~ Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND
You have over 200 bones in your body. They live inside of you, and might be the last physical part of you remaining a few hundred years from now. For many of us, as we age, our relationship with our bones grows from relative indifference to insecurity. Menopause marks the turning point for many women in this relationship, as medical authorities warn that declining estrogen levels also means declining bone health. The change in bone health for men is less appreciated, though many experts agree that the risk for spinal fracture is the same for men and women. Can you have drug-free healthy bones in your later years? Absolutely! Following are some answers to common myths that reveal opportunity for attaining optimal bone health.
Myth 1: Calcium supplementation ensures good bone health.
In fact, bone metabolism requires at least 16 dietary nutrients, and multiple studies suggest that calcium alone offers only a small protective benefit against fracture risk. Though calcium makes up the majority of bone density, our bone quality is produced by our bone cells which require much more nourishment to do their job of removing old bone and creating new bone. Additional nutrients are required for optimal bone health. These include magnesium, vitamin K and D, boron, manganese, zinc, and copper.
Myth 2: A good bone density test score indicates healthy bones and little chance of fracture.
According to some experts, bone density scans predict less than half of those who experience a fracture related to osteoporosis. Furthermore, most women older than 65 years who experience a hip fracture do not have osteoporosis! So, while a bone density test is a good screening measure for poor bone density, it is a poor indicator of bone quality, and is not a stand-alone determinant of fracture risk. Many factors should be considered when evaluating your fracture risk.
Myth 3: Milk is the most important dietary choice for bone health.
Milk is certainly high in calcium, and organic dairy is an important part of some people’s diet. However, green leafy vegetables are also high in calcium, and are at least as important as dairy for healthy bones. The first reason for this is because unlike milk, many vegetables contain the trace minerals required to fuel enzymes for healthy bone production. The second reason is based on the theory of how the body balances pH, sometimes described as the “Acid-Alkaline Diet”. Dairy can stimulate a biochemical cascade in the body that results in bones releasing their calcium into the bloodstream to bring an acidic pH closer to neutral. Vegetables generally do not stimulate this cascade and indirectly encourage calcium retention by the bones. Though the exact mechanism for how foods stimulate this buffering process rema ins unclear, much evidence exists in favour of a diet high in foods designated as “alkaline-forming” such as vegetables, and low in “acid-forming” foods such as animal proteins and caffeine, for optimal bone health. It is possible to obtain all nutrients for optimal bone health in a carefully planned diet devoid of dairy products.
Myth 4: Tums is a good and inexpensive source of calcium.
Calcium, like many minerals, requires a significant amount of stomach acid for optimal absorption. Tums is used to neutralize stomach acid to treat heartburn, so that the calcium in tums is not very absorbable. The same logic applies to anyone with low stomach acid levels, which is common in people older than 65 years, and those taking an acid blocking drug such as Zantac and Ranitidine. It is important to choose the kind of calcium that is most absorbable in a low acid environment, such as calcium citrate rather than calcium carbonate.
Many of these myths represent the dichotomy between mainstream medical philosophy and the philosophy of more holistic medical systems. Optimal bone health requires far more than treatment of bones. It requires attention to full body health, including the digestive tract for balanced nutrient absorption, kidney and thyroid balance for proper calcium regulation, and muscle, to stimulate proper bone growth. Supporting your body where it is most susceptible is your key to achieving optimal bone health.
For more information about bone health, please download our pdf version newsletter Healthy Bones Newsletter.