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Osteoporosis: A Factor Of Aging
(Understanding Calcium and Estrogen Activity)
By: Steven E. Whiting, PhD
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Osteoporosis Risks and Risk Factors

Osteoporosis or 'porous bone' is a condition that can develop if bone is no longer replaced as quickly as it is removed. Bone density is influenced by factors such as heredity, sex, race, physical activity, overall health and most especially nutritional intake & absorption. One out of every four women over the age of 60 experience a bone fracture due to osteoporosis and 17 percent of those who sustain a hip fracture die within three months of the fracture.

Even for those who do not actually fracture bones through falling, the health problems can be somewhat severe. A simple act of coughing or bending down can cause painful vertebral fractures that shorten height and lead to rounding of the spine known as dowager's hump.

Because of this insidious process, it is not uncommon for older people to lose up to 3 or more inches in height due to skeletal damage and compression which can lead to nerve problems and increased pain.

We have already discussed age and gender as factors in osteoporosis. Now let's look at some of the other factors that contribute to this problem.

  • Heredity: A family history of fractures may indicate a problem with calcium uptake and absorption. A naturally small frame with less bone mass to begin with can also accelerate the risk.

  • Physical Impairments: Those with arthritis which limits mobility or those on medications which make them unsteady or those with poor eyesight, will have an increased risk of fractures in later life.

  • Nutrition: A diet low in calcium and certain trace minerals combined with a reduction in the natural hydrochloric acid of the stomach can accelerate the osteoporosis process by as much as 70% or more, making nutrition the single greatest factor in the development & progression of the disease.

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Understanding the Calcium Connection

The majority of the body's calcium is found in the skeletal system. Because of this there is a constant exchange mechanism between the calcium which is held in the bones, and the calcium which is in the blood stream. As long as there is adequate calcium in the blood stream from dietary sources, bone calcium can remain fairly consistent with calcium being reabsorbed from the bone and deposited at similar rates. However when blood serum calcium levels are constantly low, the body reabsorbs calcium into the blood from the bone faster than it can be deposited back, resulting in a loss of bone mass.

Adequate calcium in the blood is so vital to a wide variety of bodily functions that our internal biochemistry will not tolerate a deficiency even for short periods. This is why a deficiency of calcium or a difficulty of calcium absorption, even for short periods of time, can result in a significant percent of bone loss.

Unfortunately, this 'bone calcium' is very alkaline and is difficult for the body to properly acidify for other biochemical functions. Calcium from this source must circulate in the blood for long periods of time in an attempt to become acidic enough for use. This explains why those who are calcium deficient often show high levels of calcium in their blood.

If you show elevated calcium levels in your blood test, and do not have a condition that can explain it, you almost always are deficient in calcium and need to increase your intake of this mineral from foods or dietary supplements.

Some of the biochemical functions of calcium in the body are worth mentioning to illustrate the vital importance of maintaining adequate bio-available serum calcium on a continual basis. The blood, the heart, the muscular system, the nervous system, the hormonal system, as well as the kidneys, and the gastrointestinal system are all affected by calcium and demand a specific calcium balance.

As calcium is transported back and forth between the body fluids and the cells of the various systems, control is maintained in each system. The central nervous system depends on sufficient calcium levels to keep the nerves functioning properly. Nerve impulses are transmitted down the nerves to specific body parts so they can perform a given function.

For example, when a person wants to bend their arm, the impulse travels from the brain down the spinal cord to the nerve which goes to the muscle, which bends the arm. If the calcium levels in the body become too low, the nerves become hyper-excited and the muscles go into spasm. If the calcium levels stay low enough for a long enough period of time, the muscles can go into tetany, which is a more continuous spasm.

Not only does calcium affect the muscles via the nerves, it also has a profound direct affect on the smooth muscles of the body (especially the heart). Calcium is directly involved in the cardiac muscle by affecting the tension in the heart walls which in turn affects the pumping ability of the heart.

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The Role of Estrogen

Research has lead to the general agreement among physicians and researchers that the progression of bone loss can be halted in post menopausal women with Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT).

In his article for "Let's Live" magazine (February 1989), Dr. David Steenblock wrote, "A lack of estrogen in post-menopausal women prevents the absorption and utilization of calcium and is the single most important factor in the development of osteoporosis in older women." We can take this one step further and apply it to males. As men age their testosterone levels can decrease. Testosterone is converted to estrogen in the male and hence serves the same function as in women. A lowering of testosterone contributes to osteoporosis in men as well.

Although ERT can reduce the risk of osteoporosis if taken within three to five years after menopause, according to an article in "Medical Self-Care" (May/June 1988), taking it also entails increased risk for some kinds of cancer, heart disease and gall bladder disease. Less serious side effects of imbalanced ERT therapy can include enlarged and tender breasts, nausea, skin discoloration, water retention, weight gain, headaches, and digestive problems.

While estrogen, even if administered properly, can prevent further bone depletion, it does not replace bone that has already been lost. The only way to regain lost bone mass is through proper nutritional support in the form of aggressive dietary supplementation.

As mentioned earlier, nutrition is the single greatest factor in either contributing to or preventing osteoporosis. Let's take a look at the nutritional factors that show how you can stay ahead of this debilitating problem through proper prevention.

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Calcium Absorption and Excretion

Calcium...No discussion of osteoporosis would be viable without a review of the role calcium plays in the process. Taking calcium supplements all alone may slow the loss of bone mass, but this will not succeed in replacing bone that has been lost. The source of calcium will also affect the body's ability for absorption. Generally, chelates are far better assimilated than nonchelates which are primarily ground up rock, clays, sea beds, egg shells, or soils.

Besides looking for chelated supplements, many other factors influence calcium absorption, among them lifestyle, exercise, dietary intake, and pH balance of the gastrointestinal tract. Effective calcium absorption begins in the stomach. If the stomach produces too little stomach acid (hydrochloric acid), calcium remains insoluble and cannot be ionized, which is necessary for it to be assimilated in the intestines. Ionization is the process where an atom changes its structure so that it can combine with other elements. This is why chelated calcium, like many other chelates, is much more absorbable: the decreased pH helps ionic bonding which is necessary for intestinal uptake.

The proper level of hydrochloric acid in the stomach is so important that its lack in the digestive process can account for as much as 80 percent loss of available calcium absorption. Studies show stomach acid secretion decreases with age, and, "up to 40 percent of post-menopausal women may be severely deficient in this natural stomach acid," writes Dr. Joseph Pizzorno in the recent best selling book, "Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine."

Factors leading to reduced stomach acid include a diet of over-cooked, over-processed, lifeless foods which no longer contain naturally occurring enzyme activity, as well as the excess consumption of antacid medications. Any nutritional program that wishes to properly address osteoporosis and other conditions caused by a lack of calcium and calcium absorption MUST include supplements which provide for the adequate replacement of lost stomach acid.

Other factors that might adversely affect calcium absorption would include:

  • Poor intestinal health such as those suffering from Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis experience.

  • Mineral imbalance with phosphorus such as might be caused by an over consumption of high phosphorus foods like meats, processed snack foods and especially carbonated soft drinks which contain phosphoric acid.

  • Caffeine, which can bind with calcium and through its natural diuretic action, increase the excretion of many minerals. This diuretic action would also be a result of excess alcohol consumption.

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Other Nutrients That Affect Bone Health

While calcium is the primary supplement that comes to mind when considering bone density, there are many other nutrients which are either related to the absorption of calcium or play some other pivotal role in bone health & integrity.

  • Vitamin D: Required for intestinal calcium absorption, reduced vitamin D levels are common in elderly individuals, especially women. Factors that can affect vitamin D levels include reduced exposure to sunlight, decreased dietary intake and absorption problems. Supplementation of vitamin D daily, as part of a full spectrum formula, should be adequate for most people. An excess of this vitamin has not shown an increased benefit. The body's use of vitamin D is enhanced in the presence of magnesium and boron.

  • Magnesium: Is responsible for many biochemical processes within the bone. Magnesium is essential for the conversion of vitamin D to its biologically active form. The typical American diet is frequently very low in magnesium. Many surveys have indicated that over 80 percent of Americans get less than the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) of this all important mineral.

  • Manganese: This trace mineral is essential for the mineralization of the bones as well as the production of cartilage and connective tissues. The best source of manganese in the diet is from grains but as much as 75 percent of all manganese is lost in the refining of wheat to white flour.

  • Zinc: This vital trace mineral is essential for normal bone formation and is involved in the biochemical activities of vitamin D. Dietary surveys consistently indicate that as many as 70 percent of all Americans consume less than two-thirds of the RDI for zinc.

  • Boron: Small amounts of this trace element can greatly enhance the absorption of calcium via a positive effect upon the hormone levels of the body. It is estimated that 1 to 2 mg per day is adequate for this mineral.

  • Strontium: Natural strontium occurs in relatively large concentration in bones and teeth. Fear over this mineral stems from the publicity about radioactive strontium. However natural organic source strontium is completely safe and effective in the human biochemistry. Many foods such as fruits and vegetables are naturally high in this mineral which has been shown to prevent dental caries while exercising a beneficial effect on persons with osteoporosis.

  • Copper: Experiments showed that animals fed copper-deficient diets had a marked reduction in bone mineral content and bone strength. In addition to playing a vitally important supportive role along with calcium, copper has been shown to strengthen connective tissue by its effect upon collagen strands.

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Why You Need Supplements

The typical American diet, filled with high proportions of refined sugar, white flour, fats and canned, processed, lifeless foods, contains far less vitamins and minerals than diets consumed by our ancestors. Additionally, the requirements for certain nutrients may be dramatically increased through such factors as genetics, metabolism, and metabolic changes that can occur at the time of menopause. Exposure to chemical toxins in the air, water, and food also increase our nutrient usage. A deficiency of any one of the above nutrients might contribute significantly to osteoporosis.

Deficiencies of a number of different nutrients over a long period of time may accelerate bone loss. This concept was illustrated in a 1981 clinical study which showed that adding the certain micro-nutrients to a calcium supplement reduced bone loss by a significantly greater degree than calcium alone. This is why you should never fragment nutrition by taking just one or a few isolated nutrients in the total absence of others. This practice may result in gross deficiencies of the nutrients not being supplied. The body demands balance and it can achieve this balance quite nicely when we simply provide full coverage of all nutrients for the body biochemistry to use.

During a clinical study conducted at the University of California at San Diego by Strauss & Saltman, the researchers actually reversed a loss in bone density with the right combination of calcium and certain trace minerals rather than merely halting its progression.

This is the ONLY study ever shown to increase bone density in as little as 24 months...and the minerals used are included in the formula shown below.

When taken with a full spectrum nutrition program providing all the relative nutrients for optimal health, this formula will provide the body with the extra calcium many of us need in the most highly absorbable environment possible.

This is the ONLY study ever shown to increase bone density in as little as 24 months...and the minerals used are included in the formula shown below.

When taken with a full spectrum nutrition program providing all the relative nutrients for optimal health, this formula will provide the body with the extra calcium many of us need in the most highly absorbable environment possible.

"The Formula"

  • Calcium (citrate, malate, chelates) 400-500 mg
  • Magnesium (chelate) 200-300 mg
  • Potassium (citrate) 200 mg
  • Zinc (gluconate, chelate) 2-4 mg
  • Manganese (gluconate) 2 mg
  • Copper (chelate) 500-800 mcg
  • Boron (chelate) 2 mg

Product Note: The BioCalcium supplement we carry has been specifically formulated to match this successful clinical study formulation.

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Research References

1. Riggs BL, Melton LJ III. Involutional osteoporosis. N Engl J Med 1986; 314: 1676-1686.

2. Recker RR et al. Effect of estrogen and calcium carbonate on bone loss in postmenopausal women. Ann Intern Med 1977: 87: 649-655.

3. Albanese A.A. Calcium in the prevention and management of osteoporosis. J Nutr. Elderly 1984; 3: 57-65.

4. Lee CJ 45 al. Effects of supplementation of the diet with calcium and calcium-rich foods on bone density of elderly females with osteoporosis. Am J Clin Nutr 1981; 34: 819-823.

5. Riis B, et al. Does calcium supplementation prevent postmenopausal bone loss? N Engl J Med 1987; 316: 173-177.

6. Albanese AA, et al. Effects of calcium and micronutrients on bone loss of pre and postmenopausal women. Scientific Exhibit presented to the American Medical Association in Atlanta, Georgia, January 24-26 1981.

7. Gallagher, JC, et al. Effect of treatment with synthetic 1, 25 -- dihydroxyvitamin D in postmenopausal osteoporosis. Clon Res 1979; 27: 366A.

8. Brauther N. Osteoporosis: Is 1, 25 -- S(OH) 2D3 of value in treatment? Nephron 1986; 44:161-166.

9. Rude Fk. Et al. Low serum concentrations of 1, 24 dihydroxyvitamin D in human magnesium deficiency. J Clin Endocrinaol Metab 1985; 61: 933-944.

10. Morgan KJ, et al. Magnesium and calcium dietary intakes of the US population. J Am Coll Nutr 1985; 4: 195-206.

11. Amdur MO, Norris LC, Heuser GF. The need for manganese in bone development by the rat. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 1945; 59: 254-255.

12. Raloff J, Reasons for boning up on manganese. Science News 1986; (Sept 27); 199.

13. Neilsen FH, et al. Effect of dietary boron on mineral, estrogen, and testosterone metabolism in post-menopausal women, FASEB J 1987; 394-397.

14. Strontium and dental caries. Nutr Rev 1983; 41: 342-344.

15. McCaslin FE Jr, James JM. The effect of strontium lactate in the treatment of osteoporosis. Proc Staff Meetings Mayo Clin 1959; 34: 329-334.

16. Marie PJ, Hott M. Short-term effects of fluoride and strontium on bone forming and bone reabsorbing cells in the mouse. Calcif Tissue Int 1985; 38 (Suppl): S17.

17. Schroeder HA, Tipton IH, Nason AP. Trace metals in man: Strontium and barium. J Chronic Dis 1972; 25: 491-517.

18. Atik OS. Zinc and senile osteoporosis. J Am Geriatr Soc 1983; 31: 790-791.

19. Holden JM, et al. Zinc and copper in self-selected diets. J Am Diet Assoc 1979; 75: 23-28.

20. Follis FH, et al. Studies on copper metabolism XVIII. Skeletal changes associated with copper deficiency in swine. John Hopkins Hosp Bull 1955; 97: 405-409.

21. Wilson T, Katz JM. Gray DH. Inhibition of active bone reabsorption by copper. Cacif Tissue Int 1981; 33: 35-39.

22. Mahoney AW, Hendricks DG. Role of gastric acid in the utilization of dietary calcium by the rat. Nutr Metabol 1974; 16: 375-382.

23. Hunt JN, Johnson C. Relation between gastric secretion of acid and urinary excretion of calcium after oral supplements of calcium. Dig Dis Sci 1983; 28: 417-421.

24. Strauss, Saltman PD. Spinal bone loss in postmenopausal women supplemented with calcium and trace mineral. Jour Nutr. 1994; 124: 1064-1064.

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