Having good bone health is simpler than you might think. Osteoporosis, osteopenia, and osteoarthritis are not normal. You do not have to resign yourself to them as if they are inevitable. Here are some pointers on how to build healthy bones and even reverse any degeneration that might have already got started.
Three main strategies support optimum bone health: 1) The right exercise; 2) Truly effective supplementation; and, 3) Avoiding prescription drugs that ruin bone metabolism. A fourth strategy also may be important for people who are overweight, which I will explain toward the end of this post.
Before I go further, let me point out that one of the key indicators of bone health, bone density, is often misleading. The main reason that this indicator is so widely used is because it is easy to measure. The actual key indicator for bone health should be bone strength. The reason I say this now is to point out that denser bones are not necessarily stronger bones, especially when they are denser from the use of prescription drugs such as Fosamax and Boniva.
Before you even think about doing anything else, make sure that your personal exercise program is up to snuff. Three types of exercise that are most helpful for your bone health, and for your overall health for that matter are:
1) Weight-bearing: walking, hiking, dancing, stair climbing, etc.
Do exercises that make you hold your body up. Thirty to sixty minutes, five times per week would be ideal. Yes, a good session of salsa dancing does wonders for your bones! Weight-bearing exercise does not include things like bicycling, swimming, and rowing, since these do not make your feet and legs hold up your body.
2) Resistance: weight-lifting, either with free weights or, even better, with weight machines
We are not talking about looking like Arnie, the former Governator, here. In fact, when done correctly for optimum results, weight-lifting workouts need to be done only once per week, for about 15 minutes at a time. Indeed, doing more than that undermines what you want to accomplish. Knowing how to do weight-lifting workouts properly is especially important as you age. Advice from those younger, buffed up trainers at places like LA Fitness does not work. In fact, it is counterproductive and often harmful. Besides, who wants to spend hours and hours in the gym every week?
The best information that I have ever found on how to do weight-lifting correctly is summarized in a book and a set of free videos on YouTube, which I link to on my fitness blog here: Body by Science Videos.
3) Flexibility: regular stretches, T’ai chi, yoga
Actually, anything that makes you stretch muscles and joints – carefully! – is helpful. Here is a little-known bonus: research on T’ai chi also shows it to stimulate your immune system. Wow!
By the way, do you remember that old adage from the 1970s – No Pain, No Gain? Forget it. Do what you can that is not overly stressful. Overdoing exercise is an invitation to injury.
Notice that I said ‘truly effective’ supplementation earlier. This is because, although I am a big user of supplements, most of the ones on the market that are supposed to be for bone health are pretty useless. And too expensive.
Most medical advice recommends supplementing with calcium and vitamin D3, which are important. The amounts and forms of calcium vary depending on who is talking. However, poor bone health does not come from calcium deficiency. It comes from errant calcium metabolism. It does not make sense to take calcium supplements if your body isn’t using calcium efficiently in the first place. This is especially true if you drink colas that contain phosphoric acid (read the label!). All that excess phosphorous in your body gets eliminated only after it is paired up with its cofactor – calcium. Drinking colas is the same thing as sucking calcium out of your bones and dumping it into the toilet.
Strontium – The Missing Bone Mineral
One mineral that goes directly into building strong bone structure is strontium. This has been known since the 1930s. It has taken modern medicine until recently to realize this. It took so long because strontium citrate, the most common form of strontium as a supplement, is not patentable for any drug company. In other words, there is no money in it.
Big Pharma is pretty creative, though. A prescription form of strontium (i.e., patented) is in current use in Europe, under the generic name, strontium ranelate. The ranelate is the new synthetic part that makes this strontium compound a patentable drug. This substance is going through the approval process in the U.S., so it is only a matter time before you can have an expensive visit to your doctor and get an expensive prescription for strontium ranelate. Of course, you also have to worry about the increased risk of heart attack that is known to accompany its use.
Or, you can simply get some strontium citrate capsules at any nutrition store and take a couple of grams a day on an empty stomach (or at least not with calcium-containing supplements – calcium blocks strontium absorption).
Arthred – Hydrolyzed Collagen
Funny story – years ago I heard a lecture by a prominent naturopathic doctor who was bemoaning the beneficial effects of chicken cartilage for bone health. He was worried that it was so good that it might get classified as a pharmaceutical and then be regulated by the FDA. (OMG! Anything but that!). We are safe for now, especially since a German company has taken the trouble to develop an enzyme-hydrolyzed (i.e., pre-digested) cartilage from pig and cow as a supplement for bone health.
It comes under the trademarked name, Arthred. If you take a look at most bone health supplements that come in powder form, you will see that Arthred comprises up to 80 percent of their composition. Powder is almost necessary, since you have to take so much for it to be effective. A tablespoon (about 10 grams) is simply easier to dissolve in water and drink than it is to take 10 or 20 capsules to get enough of the Arthred.
By the way, Arthred-containing mixtures contain many other goodies that may or may not be of much help. However, Arthred is the main ingredient that does most of the work for your bones and joints.
Fortunately, Arthred by itself is widely available, which keeps costs down. (Multi-ingredient mixtures can break the bank!) Many companies carry it as a powder, which is odorless and tasteless and easily dissolves in water. Add a scoop to your daily nutrition shake, even if such a shake only contains Arthred!
Methonyl Sulfonyl Methane – MSM
This substance provides an organic source for one of the most important minerals that we need for healthy bones, skin, muscle, arteries, nails, you name it – i.e., sulfur. Sulfur is a mineral that we don’t get nearly enough of in our diet.
You can tell that MSM is recognized as a supplement for bone health, because it is a common ingredient in many bone health mixtures. Like Arthred, though, you don’t need to buy an expensive mixture just to get MSM. Besides, almost all of the bone health products that I have seen fail to include enough MSM. A common dose in a mixed ingredient product is typically 500 mg or even less. The right amount for bone health is a lot more – at least 5 grams per day (approximately a full teaspoon of pure MSM powder).
Besides its role in bone and joint health, MSM provides phenomenal extra benefits. It is a substance that not only gets sulfur into needed tissues, it also provides a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. At least four recent human clinical trials point to its role in helping with exercise recovery, delaying muscle stiffness or soreness, and recovering from large muscle injuries such as those caused by a heart attack. (Your heart is a pretty big muscle!) All of these benefits are based on the ability of MSM to reduce oxidative stress and prevent subsequent cellular damage.
For the longest time, my source of MSM was my local feed and tack store. MSM has been more well-recognized and more widely used in veterinary circles, particularly for horses, than in human health. However, MSM for veterinary use is not necessarily the pharmaceutical grade stuff that you want to put into your body. I have subsequently found an excellent online supplier for bulk MSM from a company called Vibrant Life. Here is the link: http://www.oralchelation.com/msm_powder.html. A one kilogram bag lasts a long time.
The only unfortunate property of MSM powder is that it is very bitter. I add some Stevia to my MSM shake, although this just hides some of the bitterness and doesn’t really make for a good flavor. I just drink it as fast as I can and put up with the bitterness, then have a small square of ultra-dark chocolate as my reward for getting it down.
Avoid Bisphosphonate Drugs
Sally Field is inspirational in her TV commercials for Boniva. She is lively, pretty, vivacious, and many other things that make her a wonderful celebrity endorser for this drug. When she tells you how wonderful Boniva is for your bones, how could you not believe her?
Well, here’s how: Boniva and Foxamax, the most well-known drugs that doctors prescribe for treating osteopenia and osteoporosis, are dangerous and ineffective based on the way they work. What they do is disrupt the normal cycle of bone cells. Bone cells are living cells that come and go. You make new ones to replace old ones. Old ones are supposed to get degraded and recycled so you can reuse the useful materials and eliminate the damaged materials.
The bisphosphonate drugs prevent the completion of this cycle by halting the elimination of old bone cells. In other words, they make bones look denser by the buildup of dead cells. This disruption undermines bone strength, even though bone density scans look better over time.
If you want to see the full list of side effects from taking these drugs, you can check them out on Wikipedia. A summary includes the following: severe and sometimes incapacitating bone, joint and/or muscle pain; increased risk of hip and thigh fractures; osteonecrosis (bone death) of the jaw. This does not sound like better bone health to me! Morever, side effects are also known to include ulceration of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum, esophageal cancer, skin rash, eye problems, and auditory and visual disturbances.
The bottom line is that these drugs will not help you with your bone health. In fact, they can ruin it.
The good news is that if you follow the general guidelines I’ve given you regarding exercise and supplementation, you will probably never be in the position to have a doctor prescribe bisphosphonate drugs in the first place.
How About Diet?
You have undoubtedly heard plenty about the Standard American Diet (SAD) and how bad it is for your health. This includes your bone health. There are plenty of culprits in this diet: sugar, high fructose corn syrup, refined carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners (especially Nutrasweet/aspartame), wheat, food dyes and preservatives … the list goes on and on.
The most common diet-related correlate for a whole syndrome of poor health is obesity. You can bet that if you are overweight or obese, then a multiplicity of health problems have happened or will happen to you, including bad bone and joint health.
Plenty of slim folks also have problems with bones and joints. However, at this point I want to get the attention of those who are carrying an excess amount of fat. What is an excess? If you can jiggle your belly, arms, thighs, fanny, chin(s), or any other obvious place where fat builds up, then you are carrying an excess amount of fat. This simply means that you are not eating right.
I have some very good news about what ‘eating right’ means. It entails three components: 1) how often you eat; 2) what you eat; and, 3) how much you eat. Many other factors can influence your health, including bone and joint health, but these are the Big Three that you must get right to be as healthy as you can be.
By the way, the least important of those components above is how much you eat. The public has been sold a bill of goods about reducing calories or low-fat dieting as a way to manage your weight. Neither of these common bits of advice can ever work for making you slim and healthy. If fact, I can say emphatically that the low-fat diet craze is the worst dietary plague ever foisted on humanity.
That last comment may require some explanation. That is why I have put together a science-based book about diets, exercise, supplements, and a few other crucial strategies that you should know about regarding what it takes to be slim and healthy. You can see the topics that I’ve included in this book by examining the entire table of contents here: FatLossBiology.com.
Ultimately, you must realize that any kind of problem that you have with your bones and joints, cardiovascular system, weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc., is not normal. The only way to stay normal or get back to normal is by putting the right things into your body.
Thanks for reading this far. Now be healthy!
All the best in natural health,