Womens Bone Health – Keeping Them Strong!
Throughout your life your bones are constantly growing and changing and as long as you sustain a healthy diet your bones should stay healthy for you until the day you die. Of course hereditary factors and genetics to play a role, but again diet and exercise can go a long way in maintaining strong healthy bones. Around your 30’s you are no longer able to make as many healthy bone cells as you did when you were younger so starting young with a healthy diet and exercise is very important.
Women who exercise regularly and eat calcium-rich foods enter their menopausal years with better bone mass than women who sit a lot and consume calcium-leaching foods (including soy “milk,” tofu, coffee, soda pop, alcohol, white flour products, processed meats, nutritional yeast, and bran). But no matter how good your lifestyle choices, bone mass usually decreases during the menopausal years.
Once you hit between 35 and 40 it’s a good idea to have a bone scan to see where your bones are in comparison to healthy bones. Your doctor will probably recommend this especially if you have had blood tests that might suggest that you need to add more calcium to your diet or if you are having aching joints and “growing pains”.
The idea behind bone scans is a good one: find women who are at risk of broken bones, alert them to the danger, and help them engage in preventative strategies. There’s only one problem: bone scans don’t find women who are at risk of broken bones, they find women who have low bone density.
Focusing on osteoporosis, defining it as a disease, using drugs to counter it, we lose sight of the fact that postmenopausal bone mass is a better indicator of breast cancer risk than broken bone risk. The twenty-five percent of postmenopausal women with the highest bone mass are two-and-a-half to four times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than those with the lowest bone mass. And that hormones which maintain bone mass also adversely affect breast cancer risk. Women who take estrogen replacement (often given to prevent osteoporosis), even for as little as five years, increase their risk of breast cancer by twenty percent; if they take hormone replacement, the risk increases by forty percent.
Focusing on bone mass, we lose sight of the fact that a strong correlation between bone density and bone breakage has not been established, according to Susan Brown, director of the Osteoporosis Information Clearing House, and many others. We lose sight of the fact that women who faithfully take estrogen or hormone replacement still experience bone changes and suffer spinal crush fractures.
Bone-pause passes and the bones do rebuild themselves, especially when supported by nourishing herbs, which are exceptional sources of bone-building minerals and better at preventing bone breaks than supplements. The minerals in green plants seem to be ideal for keeping bones healthy. Dr. Campbell, Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, has done extensive research in rural China where the lowest known fracture rates for midlife and older women were found. He says, “The closer people get to a diet based on plant foods and leafy vegetables, the lower the rates of many diseases, including osteoporosis.” Women who consume lots of calcium-rich plants and exercise moderately build strong flexible bones. Women who rely on hormones build bones that are massive, but rigid.
Hormone replacement regimes do not increase bone cell creation; they slow (or suppress) bone cell killers (osteoclasts). There is a rebound effect; bone loss jumps when the hormones are stopped. Women who take hormones for five years or more are as much as four times more likely to break a bone in the year after they stop than a woman of the same age who never took hormones. Women who build better bones with green allies and exercise nourish the bone cell creator cells (osteoblasts).
Hormone or estrogen replacement, taken as menopause begins and continued for the rest of your life, is said to reduce post-menopausal fracture rates by 40-60 percent. Frequent walks (you don’t even need to sweat) and a diet high in calcium-rich green allies (at least 1500 mg daily) have been shown to reduce post-menopausal fractures by 50 percent. The first is expensive and dangerous. The second, inexpensive and health promoting. It’s easy to see why more than eighty percent of American women just “say no” to hormones. It is never too late to build better bones, and it is never too soon. Your best insurance for a fracture-free, strong-boned cronehood is to build better bones before menopause. The more exercise and calcium-rich green allies you get in your younger years, the less you’ll have to worry about as you age.
“Osteoporosis is much less common in countries that consume the least calcium. That is an undisputed fact.” -T. C. Campbell, PhD. Nutritional Biochemistry
Calcium is, without a doubt, the most important mineral in your body. In fact, calcium makes up more than half of the total mineral content of your body. Calcium is crucial to the regular beating of your heart, your metabolism, the functioning of your muscles, the flow of impulses along your nerves, the regulation of your cellular membranes, the strength of your bones, the health of your teeth and gums, and your vital blood-clotting mechanisms. Calcium is so critical to your life that you have a gland (the parathyroid) that does little else than monitor blood levels of calcium and secrete hormones to ensure optimum levels of calcium at all times.
When you consume more calcium than you use, you are in a positive calcium balance: extra usable calcium is stored in the bones and you gain bone mass (insoluble or unusable calcium may be excreted, or stored in soft tissue, or deposited in the joints). When you consume less calcium than you use, you are in a negative calcium balance: the parathyroid produces a hormone that releases calcium stores from the bones, and you lose bone mass.
To ensure a positive calcium balance and create strong, flexible bones for your menopausal journey, take care to:
Eat three or more calcium-rich foods daily.
Avoid calcium antagonists.
Use synergistic foods to magnify the effectiveness of calcium.
Avoid calcium supplements.
What do we need to make strong flexible bones?
Like all tissues, bones need protein. They need minerals (not just calcium, but also potassium, manganese, magnesium, silica, iron, zinc, selenium, boron, phosphorus, sulphur, chromium, and dozens of others). And in order to use those minerals, high-quality fats, including oil-soluble vitamin D.
Acids created by protein digestion are buffered by calcium. Traditional diets combine calcium- and protein-rich foods (e.g. seaweed with tofu, tortillas made from corn ground on limestone with beans, and melted cheese on a hamburger). Herbs such as seaweed, stinging nettle, oatstraw, red clover, dandelion, and comfrey leaf are rich in protein and provide plenty of calcium too. Foods such as tahini, sardines, canned salmon, yogurt, cheese, oatmeal, and goats’ milk offer us protein, generous amounts of calcium, and the healthy fats our bones need. If you crave more protein during menopause, follow that craving. CAUTION: Unfermented soy (e.g., tofu) is especially detrimental to bone health being protein-rich, naturally deficient in calcium, and a calcium antagonist to boot.
Bones need lots of minerals not just calcium, which is brittle and inflexible. (Think of chalk, calcium carbonate, and how easily it breaks.) Avoid calcium supplements. Focus on getting generous amounts of calcium from herbs and foods and you will automatically get the multitude of minerals you need for flexible bones.
Because minerals are bulky, and do not compact, we must consume generous amounts to make a difference in our health. Taking mineral-rich herbs in capsule or tincture form won’t do much for your bones. (One cup of nettle tincture contains the same amount of calcium – 300 mg – as one cup of nettle infusion. Many women drink two or more cups of infusion a day; no one consumes a cup of tincture a day!) Neither will eating raw foods. I frequently come across the idea that cooking robs food of nutrition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cooking maximizes the minerals available to your bones. Kale cooked for an hour delivers far more calcium than lightly steamed kale. Minerals are rock-like, and to extract them, we need heat, time, and generous quantities of plant material.
Green sources of calcium are the best. Nourishing herbs and garden weeds are far richer in minerals than ordinary greens, which are already exceptional sources of nutrients.
But calcium from green sources alone is not enough. We need calcium from white sources as well. Add a quart of yogurt a week to your diet if you want really healthy bones. Because the milk has been changed by Lactobacillus organisms, its calcium, other minerals, proteins, and sugars (no lactose) are more easily digested. This carries over, enhancing calcium and mineral absorption from other foods, too. (I have known several vegans who increased their very low bone density by as much as 6 percent in one year by eating yogurt.) Organic raw milk cheeses are another superb white source.
Although chocolate contains oxalic acid, the levels are so low as to have only a negligible effect on calcium metabolism. An ounce/3000 mg of chocolate binds 15-20 mg of calcium; an ounce of cooked spinach, 100-125 mg calcium. Bittersweet (dark) chocolate is a source of iron. Recent research has found chocolate to be very heart healthy. As with any stimulant, daily use is not advised. Chocolate is an important and helpful ally for women. Guilt about eating it and belief that it is damaging to your health interferes with your ability to hear and respond to your body wisdom. If you want to eat chocolate – do it; and get the best. But if you’re doing it every day – eat more weeds.
Excess phosphorus accelerates bone loss and demineralization. Phosphorus compounds are second only to salt as food additives. They are found in carbonated beverages, soda pop; white flour products, especially if “enriched” (bagels, cookies, cakes, donuts, pasta, bread); preserved meats (bacon, ham, sausage, lunch meat, and hot dogs); supermarket breakfast cereals; canned fruit; processed potato products such as frozen fries and instant mashed potatoes; processed cheeses; instant soups and puddings.
To avoid phosphorus overload and improve calcium absorption:
Drink spring water and herbal infusions; avoid soda pop and carbonated water.
Eat only whole grain breads, noodles, cookies, and crackers.
Buy only unpreserved meats, cheeses, potatoes.
Avoid buying foods with ingredients; they are highly processed.
Excess salt leaches calcium. Women eating 3900 mg of sodium a day excrete 30 percent more calcium than those eating 1600 mg. The main sources of dietary sodium are processed and canned foods. Seaweed is an excellent calcium-rich source of salt. Sea salt may be used freely as it contains trace amounts of calcium. Salt is critical for health; do not eliminate it from your diet.
Increase hydrochloric acid production (in your stomach) and you’ll make better use of the calcium you consume. Lower stomach acid (with antacids, for example) and you will receive little bone benefit from the calcium you ingest. Some ways to acidify:
Drink lemon juice in water with or after your meal.
Take 10-25 drops dandelion root tincture in a little water before you eat.
Use calcium-rich herbal vinegars in your salad dressing; put some on cooked greens and beans, too.
Before taking any suppliments or drugs ask your doctor for alternative therapys, check your diet and make sure you are doing everything you can for good bone health, find a good Homeopathic specialist and see what herbal and natural suppliments you can take to help with keeping your bones healthy.