A Nourishing Life with Dr. Melissa Blake
According to The Osteoporosis Canada website, fractures from osteoporosis are more common than heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined and consume more hospital beds than stroke, diabetes, or heart attack.
Osteoporosis can happen in both men and women, however women during menopause are particularly prone to bone loss. This is due to a decline in estrogen levels. As many as 50% of women and 25% of men over the age of 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture. It is estimated that almost 2 million Canadians have osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a common bone disease in North Americans that can be defined as a state of decreased bone mass. Since this correlates with bone strength, a low bone mass leads to increased fragility of the bone tissue and consequently an increased risk of fracture.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to the development of osteoporosis. Review the checklist below to note identify your level of risk:
- Family history. Osteoporosis does tend to run in families. Although you may have an increased risk, there is an exciting field of medicine called epigenetics that studies our genes and the lifestyle components that determine whether or not these genes get “turned on” or activated. We can and do have some control over our DNA.
- As mentioned, women more frequently suffer from osteoporosis than men, but both sexes are susceptible.
- Poor lifestyle choices, including a diet high in refined and process foods, low physical activity, and excessive soda consumption. Bone mass peaks around the age of 30, so habits of our youth can increase our risk of osteoporosis.
- Many over-the-counter and prescription drugs, particularly steroids.
- Imbalance/low sex hormones – especially estrogen. This is the reason why menopausal women are at an increased risk, but deficiencies in these hormones can occur thru-out the life cycle.
- Thyroid disease
- Nutritional deficiencies. Deficiencies can occur due to low intake of nutrient dense foods or due to gastrointestinal diseases that interfere with absorption (such as celiac disease, food sensitivities, and inflammatory bowel disease).
- Low vitamin D
- 55 + years old (although it can occur at any age).
- Tobacco smoking.
- Excess alcohol consumption (greater than three units/day).
One concern with the high rate of fractures is that osteoporosis is a “silent disease” and until a fracture occurs, often goes undiagnosed. Having the appropriate testing to assess the stage of bone loss will assist with developing an appropriate treatment plan.
A bone mineral density test, such as a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan, evaluates the stage of bone loss by assigning a T-score. A score of -2.5 is diagnostic for osteoporosis. Although not a good measure of actual fracture risk, DEHA scans provide a necessary piece of information, which you can discuss with your naturopathic doctor.
Serum Vitamin D (25-OH)
Low vitamin D is a major contributor to poor bone health. Optimal levels help prevent bone loss and stimulate new bone. Having a blood test helps determine the need and appropriate dosing. Other nutritional tests may also be useful, including hormone levels, iron & B12, thyroid function, and inflammatory markers.
How Naturopathic Medicine can Help
There are a number of naturopathic strategies to reduce your risk of osteoporosis and improve overall bone health.
A diet rich in whole foods is protective against most disease, including osteoporosis. Ensuring 4-6 servings a day of vegetables will help provide a wide array of necessary vitamins and minerals to support bone health. Avoiding foods that are processed and refined will also reduce the acidity of your diet. A diet that has an imbalance in acid/alkaline will leach minerals from the bones, leading to osteoporosis. Acid forming foods and high sodium foods include soda pop, sugar, processed meats, chips, and crackers. Most fruits and vegetables help alkalize the diet and support healthy bones.
Inflammation plays a critical role in bone health. Ensuring you have enough omega 3 in your diet helps reduce overall inflammation and promotes healthy bones. Rich omega 3 foods include wild fish, sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts, and hemp. Occasionally, when food is not enough, a supplement may be warranted. Consult your naturopathic doctor for a tailored suggestion to meet your needs.
Exercise has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of osteoporosis by stimulating the bone forming cells known as osteoblasts. It is ideal to have a mix of aerobic and weight bearing exercises – such things as walking, playing sports, snowshoeing, dancing, and aerobic step classes provide both. Ideally, aim for 30 minutes or more of movement daily.
Depending on your deficiencies and risk factors, supplements may be necessary to get the best results for your bones. Calcium, Vitamin D, Magnesium, Boron, and Vitamin K are all necessary components for healthy bones. Part of a supplement plan may include digestive support, if necessary. Enzymes and probiotics are necessary to ensure proper absorption and utilization of the bone building supplements.
Work with your naturopathic doctor to assess and reduce your risk factors. Your ND can develop a medical plan that will address you needs to help prevent and treat osteoporosis for optimal bone health at any age.
Melissa Blake is an Amherst native and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She practises at The Pear Tree Naturopathic Clinic in Dieppe, N.B. and is accepting patients at the Hata Yoga Room, and can be reached at 1-506-857-1300 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.