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Rags to Riches

Rags to Riches

Poverty of the bone – that’s the literal translation of “osteopenia,” which combines the Latin word for bone (osteo), and the Greek word for poverty (penia).

In osteopenia, the natural loss of bone mineral density has begun to outpace natural bone formation. And as you might suspect, this gradual impoverishment of bone is a precursor of osteoporosis.

I recently received this question about osteopenia from an HSI member named Jane: “Is there anything natural available for the condition of osteopenia? I have been told I have this and it is pre-osteoporosis.”

The quick answer to Jane’s question: Yes – there are natural ways to address osteopenia – and this is the best time to put them to use, before the condition progresses any further.

Assortment of options

In the e-Alert “Warm in the Tropics” (1/26/04), I told you about a recommendation from Jonathan V. Wright, M.D. For people who live in northern or southern latitudes and don’t get enough sunlight during winter months, Dr. Wright recommends supplementing with 2,000-3,000 IU of vitamin D every day. In addition, he suggests that those over the age of 35 should consider taking as much as 4,000 IU daily to help prevent osteopenia.

Another nutrient that helps promote good bone health is vitamin B-12. In a three-year study from the University of California, researchers monitored B-12 levels and bone mineral density in more than 80 women over the age of 65. Results showed that women with the lowest levels of B-12 had a significantly higher risk of bone loss and fractures compared to women with the highest levels.

Prunes might also help the effort. Florida State University researchers recently announced the launch of a one-year study to determine if an intake of 10 prunes per day might help reverse bone loss. In studies with animals, lost bone was restored with a steady intake of prunes, which are rich in vitamin A, potassium, soluble fiber, and antioxidants. Prunes are also a good source of niacin, vitamin B-6, and beta-carotene.

Bring in the team

Of course, you can’t address bone health issues without mentioning the importance of calcium. But calcium supplements are much more effective when combined with magnesium and other key nutrients.

e-Alert “To Lower, or Not to Lower” (9/9/03), HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., offered these insights: “Calcium without magnesium doesn’t occur in a natural human diet, so it shouldn’t be introduced to the body that way. Calcium alone has been found in several experiments to be improperly laid down in the body, even affecting arterial walls before setting up in bones.

“If osteoporosis is the problem, there’s WAY more to the issue than calcium and magnesium, in ANY ratio. Most HSI members have long since left behind the commercial baloney about calcium for osteoporosis, but it’s even more complicated than most believe, and requires full-spectrum nutrients. The ‘biggies’ in the list include calcium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin D (in pretty high amounts, too), boron, silica, other micro-minerals, progesterone (natural, human formNOT Provera), usually additional digestive enzymes (along with plant-based hydrochloric acid), all topped off with reasonable exercise.”

Other key factors

Many patients with osteopenia and osteoporosis may be adding to the problem with the use of certain drugs.

In a 2003 study that appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine, elderly women who took antidepressants and other drugs were 70 percent more likely to break a hip than those who didn’t take such drugs. And in a Clinical Geriatric Medicine study referenced on the Atkins web site, many subjects who consumed a “normal” amount of calcium (listed in the study as 800 mg per day) had a negative calcium balance due to an intake of several common drugs; most notably, antacids that contain aluminum.

And finally, there’s celiac disease (CD), a condition in which gluten (a component of grains) reduces the small intestine’s ability to absorb essential nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium. Studies have shown that CD is a common condition among osteoporosis patients. Unfortunately, the symptoms of celiac disease are often so subtle that many people don’t even know they have it. You can find much more information about celiac disease in the e-Alert “Bringing in the Sheaves” (2/18/03), at this link:

The treatment for CD is fairly uncomplicated: Patients are advised to follow a strict gluten-free diet. But before Jane begins a special diet or starts taking any of the supplements recommended by Dr. Wright and Dr. Spreen, she should talk to her doctor or a healthcare professional.

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