Osteoporosis is a disease affecting many aging women and men in the US and around the world. Currently in the United States over 54 million people are stricken with osteoporosis. Defined as a chronic progressive bone disease characterized by a deterioration of bone tissue, osteoporosis result in bones that are weak and fragile, leaving them at an increased risk for fractures. In the US, one in two women and one in four men over the age of 50 break a bone due to do osteoporosis annually and worldwide, the incidence of hip fracture is projected to increase by 240% in women and 310% in men by 2050. When treating osteoporosis, focus needs to be aimed at slowing the rate of bone deterioration and increasing bone density and strength. Not surprisingly, doctors tend to lean towards a pharmaceutical approach in the treatment of osteoporosis. This approach to any disease focuses on symptom management, and does not aim to recognize the underlying cause for the development of disease. There is a strong misconception that osteoporosis is an inevitable result of the aging process and cannot be avoided, therefore, controlling the loss of bone through use of medications is the only treatment option. However, the overall health of a person’s bones depend on many factors, not just age, and uncovering the underlying reason for bone loss is the key to preventing bone loss and reversing osteoporosis. At Nurtured Bones, we take a more natural, holistic approach, addressing the causes of osteoporosis, oftentimes before the onset, thereby eliminating the development of the disease.
To better understand osteoporosis and the effects of both medications and holistic treatment, it is important to understand the how bone maintains strength and density through the remodeling process. Bone is a dynamic living tissue that is able to rebuild and replenish itself. It does this through the workings of two key bone cells called: osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Osteoclasts help to break down and reabsorb old bones cells while osteoblasts generate new bone cells to replace the old. In order to maintain strong, healthy bones, you need a balanced interaction between these two types of bones cells, so that old bone can be sloughed off and replaced with newer, stronger bone cells. Osteoporosis occurs when the bones cells are being broken down faster than they are being replaced, leaving bones weak and fragile. Therefore, osteoporosis can occur when you excessively break down and lose too much bone, don’t make enough new bone, or both. The first goal of any treatment program should be to understand the cause of bone loss or inability to adequately rebuild bone. Osteoporosis can be effectively treated by addressing the factors that are putting you at risk for bone loss or creating an imbalance of bone metabolism.
Most people believe that if you eat dairy and exercise, you are not at risk of developing osteoporosis. The truth is the overall health of a person’s bones depends on many factors, both uncontrollable as well as those that we can control.
Uncontrollable risk factors include:
- Being female and of small frame size
- Being over age 50
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Endocrine disorders such as hyperthyroidism or hyperparathyroidism
Though these factors may be out of our control, it is important to recognize these risks and not succumb to them. Oftentimes prevention strategies aimed at maintaining or improving bone health can be initiated before the deterioration of bone mass occurs.
There are also many factors that lead to bone loss that we can control and that need to be addressed to positively affect bone density.
Controllable risk factors for osteoporosis:
- Alcohol consumption of more than 2 drinks per day
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor dietary habits
- Inadequate digestion
- Chronic inflammation
These factors are all known to cause osteoporosis through increasing bone loss and diminishing bone repair and renewal. Just by addressing these risk factors through nutrition, exercise and lifestyle changes, you can effectively prevent and halt bone loss.
Current medical course of treatment for those diagnosed with osteoporosis is the prescription of medications that aim to slow the rate of bone loss and increase bone density. Bisphosphonates, such as Fosamax, Boniva, Actonel, and Reclast, are the most commonly prescribed drugs for osteoporosis. They have been seen to be an effective treatment to prevent loss of bone, but unfortunately, they also change the way bone behaves. These drugs actually poison the osteoblasts to prevent the breakdown of bone. So even though you may get more dense bone, because the old bone is not being removed, your bones retain the old more fragile bone cells. One side effect of long term use of these medications is the increase risk of spontaneous fractures of the femur bone, as well as delayed healing of all fractures. This could be the consequences of long term suppression of bone turnover.
Forteo (teriparatide) is a newer osteoporosis medication that works by stimulating the osteoclasts to build new bone. Forteo is a synthetic replica of your parathyroid hormone, which in its natural state, is produced in the body to help regulate calcium concentration in the blood. However, along with the increased rate of bone production, this medication has side effects that include bone pain, dizziness, muscle cramps and most importantly, it has been shown to cause bone cancer in laboratory studies. With both of these classes of medications, there are no guidelines on how long they should be taken, but generally doctors recommend taking a “drug holiday” after 5 years. I have always questioned why a medication that is so highly recommended in the treatment of osteoporosis is only safe to use for 5 years.
Although these medications have been shown to increase bone mass in some, when considering taking any medication, I think it is always important to determine if the risks outweigh the benefits. Ask yourself “is there a better way to increase bone strength and reduce osteoporotic fractures through a more natural means.” I believe the answer is a resounding “YES.”
At Nurtured Bones, we take a natural, holistic approach, first by identifying your risk factors, then by implementing a comprehensive treatment approach that addresses your needs. We address lifestyle factors such as smoking and inactivity along with assessing sufficient dietary intake of key nutrients, digestion, stress, and chronic inflammation that can contribute to poor bone turnover and development. Addressing these factors is essential to keeping bones strong and healthy throughout one’s life. With this information, a comprehensive plan can be initiated to prevent and stop bone loss and, in some cases, even reverse osteoporosis.