Healthy Bones or Osteoporosis? part2
It’s more than just bone density!
by Carole Tashel, Clinical Herbalist
continued from last month
CREATIVE USE OF TESTING
There's nothing at all wrong with getting a bone density test if you're simply curious (or worried) about where you stand. But if you do, there are two additional tests that can help you more accurately monitor your progress in building bone density.Then, once you see you are headed in the right direction, you could increase the time between DEXA tests, since they do expose you to radiation.
While DEXA is like a report card on how much bone has been built over the past year or two, the NTx ("Cross-linked N-telopeptides") is a urine test that your doctor can order (see Resources). It measures byproducts from bone breakdown, indicating the rate at which you may lose bone over the next few months. Whereas you must wait at least a year to have a second DEXA, a follow-up NTx test in three to six months can assess the results of your bone-building efforts (nutritional protocols, resistance training, etc.).
At home, you can check urine pH (measures relative acidity/alkalinity) and get a daily report card. Diets high in animal protein, sugar, coffee, tea and processed foods (and low in vegetables and fruits) will disrupt pH balance. Body chemistry is pushed toward an acid state, and calcium and other alkaline minerals are withdrawn from the bones to buffer the acidity. The skeleton has been humorously compared to a large antacid tablet, full of minerals to be drawn upon when the internal environment becomes acidic.
The lower the value on your pH strip, the more acidic your body chemistry is. The ideal is a pH of 6.5 to 7, just about neutral, which indicates good reserves of the alkaline minerals. Try not to be alarmed by low values—it's a dynamic process that takes time to correct, and there are ways to improve your score: Increase vegetables (especially greens and yams) and fruits to about four cups per day, and favor oats, quinoa, wild rice and seeds (especially pumpkin seeds). Drink green drinks, lemon or lime juice in water two or three times a day. Use apple cider vinegar in your salad dressings, and enjoy miso soup and seaweed. The Japanese umeboshi plum is a powerful alkalinizer. Eden makes a product called "Ume Plum Balls"—five balls can be taken twice daily between meals.
HOW TO BEGIN BUILDING BONE-HEALTH
Make your meals nutrient-rich bonanzas.
* There are not just a few essential nutrients for bone health—there are 18! You need calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, fluoride (food sources only), silica, zinc, manganese, copper, boron, vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin K, vitamin B12, folic acid, essential fatty acids and protein. And you'll get these from a well-rounded, whole foods diet. (Some people need extra supplementation.)
Optimize mineral absorption.
* Animal fats, which contain vitamins A and/or D, are helpful. All you need is a small piece of fatty fish or organic meat, a little full-fat yogurt, butter or eggs with a meal. Vitamin D, of course, is also made on your skin when you're outdoors. Don't be too sun-phobic—10 to 15 minutes of exposure per day without sun block is not just beneficial, it’s actually essential.
* Before cooking whole grains, soak them for seven hours in a warm place with two tablespoons of lemon juice, buttermilk or kefir. The fermentation process makes their minerals more available.
* Before meals, encourage strong digestive "fire" by sipping a tablespoon of lemon juice mixed into one-half glass of room temperature water, or nibbling on something bitter, like parsley. (Skip the 16-ounce glass of ice water!)
* Flavor foods with herbs like thyme, oregano, curry blends, or a bit of ginger or black pepper. Chamomile is a classic digestive tea. Sprinkle lemon juice or apple cider vinegar over your salads, vegetables, etc.
* Herbs like horsetail, oatstraw, red clover blossoms, alfalfa or nettles brewed overnight into a strong tea provide ready-to-absorb minerals, including silica, critical for bone flexibility, strength and repair.
* Got yogurt? Cultured dairy products (yogurt and buttermilk) are more easily assimilated than milk, and goat milk products are even better. But the rate of calcium absorption from dark green leafy vegetables like kale and collards is far superior to milk, and they offer generous amounts of magnesium as well.
* Some feel the RDA for calcium is set too high at 1200-1500 milligrams per day. Unused calcium can show up as bone spurs, kidney stones and so on; and taking calcium pills without magnesium is counterproductive. Calcium and magnesium needs vary among individuals. It’s interesting to note that the World Health Organization suggests only 800 milligrams calcium per day as sufficient for most adults.
* The calcium carbonate present in so many supplements is the most difficult form to digest and absorb. Better choices are calcium citrate, aspartate, malate, orotate or gluconate. (Avoid dolomite, bone meal, oyster shell and coral calcium.)
* If you eat lots of protein (say the typical 95 grams a day), plenty of salt and little or no vegetables, you require much more calcium to stay in balance, even if you're taking 1500 milligrams per day. You’re fighting a losing battle, and making your kidneys work ever so much harder than they should. A better amount of protein to strive for might be 45-60 grams a day (for females), depending on your size.
Manage your stress creatively
Stress releases about 30 different acids into the bloodstream and tissues, and accordingly, minerals are pulled from the bones to neutralize them. You may think this is a small issue, but it's not. (I’ve seen stress cause urine pH to plummet overnight.) All the endocrine glands—the hypothalamus, pituitary, kidneys, thyroid, parathyroid, ovaries and adrenals—support healthy bone metabolism, and all can be negatively impacted by poorly-handled stress. Exercise helps defuse the stress response. There are also many "adaptogenic" herbs that regulate and balance the entire endocrine symphony, softening the impact of stress and strengthening these important glands. Eleuthero (formerly Siberian ginseng) is a gentle adaptogen that's safe for anyone to take on their own; be warned that cheap, supermarket products are often poor quality. Consider also Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and Holy Basil. These remedies are best taken long-term—months or years—for health maintenance.
Bones are subject to the "use it or lose it" rule, and respond quickly (in as little as three to five months) to the forces placed upon them. Ideally, you want to build muscle, aerobic capacity and bone. Not only can bone density be increased, but the equally important qualities of muscular strength, balance and flexibility are easily cultivated with yoga and tai chi. Brisk walking is still a superb aerobic conditioner.
But it's resistance or weight training that has the most profound capacity to build healthy bone. Even better, it can specifically target the most vulnerable parts of the skeleton such as the hips. And resistance training is effective for everyone; studies show bone mass being gained by women at age 70, and even 80-year-old women in wheelchairs!
The object is to work muscle and bone harder than they're accustomed to working. A great workout doesn't have to take more than 20-30 minutes, done three times a week. Consulting with a professional trainer is helpful but not absolutely necessary. If you do it on your own, though, learn about good form from someone who knows, start with low weights, and increase gradually. If you already have osteoporosis, there will be some moves you cannot do, so you really must consult with someone knowledgeable.
Now you have a more complete picture of how to build strong bones. Bone health is intimately connected with your overall state of health—and that’s something you can change for the better.
Copyright 2006 Carole Tashel
* Mineralizing Tea: A ready-made blend is available from Herbs, Etc. in Santa Fe. Call 505-982-1265 for mail order.
* OsteoHerb capsules: The same idea, in capsule form, from Herbalist & Alchemist, 800-611-8235, www.herbalist-alchemist.com
* Enzymedica pH urine test strips (4.5-7.5), Available at Herbs, Etc., or online
* NTx testing: Most labs can perform this urine test.
* Better Bones, Better Body: Beyond estrogen and calcium; a comprehensive self-help program for preventing, halting, and overcoming osteoporosis, Second Edition, by Susan E. Brown, Ph.D., 2000 Keats Publishing, Los Angeles, www.susanbrownphd.com. A remarkably positive book.
* Strong Women, Strong Bones, Miriam E. Nelson, PhD. Includes a simple home resistance training program.
* Strong Bones Yoga (VHS or DVD). A workout to strengthen bones combining weights and yoga by Christine Dormaier, www.strongbonesyoga.com
, Clinical Herbalist, is author of Gardening the Southwest.
Even after 25 years, she is still moved by the beauty, effectiveness
and revolutionary aspects of natural healing.
Contact Carole at 505.466.6153 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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