The bone thinning disease osteoporosis is becoming increasingly common. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, it is estimated that 10 million Americans have the disease, and almost 34 million have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk of osteoporosis. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 692,000 Australians had doctor diagnosed osteoporosis in the years 2007-2008. As the population continues to age, this problem can only get worse.

Osteoporosis is a silent disease in that it is often not diagnosed until there has been a bone fracture and it can be too late to repair the damage. It is obviously better to prevent osteoporosis and it’s good to start at a young age. But even if you have osteoporosis it is possible to increase your bone density with the right tools

So why is osteoporosis so common, and are you likely to develop it?

Many factors affect our risk of developing this condition, such as:

  • Advancing age
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Lack of exercise
  • Low levels of vitamin D in your body. With the increasing tendency to avoid the sun and use sun block creams vitamin D deficiency has become an epidemic. Do you know your blood levels of vitamin D?
  • A diet lacking in minerals such as calcium, boron, manganese, zinc, copper, silicon and magnesium
  • Low intake of vitamin C which weakens the collagen that gives bone its flexibility
  • Low intake of vitamin K. Vitamin K is found in dark green leafy vegetables, egg yolks, the fermented soy food called “Natto”, moldy cheese, oily fish and liver
  • Low levels of the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone, especially in women with a premature menopause
  • Medications such as long term corticosteroids, antacid medications which prevent adequate production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, excess thyroid medication, some anticoagulants and some anticonvulsant medications
  • Excess consumption of alcohol
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Thin build with fine bone structure
  • Eating disorders such as anorexia

Osteoporosis is not a simple case of not getting enough calcium in the diet.

It is probably more our lifestyle that is causing it to be so common. It is also the epidemic of vitamin D deficiency and if you are low in vitamin D you cannot absorb calcium from your food and you cannot deposit calcium in your bones. You can take a lot of calcium, but if you are vitamin D deficient the calcium is useless!

Here are some factors under your control that can determine whether or not you will develop osteoporosis:

  • A mineral deficient diet. Calcium is not the only mineral needed for a strong skeleton. Magnesium, manganese, zinc, silica, boron, and copper are essential also. Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese are a source of calcium. Foods high in calcium and other minerals include tinned fish (including the bones), broccoli, bok choy, raw nuts and seeds, tahini, hummus, seaweed and legumes. Refined foods are sadly lacking in all minerals – these include foods made of white flour and white rice.
  • Lack of physical activity. Sedentary jobs and sedentary hobbies promote bone loss as well as muscle loss. Weight bearing exercise helps to strengthen bones, and all exercise helps to maintain balance and flexibility; reducing the tendency to falls.
  • High alcohol intake. Alcohol’s diuretic effect promotes excess calcium loss in the urine. It also reduces the absorption of calcium from the intestines.
  • A high sugar diet with sodas and diet drinks being especially bad. The high level of sugar and phosphorus in soft drinks is particularly detrimental to bones.
  • Smoking cigarettes promotes calcium loss from the skeleton.

What can you do to prevent osteoporosis?

Check your vitamin D levels with a blood test

Vitamin D is made in large amounts from cholesterol in the skin when the skin is exposed to the sun. In reality vitamin D is actually a steroid hormone and not a vitamin.
In addition to skin manufacture from sunlight, vitamin D can be found in such foods as oily fish, canned fish, cod liver oil, liver, egg yolks and dairy products. It is also available in supplement form, with the current recommendation being that you take between 1000 and 5000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. Many people, especially those who avoid the sun or those living in cold countries, need much more than this and doses of around 10, 000 IU daily may be needed before you can get your blood levels of vitamin D into the higher desirable range.

Regardless of how you get it, make sure that you have an adequate amount of vitamin D in your body. It is easy to check your body’s levels of vitamin D with a simple blood test; if your levels are below or at the lower limit of the normal range please take a vitamin D 3 supplement and get some sunshine on your skin. Recheck your blood levels after 3 months to ensure your vitamin D increases to the higher limit of the normal range. Make sure that you do not become deficient in vitamin D again.

Blood levels of vitamin D

It is vitally important to ask your doctor to check your blood level of vitamin D. The correct blood test to measure your vitamin D level is called 25(OH) D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D3.

Vitamin D can be measured in two different units of measurement and in the USA the units used are ng/mL. In Australia and Canada the units of measurement are nmol/L.
The normal ranges of vitamin D for blood tests reported by different laboratories and countries vary significantly and you will be surprised by the large range between lower normal and upper normal – see table below:

Lower Limit Vitamin D Upper Limit Vitamin D
75 nmol/L 200 nmol/L
30 ng/mL 80 ng/mL

You don’t want to be average here; you want to have levels of vitamin D that optimize strong bones. The optimal levels of vitamin D are higher than the average levels.

I recommend you take enough supplements of vitamin D3 and/or get enough sunshine to keep your serum vitamin D levels around 150 to 200 nmol/L or 70 to 80ng/mL.

Excess vitamin D intake can cause elevated blood calcium levels; so don’t overdose on it – it’s not a case of the more the better. Get your blood level checked every 6 months to find the dose of vitamin D3 that keeps you in the optimal levels.

Helpful supplements to build strong bones

  • Bone Build Capsules contain a well absorbed form of calcium along with the other minerals magnesium, manganese, zinc, silica, boron, and copper. Calcium carbonate is the most common form of calcium to be supplemented but is the same form of calcium found in chalk and may not be the best absorbed form of calcium. Therefore I do not recommend it.
  • Vitamin C 1000mg daily to build collagen in the skeleton. Also eat plenty of citrus fruits, bell peppers (capsicums) and berries.
  • Strontium is a natural mineral, vitally important for strong bones, particularly in post-menopausal women. Strontium helps to encourage bone formation, and it reduces bone loss. I recommend you take one capsule daily, away from food, and at least 2 hours away from taking a calcium supplement. Strontium and calcium can compete for absorption.
  • Vitamin K – this vitamin puts calcium into the bones, and reduces deposition of calcium in the arteries where you don’t want calcium to build up. The fermented soy food “natto” has the highest vitamin K2 levels of any food; it is an acquired taste and only needs to be eaten 2 to 3 times a week. You can also take a vitamin K2 supplement in a dose of 100 to 150mcg daily

What can I do if I have osteoporosis?

  • Well you need to take the minerals and vitamins mentioned above on a regular basis. You must also ensure that your blood vitamin D levels are optimal.
  • Optimize your diet to get the nutrients discussed above.
  • You need a regular exercise program, even if it is only walking 30 minutes a day. Exercise has been proven to increase bone density.
  • Talk to your doctor about the use of bio-identical hormones such as testosterone, estrogen and progesterone, especially if you have had an early menopause, or if your blood levels of testosterone are very low.
  • Talk to your doctor about the use of drugs to prevent bone loss. You may need to see an endocrinologist who specializes in treatment of osteoporosis. The class of drugs known as Bisphosphonates are the most commonly used drugs and they work by stopping bone turn over – in other words they stop the breakdown of bone. They can have side effects such as necrosis (death) of the jaw bone and atypical fractures which do not heal well and thus they can only be taken for a maximum of 5 years.
Food Average Serve Milligrams of Calcium
Whole milk 250 ml (1 cup) 300
Skim milk 250 ml (1 cup) 300
Goat’s milk 250 ml (1 cup) 295
Powdered skim milk 1 tablespoon 130
Yogurt 200 g 240
Block cheese 30 g (3 cm cube) 258
Fetta cheese 30 g 129
Ricotta 30 g 100
Egg 60 g 35
Sardines 100 g 350
Salmon (with bones) 100 g 190
Almonds 30 g (average 25 nuts) 70
Brazil nuts 30 g (7 – 8 nuts) 55
Whole sesame seeds 30 g (2 ½ tablespoons) 290
Rhubarb ½ cup (cooked) 170
Fresh fruit each piece (average) 10 – 30
Broccoli 1 cup 50
Spinach 1 cup 100
Vegetables 1 cup (average) 10 – 50
Chick peas ½ cup 75
Baked beans ½ cup 60
Kidney beans ½ cup 60
Soy beans ½ cup 90
Bread (average all types) 1 slice 30
Tahini (sesame paste) 1 tablespoon 85
Tofu ½ cup (130 g) 130

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.