By: Dr. Tricia Pingel, NMD
As we age, health problems that once seemed so distant begin to take center stage. One of the biggest health issues facing an aging woman is osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones. It creates weak, frail bones, leading to an increased risk of fractures. It’s estimated that 1.5 million osteoporosis related bone fractures occur every year in the United States, and one fourth of all bone fractures are of the hip. Twenty percent of women who suffer from hip fractures die within a year, 25 percent will require long term nursing care and half of all women who suffer a hip fracture are unable to walk without assistance. Spine and other fractures are also a concern, but hip fractures are most common.
Other than bone fractures, conditions such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and tooth loss are also linked to osteoporosis.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
Bone mass increases steadily throughout childhood. It continues to increase into a person’s 20’s and peaks around the age of 28, at which time it begins to decrease.
The way we break down and remodel our bones relies on our mineral and protein balance. When there is an imbalance between breakdown and rebuilding, the chance of bone loss and possible fractures increases.
Two main factors that contribute to osteoporosis are hormones and lifestyle.
Women are at the highest risk for developing osteoporosis after menopause when certain hormones drop. Imbalances in the estrogen and progesterone ratio can lead to mineral deficiencies and subsequent bone loss.
Hormone replacement therapy that balances out estrogen and progesterone levels is common practice in treating osteoporosis. Conventional medicine uses pharmaceuticals to lower estrogen receptors. The problem with many of these drugs is they contain SERMS (selective estrogen receptive modulators) that may cause side effects such as: severe headaches, fatigue, hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, dizziness, chest pain and abnormal vaginal bleeding or pain.
Lifestyle factors both before and after menopause play a significant role in the development of osteoporosis. Women who smoke, have minimal physical activity, consume a poor diet, or a lot of animal protein or alcohol are more susceptible.
Women who suffer from osteoporosis also have a higher risk for developing kidney stones, scoliosis, vitamin D deficiency and gastrointestinal diseases.
Testing for Osteoporosis
Women, especially after menopause, should have annual physical exams. These exams measure loss of height (greater than 1.5 inches a year may indicate osteoporosis), changes in spine shape, tooth loss and receding gums.
A Dexa scan, or similar bone density measuring test may help indicate osteoporosis along with physical exam findings.
Aging women should also have annual blood count tests. These tests measure vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the blood.
Natural Treatments and Prevention
There are natural alternatives for women who are concerned about osteoporosis, yet don’t want to take pharmaceutical drugs.
Physical activity helps to slow down bone loss and can actually build bone mass. Exercise helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis by stimulating osteoblast (cells that are responsible for bone formation).
Diet is crucial in treating and preventing osteoporosis. Here are some diet tips:
- Consume large quantities of fruits and vegetables. Women with vegetarian diets have a lower risk of developing osteoporosis. If you can pick it from the Earth, it’s probably good for you!
- Eat foods high in calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K. Some excellent sources are: kale, collard greens, parsley, dark leaf vegetables, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, green tea, asparagus, peas, oats and almonds.
- Limit consumption of red meat and other animal proteins
- Decrease caffeine, alcohol and soft drink intake. Soft drinks are high in phosphates and low in calcium and should be avoided.
- Lower sugar intake or cut it out entirely. The average American eats 125 grams of sucrose a day!
- Talk to Dr. Pingel about supplementing with minerals such as magnesium, B6, B12, folic acid and boron. Boron reduces urinary calcium excretion and activates certain hormones, including vitamin D.
Digestion and GI problems also need to be addressed. A person with poor digestion is unable to absorb the vitamins and minerals essential for bone protection and growth. Food allergies and intolerances should be identified so the GI tract is able to function normally. The intestinal lining needs to be healed for healthy absorption. Consuming digestive enzymes and herbs such as glutamine, aloe vera juice, slippery elm, marshmallow root, deglycyrrhizinated licorice or N-Acetyl glucosamine is an excellent way to heal the intestinal lining.
You don’t have to Suffer from Bone Loss
A breast cancer survivor came into my office a couple of years ago. Her hormones were out of balance and she was losing bone mass. Her doctor wanted to put her on medications to oppose estrogen production, but she refused and instead opted for natural treatments. After the first year of mineral treatments, we found there was no change in bone loss, she wasn’t gaining bone mass, but wasn’t losing either. This was proof positive that the minerals were working so she decided to stay with the treatment. Her second year of treatment, she came back in for a bone density test.
By incorporating proper diet and daily exercise, her body actually started to rebuild bone mass even in her 60’s.
Bone loss is a serious problem facing many women, especially post-menopausal women. Before being placed on medications that could have potentially harmful side effects, a woman should seek out natural treatments. In many cases, she can help reduce bone loss and stimulate bone production by changing her diet, making lifestyle adjustments, exercising and taking vitamins and minerals.
For women suffering from symptoms similar to osteoporosis, it is wise to seek the health care advise of a naturopathic physician before self-diagnosing or administering herbal remedies.
About Dr. Pingel:
Dr. Tricia Pingel is a naturopathic medical doctor located in Scottsdale, Arizona. She treats a variety of conditions, including menopausal symptoms with bio-identical hormone replacement, infertility, cardiac, thyroid disorders, anxiety/depression, gastrointestinal concerns, such as, gas/bloating, food allergies, celiac disease, IBD and more!
Please visit www.drpingel.com for more information.
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