When I began my career as a massage therapist, I was practicing at a health spa that included all natural foods and featured various exercise classes, including yoga and tai chi. At that time, in the mid- 1980’s, they posted an article on the bulletin board about research showing that the most effective way to build and maintain bone mass is to do weight-bearing exercise … at least a couple of hours a week. Much more is known today about what kind of movement helps to build bone, and what foods contain essential nutrients that our bones need.
The studies on the benefits of exercise for building healthy bones was done before it was known that hormone replacement therapy – often prescribed as a preventative for bone loss even where there is no evidence of bone deterioration – resulted in risk of heart problems and cancer. The first medications for osteoporosis – called bisphosphonates – became available the 1990’s. While there are many studies showing that the many different brands of this class of drugs have slowed bone loss in the short term, there have been few studies that analyze the risks and benefits of their long-term use.
For most of us who are concerned with bone loss during and after menopause, it is critically important that we understand that bisphosphonates do not help promote bone remodeling – that is, the growth of new bone – even though they are often described as a bone-building medication.
Healthy bones are constantly remodeling, a process involving the shedding old worn out bone tissue – a process called resorption – and rebuilding with healthy new bone tissue. Bisphosphonates prevent the shedding of old bone. This class of drugs suppresses the remodeling of the bones, preventing the generation of new, healthy bone tissue. Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP of the Women to Women Clinic in Maine states, “…we know that inhibiting bone loss also inhibits new bone growth … “
There may initially be a benefit when results are measured by bone density. However, after a couple of decades on the market, there are some serious concerns regarding the use of this class of drugs. A University of Southern California study shows a significant link between bisphosphonates and jaw osteonecrosis. Jaw osteonecrosis is bone death of the jaw. Other reports indicate that the drugs – In common usage, bisphosphonates are usually presented as “bone-building” when they do not build bone at all, merely interfere with the shedding of old bone.
A New York Times article by Tara Parker-Pope published in July of 1995 reports that the use of bisphosphonate usage may lead to weaker bones, resulting in spontaneous fractures in a small number of people using the drug. A number of people experiencing weakening of the bones have had other conditions including cancer treatment with chemotherapy where bone loss is one of the effects of the treatment. In cases where the risks for bone loss are high, the benefits and risks from use of bisphosphonate must be measured against the risks of severe bone loss.
According to the Women to Women Clinic, side effects from the use of bisphosphonate drugs increases over time, with many of their patients taking this class of drug for more than two years are reporting bone and joint pain. The Clinic website contains a page discussing the benefits and risks of bisphosphonate drugs.
Unless there are serious immediate risks due to osteoporosis, there are a number of very effective ways for a healthy person to naturally maintain bone health without the risks associated with drugs that have not undergone studies to discover any adverse side effects due to long-term use.
The first consideration is to include the very best nutrition. The National Osteoporosis Foundation offers some good advice on their website. One of my teachers told us that if it is real food, then eat it. I am not an advocate of any specialty diet; there are many different theories on diet but most have these essentials in common:
- Dark green leafy vegetables; kale is arguably king if these! These hearty dark green vegetables are rich in calcium, magnesium and vitamin K, all these are essential nutrients needed by for strong bones.
- Essential Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Supplement with vitamin D and a chelated trace mineral supplement including calcium if necessary, according to the recommendations of your health care provider. My holistic dentist recommends calcium citrate or calcium glutamate as being the most absorbable form; she said that research has shown that calcium in these forms can actually help reverse bone loss. Dentists are especially aware of bone loss issues, as progressive bone loss first shows up in the jawbone.
- Silica-rich foods such as cucumber, which is beneificial for bone and connective tissue health. Bone health depends on adequate minerals in the diet. One of the less understood but important bone minerals is Silica, which is important in calcium metabolism and bone mineralization. Silica is also important in the production of collagen, which give bones their elasticity and resilience. The U.S. National Library of Medicine contains a study by R. Jugdaohsingh on Silicon and Bone Health. Jeff Primrack’s book Conquering Any Disease has a thorough bone regenerating protocol. His book has ten pages of cited medical research as references for his health protocols.
- Avoid inflammatory foods such as processed white flour and sugar
The second essential step for bone health is movement – any kind of weight-bearing movement. Basically any kind of movement is weight-bearing, including gardening and housework. It should not be a chore; choose something that you truly enjoy, and join with some friends to make it even better. We are advised that at least a couple hours a week of weight-bearing exercise is needed for health; 30 minutes or so a day is even better. However, it need not be odious; a walk in nature, dance, yoga, tai chi, weight-lifting, tennis, and jogging. The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine website has a good overview of exercise for bone health.
The moving meditation practices such as Yoga or Tai Chi are wonderful for both strength and suppleness. For those who may have difficulty with the standing postures, my teacher and mentor Gary Paruszkiewicz has designed a chair Tai Chi practice. He has developed the exercises with the guidance of medical specialists, physical therapists, Tai Chi and Yoga Masters and psychologists to be beneficial for people of all ages and abilities. Gary’s website includes online links for free Qigong, Tai Chi and Wellness videos on u-tube.
For some people at a high risk for bone loss, taking a medication may be a best practice. However, for many of us the best choice may be to try the least invasive protocol first. For most healthy people, embarking on a proactive practice of weight-bearing exercise, high quality nutrition, and judicious selection of supplements is the best practice for sustainable natural bone health.
I owe my sister many thanks for helping me with the information I’ve included in this article. She has spent countless hours researching bone health after needing a hip transplant three years ago.
Let me know if this has been of interest to you; I would like to hear your experience with deciding what is best for your healthy bones. Please share your ideas in the Comments section below.
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