Bone-Building Nutrients and Osteoporosis
Before The Fall
By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine Bulletin
The saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is never more true than when it comes to preventing diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and osteoporosis. Yet few of us take that well-worn advice to heart. As a result, far too many Americans are eventually diagnosed with one or more of these life-threatening conditions.
To stem the rising tide, health experts have identified “pre-diseases” – the point when blood sugar or blood pressure is a little too high, or when bone is beginning to thin. By identifying a pre-disease, you and your doctor can tackle them before they become a full-blown condition. Here’s what you need to know about three of the most common ones.
A whopping 54 million American adults have blood glucose levels that are higher than normal – but not quite high enough to be called diabetes. High blood sugar levels put you at a greater risk for developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
What’s higher than normal? A fasting blood glucose of 100 to 125 or a blood glucose of 140 to 199 two hours after drinking a special sugar solution means that you have pre-diabetes. Fortunately, having pre-diabetes doesn’t automatically mean you’ll develop Type 2 diabetes. They key is to lose weight and start exercising.
The Diabetes Prevention Program, a clinical trial of 3,230 overweight people with pre-diabetes, pitted weight loss (via exercise and diet) against the diabetes drug metformin to see if either could prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Exercise and diet won by a long shot, lowering the risk of diabetes by 58 percent versus 31 percent with metformin. The lifestyle changes worked especially well in people over age 60, reducing their risk of diabetes by an amazing 71 percent.
Weight loss was the main factor that reduced risk, which dropped 16 percent for every two pounds lost. Better yet, being physically active for at least 2 ½ hours a week reduced the risk of diabetes by 44 percent, even if weight loss was minimal.
About one-third of Americans have pre-hypertension – which increases the risk of developing high blood pressure and doubles the risk of heart disease. According to the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, pre-hypertension that leads to heart disease is especially common among African-Americans, obese people and those with diabetes.
One of the first things that happen when you visit your doctor is a blood pressure test. Pay attention as soon as they slap that cuff onto your arm and ask what your numbers are. You have pre-hypertension when your systolic blood pressure (the top number) is 120 to 139 or your diastolic (the bottom number) is 80 to 89. If your numbers fall within these ranges, its time to take action!
Strategies for controlling pre-hypertension are a lot like those used to treat high blood pressure. Weight loss is a priority – each two-pound loss lowers blood pressure by about one point. You also need to modify your diet. Along with increasing the amount of fruit and veggies you eat, opt for low-fat dairy, limit your fat intake to less than 30 percent of your total calories and keep your salt intake to no more than 2,300 mg. a day.
Taking supplemental calcium might also help lower your blood pressure. One study monitored elderly patients with hypertension for 24 hours to evaluate the effect of calcium supplementation on blood pressure. After taking 1,000 mg. of elemental calcium, systolic and diastolic blood pressure declined by 13.6 mmHg and 5.0 mmHg respectively. For best results, divide your calcium into two equal doses daily.
Approximately 34 million Americans over age 50 have thinning bones – a pre-condition called osteopenia. Of course, osteopenia boosts the risk of developing osteoporosis, the bone-thinning disease that threatens all postmenopausal women and even some men. Osteopenia has no symptoms, but as bones get thinner, the risk of fracture increases. Without a bone density test, a broken hip may be your first clue that osteopenia has progressed to osteoporosis.
If you haven’t had a bone density scan recently, ask you doctor to schedule you for one. The best way to check for osteopenia is with a bone mineral density test that uses dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). Bone density that’s lower than normal may be diagnosed in either you hips or your spine. If it is, take action to protect the bone you have left and prevent full-blown osteoporosis.
Eat a diet rich in bone-building nutrients and take at least 1,500 mg. of supplemental calcium, divided into three doses, every day (your body can’t absorb more than 600 mg. of calcium at a time). Be sure to engage in weight-bearing exercise like walking to maintain strong bones, plus resistance exercise with rubber bands or machines. Stretching exercises like yoga or tai chi can improve balance and help prevent falls. Shoot for 30 minutes of exercise most days.
While calcium is important for bone mass, recent studies show that both vitamin D and vitamin K are equally important. In one placebo-controlled trial of 244 postmenopausal women, those who took a combination of vitamin D, vitamin K and calcium per day actually increased their bone mineral density. Look for a bone-building supplement that provides at least 800 IU of vitamin D and up to 1000-µg of vitamin K.
One last thing . . .
Though the specific advice varies a bit from one condition to another, dietary changes and regular physical activity are the most effective strategies for treating all of these pre-diseases. That includes a nutritious diet that’s moderate in fat, low in sugar and sodium, and contains adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean protein and whole grains.
Becoming active and staying active are also essential. And if you must take medication, it should complement—not take the place of—your lifestyle changes. Remember, it’s better to take preventive action now, so you won’t have to pay with your health later.
This just in . . .
Have you got a “spare tire?” If so, it may up your risk of lung diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In fact, when Canadian researchers studied nearly 1,700 adults, they found that lung function diminished as waist size grew. An earlier study found that high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and metabolic syndrome are also more common among people with larger waist sizes than among others.
Even more telling, the waist size/lung health link persisted whether participants were normal weight, overweight or obese. And waist measurement was a better predictor of lung function than Body Mass Index (BMI), a commonly used way to tell if you’re overweight or obese. The researchers suggest that excessive fat around the middle and upper body – which affects your waist size – is detrimental to the muscles around the lungs and also reduces the size of your airway.
Though risk tends to increase along with your waist size, the National Institutes of Health has set cutoff points at which your risk for developing diseases increases greatly. For women, a waist measurement of 35 inches or more is a red flag for high risk; for men, it’s 40 inches or more. It’s easy to find out where you stand – all you need is a tape measure. Unlike BMI, which requires calculating your body mass and comparing it to a set index, figuring out your waist size doesn’t require any mathematical effort.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any special diets or exercises to minimize your middle – that comes only from eating less and moving more. But if you lose weight everywhere else, your midsection will follow and you’ll certainly be the healthier for it.***
Bolton-Smith C, McMurdo ME, Paterson CR, et al. “Two-year randomized controlled trial of vitamin k(1) (phylloquinone) and vitamin d(3) plus calcium on the bone health of older women.” Journal of Bone Mineral Research. 2007;22:509-519.
Chen Y, Rennie D, Cormier YF, et al. “Waist circumference is associated with pulmonary function in normal-weight, overweight, and obese subjects.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007;85:35-39.
Sacks FM, et al. “Effects on blood pressure of reduced dietary sodium and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. DASH-Sodium Collaborative Research Group.”
Takagi Y, et al. “Calcium treatment of essential hypertension in elderly patients evaluated by 24 H monitoring.” American Journal of Hypertension. 1991;4:836-839.