So many people have been taught that osteoporosis is a normal result of aging. In reality, age is not the only risk factor for osteoporosis. In many cases, age isn’t even the primary risk factor for osteoporosis – it can be a hormone imbalance or poor nutrient absorption.
Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by the thinning and deterioration of your bones. When bones start to lose calcium, they become brittle and can break.
Calcium is not the only mineral you need for strong bones. Other nutrients include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
Promoting hormone balance inside our bodies should be the first step in preventing osteoporosis. Our body thrives on homeostasis. When one simple hormone or nutrient is imbalanced that sends a trickle-down reaction throughout our whole body.
Bone loss after age 30 increases significantly, which is why age appears to be a huge factor in osteoporosis. Although, much of this is due to hormone restructuring as we age. We can’t stop aging but we can help slow down the process of osteoporosis by focusing on risks within our control.
Osteoporosis Signs and Symptoms
How can you tell you have osteoporosis? Initially, you won’t have any symptoms. However, as this condition progresses you may experience:
- Bone fractures (especially in the hip and wrist)
- Low back pain
- Vertebral compression fracture
- Loss of height
- Stooped posture (Dowager or widow’s hump)
- Gum disease/excessive tooth decay
- Premature graying of hair (50% by age 40)
- Leg cramps at night
Osteoporosis Risk Factors
When it comes to osteoporosis, there are some risk factors within your control and then there are those that are out of your control.
Uncontrollable osteoporosis risk factors:
- Age, above 50 years old
- Family history
Controllable osteoporosis risk factors:
- Eating acid-forming foods (excessive meat, coffee, sugar, sodas)
- Nutrient deficiencies (Ca, Mg, K, D3)
- Low stomach acid and antacid usage
- Lactose intolerance
- Poor gut bacteria
- Low estrogen
- Low androgens (DHEA and testosterone)
- Birth control pills
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Heavy metals found in the body (cadmium and lead)
Have you noticed that so many more risk factors are in your control?
8 Causes of Osteoporosis
There is a process of growth called ‘remodeling’ that goes on within healthy bones. Each bone uses osteoclast cells to break down old and weak bone. And osteoblast cells are used to build new, strong, and healthy bone. When this process is altered, it signals an imbalance is happening in our body. We are now learning age and a low calcium diet are not the only reasons to blame, but instead an imbalance of the remodeling process.
1. Low estrogen
On a cellular level estrogen is needed in inhibiting osteoclast (bone break down). When you have an estrogen deficiency, this speeds up bone resorption causing low bone density – resulting in increased fractures.
Estrogen deficiencies are not only found in postmenopausal women but also include:
- Young women with amenorrhea (thin athletes, anorexia)
- Women with bilateral oophorectomy (both ovaries removed)
The same is true with testosterone deficiency in males. Androgens prevent the loss of bone density and promote bone formation. But we all know the prevalence of osteoporosis in women far exceeds men’s prevalence.
So why is it so important we also focus on a hormonal deficiency in men? Studies show that the mortality rate in men is significantly higher after a hip fracture than women.
3. Low progesterone
Studies here and here show that progesterone, together with E2 estrogen (called estradiol), prevent the degradation of bones. As women age, our estrogen and progesterone drop – this explains why women (even those who eat a complete, healthy diet), are still prone to bone loss, osteopenia and osteoporosis. Correcting estrogen and progesterone levels might show great results.
3. Other hormones
Our hormones are like an orchestra. If we have any deficiencies within our body, then it causes everything to play out of tune. This is true with our growth hormone and parathyroid hormone. These hormones play a huge role in keeping our bones strong and healthy.
Additionally, increased parathyroid hormones induce calcium loss through the urine. And we all know by now – when we lose calcium we lose bone density.
Our growth hormones are another important regulator in our skeletal growth. As we age, our body produces less of this hormone. With older adults the inability to produce this hormone causes them to lose bone more rapidly than they can replace it.
4. Nutrient deficiencies
Bone matter consists of a few things that are needed to give your bones hardness and flexibility:
- Calcium and phosphorus crystals
- Protein fibers (collagen)
Our bones house the majority of calcium and phosphate found in our body.
Vital nutrients for bone health and their roles:
- Calcium – maintains bone strength and is the essential building block
- Zinc – increases osteoblast and mineralization
- Copper – helps with bone flexibility and strength
- Magnesium – increases osteoblast and regulates the concentration of Vitamin D
- Potassium – neutralizes metabolic acids
- Vitamin C – synthesizes healthy collagen and regulates homeostasis for healthy bones
- Vitamin D – facilitates calcium absorption in the intestines and critical in bone remodeling
- Vitamin K – aids in calcium absorption and improves bone turnover
You can see how important all of these nutrients are in building strong healthy bones. This is why we also focus on these deficiencies in our body – to determine if this could be the cause of osteoporosis.
5. Sedentary lifestyle
The saying “If you don’t use it, you lose it” is so true when it comes to our bones. Exercise increases the secretion of a thyroid hormone called calcitonin in our body. Calcitonin inhibits osteoclast (bone breakdown) – yet another example of hormones affecting our bones. Weight training is especially beneficial for osteoporosis.
To add to the long list of negative effects smoking has on your body – it also decreases your bone density mass. Smoking increases the breakdown of estrogen in the liver. Smoking also has been proven to cause early onset of menopause in women.
7. Certain medications
Drugs like proton pump inhibitors, selective inhibitors of serotonin, hormone deprivation therapy, and glucocorticoids negatively affect bone density – increasing bone fractures.
Alcohol interferes with calcium absorption. So, it is no surprise that heavy alcohol consumption can lead to decreased bone density, bone formation, and increased fractures.
Side Effects of Pharmaceutical Drugs on Osteoporosis
Unfortunately, prescription medications are usually most physician’s first line of defense in fighting this disease. One question to ask before you decide to take the conventional approach to osteoporosis – Do the side effects outweigh the benefits? Studies prove that they don’t.
- Using bisphosphonates for treatment completely inhibits osteoclast (bone breakdown). Bones may appear denser, but the overall quality and strength are not.
As I mentioned earlier, our hormones are like an orchestra. We thrive on everything to working together to maintain homeostasis within our body. We can’t have one process without the other — that is why osteoclast (bone breakdown) is so important to the overall process of remodeling. The bone it breaks down is unstable and brittle bone that needs to be replaced. We don’t want to completely stop osteoclast during remodeling— we WANT the old, unstable bone to be removed so new, strong bone can grow in its place.
- Side effects: Esophageal cancer, atrial fibrillation, osteonecrosis of the jaw, and increased fracture risks.
- Using estrogen blockers for hormone balance and osteoporosis prevention in women is questionable. Studies show that these drugs do not lower the risk of any fractures in women, but the spine. That’s it – only the spine! But the side effects that follow the drug can be uncomfortable and even life-threatening
- Side effects: Hot flashes, leg cramps, the risk of blood clots, stroke, and joint pain.
Nutritional Corrections for Osteoporosis
Start with eating calcium-rich foods:
- Collard greens
- Bok Choy
- Sardines (with bones)
- Almond milk
Don’t forget Vitamin D (I use this supplement) is needed to absorb calcium so pair your calcium-rich foods with:
- Fatty fish, like salmon or tuna
- Orange juice
- Egg yolks
Dairy is a good source of calcium, but I don’t recommend it due to increased food sensitivities to most dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter.
The dairy industry has created the need for dairy consumption by instilling fear in women that avoiding dairy will cause weak bones. To debunk this, let me offer you this analogy: Traditional Chinese cuisine never used any dairy and historically Chinese women had no problems with osteoporosis (this is changing now with Western food entering China).
Another analogy: cows don’t eat dairy and don’t seem to have a problem with their bones :-).
Alkalize your body
If you are having trouble eliminating acid-forming foods such as alcohol, meat, sugar, and soda (although I strongly recommend that you do), try alkalizing your body. Start by mixing 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice in water before your meals. This helps neutralize the pH in your stomach – which helps your stomach absorb calcium better.
Want to learn more about nutrition for healthy bones and hormones? In my cookbook, Cooking For Hormone Balance, you’ll find over 125 easy, delicious recipes to nourish your body and balance your hormones without calorie restriction or deprivation. All of the recipes are based on 20 hormone-supporting superfoods and 20 hormone-supporting super herbs—with modifications for Paleo, Paleo for Autoimmunity (AIP), anti-Candida, and low-FODMAP diets.
Supplements and Hormones for Osteoporosis
Correcting the nutritional deficiencies
Together with our formulators, we developed Osteo Foundation for preventing osteoporosis because I noticed most supplements were incomplete or unbalanced. This is not just a calcium supplement. With its unique blend of nutrients, it helps aid in the absorption of important building blocks for healthy bones.
Plus, Osteo Foundation provides all the necessary vitamins and minerals to prevent osteoporosis in one pill as opposed to needing 9 separate supplements.
Osteo Foundation includes:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin D
Correct your progesterone levels
Like I mentioned above, low progesterone cn contribute to break down of the bone tissue. If you experience other symptoms of low progesterone including anxiety, mood swings, sleeplessness, mid-night waking, consider adding topical progesterone. I personally use ProgestPure – a yam-derived progesterone we formulated to be the cleanest, quickly-absorbed and efficacious oil in the market. It contains no phthalates, fragrances, chemicals, mineral oils or additives.
Test your estrogen and DHEA levels
I don’t recommend using DHEA or estrogen (even if it’s bio-identical) without a supervision of a skilled practitioner. These hormones can break down into metabolites that may cause or contribute to estrogenic cancers, ER+ breast cancer amongst them. You can test your estrogen levels and see you break down them into “clean” and “dirty” metabolites by using the DUTCH test. The results should be interpreted by a hormone specialist. Correct your estrogen levels by working with a practitioner who can re-test your levels after 3 to 6 months.
It’s time we stop looking at pharmaceutical medications as our first line of defense to osteoporosis. Also, rethink your dairy intake.
You must first understand the actual cause of osteoporosis in your own body before you are able to effectively treat it. In my experience, changing your diet and adding a high efficacy supplement can work like a charm for most women. For some women, diet alone is not enough, especially if the osteoporosis is at an advanced stage. And, supplements alone without a good diet can only go that far. It’s best to combine these two forces.