Osteoporosis or thinning if the bones is due to a reduction in the amount of calcium carbonate or phosphate deposited in the bone matrix, it causes weaker bones, increasing the likelihood of a fracture.
Osteoporosis is not a painful condition, nor is it a type of arthritis, it may cause no symptoms until it results in a painful fracture. It will often be identified after a fall has resulted in a broken hip or leg.
Bones are complex structures that achieve the maximum amount of strength for the least amount of weight.
A bone can increase thickness in areas subjected to repeated heavy loads, repair itself when broken and most of the components of blood are made in the bone marrow.
Bone is made up mostly of collagen fibres, upon which are laid down crystals made from calcium and phosphate that give bone its ability to withstand compression and bending forces. Bones have an outer shell of very hard bone and in the middle space a honeycomb structure, through which is mingled the bone marrow.
Bone is not a static tissue, but is always being broken down and rebuilt. This is an exactly balanced processed involving cells that continually make new bone, called osteoblasts and cells that continuously dissolve bone into its component materials, called osteoclasts.
When increased loads are repeatedly put upon a bone, for instance through exercise or moving heavy weight, the osteoblasts become more active, laying down more bone and increasing the strength of the region.
When a bone fractures, osteoblasts go into overdrive around the fracture site, laying down more collagen fibres and minerals on top to strengthen them.
In osteoporosis, the osteoclasts – usually over years – dissolve a bit more bone than is replaced, resulting in weaker bones. Fractures in bone affected by osteoporosis are most likely in areas where there is a greater percentage of the honeycomb type of bone, which is less able to take the shock of a fall:
- in the wrist
- in the femur close to the hip joint (called the ‘neck’ of the femur)
- in the vertebrae of the lower spine.
Hip and wrist fractures usually result from falls, whereas fractures of the spine tend to occur spontaneously when a weakened vertebra eventually crumples under the stress of supporting the body’s weight producing loss of height and the bent back known as the Dowagers Hump.
Osteoporosis is not solely confined to women although one in three women will suffer a fracture of the hip, wrist or spine, so will 1 in 12 men over the age of 50, as a result of osteoporosis.
It is often called the “silent killer”, because most people don’t know they have osteoporosis until they have a fracture. As many as 50 per cent of people who suffer a fractured hip lose the ability to live independently and
around 20 per cent of people who fracture a hip die within a year, as a result of their fracture.
You are at increased risk of osteoporosis if you fall into any of the following categories:
- either parent had osteoporosis
- you are of Asian or European descent
- you currently or in the past have suffered from anorexia or bulimia
- your periods have been absent or irregular, as one of the functions of oestrogen affect bone formation.
- Smoking can reduce bone density and increase the risk of hip fractures by up to 25%. Smoking alters female hormones and is linked to an earlier menopause.
- Use of steroids, laxatives and diuretics, thyroid drugs and blood thinning drugs can all affect bone density.
- Lack of weight bearing exercise.
- Intense prolonged physical exercise which results in loss of body fat.
- Being underweight.
- Early menopause.
- Digestion problems resulting in prolonged use of antacids.
- People with coeliac disease.
However, in most cases osteoporosis is preventable. Most bone mass is laid down in the early teens and following a good lifestyle, with healthy eating habits and regular weight bearing exercise will dramatically reduce the risk of developing brittle bones in later life.
Nutritional Supplements that could help. (Refer to the individual supplement for cautions in use.)
|Supplement/Herb||What it does||Dosage|
|Calcium||Calcium given in combination with isoflavones can significantly decrease the rate of bone loss, particularly in post menopausal women.||800 – 1200mg per day|
|Magnesium||Magnesium is required for the utilisation and control of calcium in the bones and appears to increase the activity of vitamin D – which is required for calcium absorption from the gut.||400 – 600mg|
|Vitamin D||Needed for the uptake of calcium and phosphorous from the intestinal tract as well as promoting kidney re-absorption of calcium.||600IU per day|
|Isoflavones||Isoflavones may be effective in suppressing osteoclast activity, thus slowing down the rate at which bone is broken down.||30 – 80mg per day|
|Multi Nutrient Formulation||A number of nutrients are required for bone formation in addition to those listed above. These include B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, copper, boron, manganese, sulphur and silica. A multi vitamin and mineral formulation therefore provides the best base for a bone health programme.||As directed|
|Boron||Mainly found in the bones, it reduces the loss of calcium in the urine and can often be found in combined supplements with calcium and magnesium.||1-3mg daily|
|Fish Oil||Anti-inflammatory and can assist blood circulation bringing nutrients needed for bone formation. Source of Vitamin D||1 – 3gm daily|
|Nettle||Has high levels of calcium and is anti-inflammatory||500mg 3 times daily|
|Black Cohosh||Has oestrogen mimicking properties and may help bone formation.||500mg 3 times daily|
Diet and Lifestyle Factors
The absence of monthly periods, except in pregnancy, are a risk factor and should be investigated.
Make sure that you get enough Vitamin D, without it your body cannot absorb calcium:
Expose your skin to the sun for 20 minutes daily.
Avoid using moisturisers with SPF as this blocks the UVB rays needed to make Vitamin D.
Eat oily fish three times a week such as salmon or mackerel, tinned sardines (including the bones).
Eat six free-range eggs a week (an egg provides 20iu).
During the winter months (November to April in the UK), it’s probably worth supplementing an additional 1000iu (25mcg) and possibly more, especially if you are older and live further North.
Reduce or preferably completely avoid:
Salt, Sugar, Excess protein,
Carbonated soft drinks
Increase your intake of Complex carbohydrates, Green leafy vegetables, Fruit, Nuts and seeds, Oily fish,
Take regular weight-bearing exercise, a daily 20 minute walk will help strengthen your bones and get you some Vitamin D. Whilst swimming is good exercise for muscles, bear in mind that it is not weight bearing.
Don’t over-exercise, any acitivity which causes you to be underweight such as ballet dancing, gymnastics, competitive running, increases the risk of osteoporsis.
Avoid corticosteroid use which increases bone loss.
Homoeopathic Remedies which may help. (Refer to the individual remedy for guidance on the one that is most appropriate for you.)
- Calcarea carbonica
- Calcarea phosphorica
Suggested further reading:
- Understanding osteoporosis