and sun needn’t be bright to achieve these benefits. Remove sunglasses so the eyes receive natural light too, as this positively stimulates the pineal and pituitary – master glands of the endocrine system responsible for hormonal output. New Zealand children now have an increasing incidence of rickets (weak, ill formed bones from insufficient vitamin D) due to far more indoor than outdoor activity.
Certain foods benefit bones – plus cardiovascular system, muscles, nerves – by having lots of both Ca and Mg. These top performers include almonds, brazils, sesame seeds and tahini, hazelnuts, cashews, tofu and other soy products. Other good providers of these and many other minerals are seaweed, fish and seafood, other nuts and seeds, followed by dried fruit, then leafy greens. Good quality stock is a top source and part of how the Chinese maintain healthy bones through all the soup they traditionally eat. Make your own (see The Shape Diet) by boiling bones with lemon juice or vinegar to draw out their minerals. Or use Essential Cuisine brand, which is found in soft, clear pouches in the supermarket chiller next to similarly packaged soups, or in the meat section. Most cubes and stock packets are chemical wannabes high in artificial additives and poor quality sodium.
Meanwhile these foods also handily supply phytohormones (which help counteract the effects of excess circulating or ingested estrogens and EDC); healthy fats needed for absorbing vitamin D; antioxidants; Omega 3s and other endocrine system supporters (TIPS: The Fats of Life). So for breakfast add almonds and dates to a cooked whole Linseed Cereal (see The Shape Diet), or hazelnuts and figs to a silken tofu smoothie. Enjoy a salad at lunch with leafy greens, red pepper, prunes and chickpeas with a tahini dressing. For dinner simmer fish or squid with cashews and vegetables in a peanut and ginger sauce using ¼ coconut cream and ¾ top quality chicken or fish stock. Work on a building site has never tasted so good.