“Osteoporosis is called the Silent Thief because bone loss can occur slowly over many years and without symptoms until a sudden strain, bump or fall causes a bone fracture,” explains pharmacist and author Sherry Torkos, BSc, Phm. “Most of us don’t start thinking about our bones until our doctor tells us that we are osteopenic or osteoporotic. At that point, you can only build back a marginal amount of bone. The key is prevention. And if you already have bone loss, there are still measures you can take to prevent further loss and strengthen your bones.”
If your diet is lacking calcium, your body can pull calcium from your bones, causing your bones to weaken and thin. To avoid this, boost intake of calcium-rich foods such as low-fat dairy, canned fish with bones such as sardines and salmon, and dark green vegetables such as broccoli. Nuts, seeds, soy and figs provide magnesium, which is also essential for building strong bones. Torkos says that consuming too much protein, sodium and caffeine can put your bones at risk, as does having more than two alcoholic beverages daily. Surprisingly, soft drinks also contribute to bone loss by changing the acid balance in the blood.
Weight-bearing activities, which place stress on the bone, help to strengthen bones and improve bone density. Examples include weightlifting, walking, tennis and dancing. “Exercise also increases muscle strength, coordination and balance,” says Torkos. “Together these factors preserve mobility and independence, and reduce the risk of injury and fracture.”
It is nearly impossible to get adequate calcium from diet alone. Plus, women who are pregnant and breast feeding have increased needs. Supplements can help bridge the gap to ensure you are getting enough of this essential mineral. However choosing a supplement can be daunting. Pharmacy and health food store shelves are lined with an overwhelming number of calcium and other bone-building supplements. Many claim to be superior but we have to look to science to support those claims.
People are also concerned about product purity, as it was recently revealed that some supplements may be contaminated with heavy metals and other undesirable ingredients. Torkos explains some pros and cons of bone-health supplements:
· Coral calcium: These supplements are made from limestone, which is a form of calcium carbonate. Some companies selling coral calcium have made exaggerated health claims about the benefits of these supplements. As a result, there has been FDA and FTC action due to lack of data to support claims.
· Calcium carbonate: This is the least expensive and most widely found type of calcium. Calcium carbonate is quite bulky, meaning the tablets are very large and often hard to swallow. Thus chewables are preferred. Heavy metal contamination with calcium carbonate has been a recent issue.
· Calcium citrate: Citrate provides less elemental calcium and is more expensive than carbonate. However it may be a better choice for those with low stomach acid.
· Eggshell calcium: The latest research shows that one of the cleanest and most absorbable forms of calcium comes from eggshells. It is called ESC. “It’s so easily absorbed by the body that you need to take less of it than other forms of calcium. Eggshell supplements are safe, natural, gentle on the stomach and do not contain contaminants. There are also products available now made with natural eggshell membrane, or NEM, to support joint health. This is a significant advantage since joint health is critical for mobility, flexibility and quality of life. There are a variety of products that include ESC or NEM showing up in the marketplace.”
· Other supplements to consider: “It is often difficult to get a sufficient amount of magnesium and vitamin D from food. Both of these nutrients are essential for bone health. Likewise, boron, copper, manganese, phosphorous, vitamin K, silicon and zinc are other nutrients involved in bone formation.”
Torkos reminds us that osteoporosis is preventable, not inevitable. There are various ways to build strong bones and protect ourselves against osteoporosis. A diet that is rich in calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, regular weight-bearing exercise and nutritional supplements are key elements in our personal fight against osteoporosis. Consider getting a bone mineral density screening, which is also helpful in assessing your bone health. “If we are diligent about maintaining a bone-healthy lifestyle, it is possible to keep the silent thief of osteoporosis at bay.”
Editor's Note: Bone mineral density (BMD) is a term used to describe the solidity of our bones. This can be determined by a DEXA-scan (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry). The results are reported as a number, which tells us how far off our BMD is from a healthy adult without osteoporosis. A result of –2.5 SD (standard deviation) or greater indicates osteoporosis. A result between –1 SD to –2.5 SD means there is some bone loss, a condition called osteopenia, which often leads to osteoporosis.
Sherry Torkos, BSc, Phm
Sherry Torkos is a pharmacist, author, and certified fitness instructor. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science in 1992 and practices holistic pharmacy in the Niagara region of Ontario.
As a leading health expert, she has delivered hundreds of lectures to medical professionals and the public. She is frequently interviewed on radio and TV talk shows throughout North America and abroad. Sherry has authored 14 books, including The Canadian Encyclopedia for Natural Medicine, The Glycemic Index Made Simple, Winning at Weight Loss and Breaking the Age Barrier.
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