Preventing Osteoporosis

Forty percent of American women over the age of 50 will have a bone fracture related to low bone mass. Find out why taking calcium supplements alone may be like flushing money down the drain.

Forty percent of women 50 or older in the United States will break a hip, spine, or wrist during their lifetime. It’s a scary statistic, because nearly twenty percent of people who have a hip fracture will die within a year from complications associated with that fracture. 

More and more baby boomers are boning up on calcium supplements with the idea that their daily dose of calcium is going to solve the osteoporosis problem.

The More Calcium Myth

Osteoporosis Treatment, Preventing Osteoporosis, Treatment for Osteoporosis

Mass media would have us believe that taking a calcium supplement will prevent osteoporosis. The truth is that calcium is only a small part of the equation for maintaining healthy bones. As Americans we have one of the highest intakes of calcium in the world (approximately 1000 mg/day), yet we also have one of the world’s highest rates of osteoporosis. Hip fracture rates per 100,000 women in the United States exceed 100. On the other hand, South Africans consume only 200 mg of calcium per day, and have less than 7 hip fractures per 100,000 women. 

Your Source of Calcium Matters

Consider the source. Much of the average American’s dietary calcium comes from milk. Studies show that calcium in milk is not as well absorbed as calcium from vegetable sources such as dark leafy greens, broccoli, beans, and some fruits. 

If you’re taking a calcium supplement, the source of calcium should be either calcium citrate, or calcium lactate. Avoid calcium carbonate, which is poorly absorbed by the body.

Other Nutrients

We need more than calcium to have strong bones. Studies also show that calcium combined with vitamin D seems to protect against bone loss. Vitamin D not only strengthens bones, it also strengthens muscles. Early evidence on vitamin D also shows that it enhances the immune system, and may even prevent certain types of cancer.

Where can you get vitamin D--- from the sunshine in summer months. A few minutes limited exposure of the throat and chest to sunshine daily is all your body needs to produce vitamin D. During winter months moderate supplements, may be necessary, but consult with your physician, as too much vitamin D can be toxic.

Exercise Builds Bones

One factor that is a huge contributor to the health of our bones is weight-bearing exercise. Whenever a bone is stressed by weight bearing exercise the bone responds by laying down new, stronger bone to reinforce existing bones. Hence weight-bearing exercises like walking, jogging, hiking and weight lifting can help build stronger hips and spines that resist the ravages of time. 

Antacids Promote Osteoporosis

If you’re taking over the counter antacids or prescription medications for heartburn or acid reflux you are increasing your risk for developing osteoporosis. Reducing stomach acid directly correlates to bone loss. The side effects of decreased stomach acid are decreased absorption of important bone building minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, and decreased protein digestion. Adequate protein digestion is necessary for calcium to be transported in the blood. Protein also provides the lattice for calcium and other components of bone to be attached to so bone can be formed.

The Most Neglected Factor

While many of us seek some sort of magic cure for osteoporosis by finding the right supplement, combinations of supplements, or medications, the answer to preventing osteoporosis may actually be as simple as looking at what we are eating.

One factor that is over looked by many doctors and health professionals is the role that dietary factors play in the creation of osteoporosis. The body’s major building blocks are fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Excessive intake or inadequate digestion of any of these major food groups will result in bone loss.

The standard American diet – with excessive amounts of fat, and simple sugars -  is the perfect combination for promoting bone loss because it can cause the body to lose calcium. 

When we have excessive fat in the diet, the un-utilized fat combines with calcium in our intestines to form an insoluble soap that is excreted with our stool. This is exactly the same chemical reaction that soap manufacturers use to make soap from animal fat!

When we have excessive amounts of sugar and simple carbohydrates (e.g. white bread, pasta etc.) the process of metabolizing all those carbohydrates causes us to lose calcium in our urine, which then is taken from the bones to rebalance the body’s blood calcium levels. 

Be Proactive

Here are five steps to preventing osteoporosis:

First, its important to know how much bone mass you actually have. If you’re in your forties and have not had a bone scan of the hips, pelvis and lumbar spine, ask your doctor to order one before you start menopause. This will give you an accurate baseline to monitor any bone loss during and after menopause.

Next, evaluate your diet. Reduce fats, sugars and simple carbs, and use the new food pyramid’s recommendation of nine servings of vegetables and fruits per day. Vegetables are the best source of calcium you can absorb. 

If you are using a supplement, make sure that it provides a comprehensive mix of calcium, phosphorous, vitamin D and other bone building minerals. 

If you’re taking drugs to control heartburn, or reflux, address the real cause of your condition instead of medicating away your symptoms and placing yourself at risk for osteoporosis.

Lastly, get moving on a weight bearing exercise program where you stimulate bone growth by walking and lifting weights. 

Preventing osteoporosis involves more than popping a pill. However the changes you make to prevent bone loss will benefit your health at nearly every level.

Dr. Patrick Giammarise, DC, Internal Health Specialist, Founder of the Digestion Relief Center, Chico California,  specializes in effective, natural relief for IBS, food sensitivities and digestive problems. Learn more at

Published in the Inside Out Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 1, 2009.

2009, © Dr. Patrick Giammarise, DC. All Rights Reserved.

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