This article written by Lela was first published in the November 2008 issue of Rennaissance magazine, South Africa. Please see the relaunch issue in stores March 2009.
Prevention of Osteoporosis using our diet.
Osteoporosis is characterized by a deterioration of bones, resulting from the body’s attempt to extract nutrients from them and is a very real problem for many people, especially women, even in the medically advanced environment of today. The good news is that, with a little thought and information it can be easily prevented.
Lets take a look at the minerals which play the main roles in bone health:
Calcium is the most abundant in the human body and with 98% of the body’s calcium stored in the bones, one can see why adequate levels of this mineral are important in helping to prevent osteoporosis. This can be done in several ways:
Calcium is better absorbed by the body if in a slightly acidic environment thus the best time to take calcium supplements is between meals or on an empty stomach. Calcium and phosphorous compete for absorption in the body and because phosphorous is more easily absorbed than Calcium, high phosphorous levels can cause low Calcium levels. The ideal ratio of Calcium and phosphorous in the body is 1:1 and any imbalance in this ratio can compromise bone health. Avoiding an excess of foods high in phosphorous such as fizzy drinks, lunch meats, dairy products, meat and eggs, among others can help to keep the levels balanced. High intake of complex carbohydrates can also cause a higher phosphorous to Calcium ratio which can lead to a decrease in bone density thus eating less complex carbohydrates can lessen this risk.
Calcium absorption is also affected by caffeine intake, excess caffeine reduces the absorption of Calcium by the body and this creates a need for Calcium to be leached from the bones. Try to keep caffeine consumption to a moderate level by drinking less coffee and tea, instead replace some of your daily intake with herbal teas, diluted fruit juice or clean water.
Vitamin C found in for example citrus fruits, green peppers and sauerkraut and Zinc which is found in for example oysters and whole greens both aid Calcium absorption so increasing your intake of these foods could aid in raising the Calcium levels in your body.
Osteoporosis or calcification caused by excessive Calcium intake, making Calcium bio-unavailable, can be helped by consuming more foods containing oxalic acid and/or phosphorous for example spinach, rhubarb and chocolate. All in moderation of course!
Naturally eating more foods containing Calcium would increase the body’s levels of this important mineral, examples of such foods are sardines (with the bones), broccoli and nuts.
There are many other minerals which play an important role in bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis, lets name a few of them here:
Magnesium. 65% of the body’s Magnesium is found in bones and Magnesium and Calcium can compete for absorption in the body thus too much of one or the other can have an adverse effect on bone composition. The ideal ratio is two parts of calcium to one part magnesium. Magnesium is found in nuts, seeds, dark green vegetables, seafood, avocados and brown rice. Hard water is also a good source. Incidentally magnesium is also very useful in the treatment of pre-period cramps.
Manganese. Manganese plays a role in bone formation and the growth and development of bone structure thus deficiency as a child could cause a predisposition towards oteoporosis later in life. Almost 50% of total Manganese in the body is found in the bones and this mineral also helps to keep Calcium bio-available and helps with Calcium absorption. Manganese is mostly found in nuts and whole grains.
Silicon. Silicon works with Calcium to help restore bones and as such can be helpful in the prevention of osteoporosis. Silicon can be found in whole grains, vegetables, hard drinking water and even in some citrus fruits.
Copper. Copper helps with the tissue healing process and aids in the bone formation as it is involved in the cross-linking of collagen fibres. This role means that it also plays a part in helping to prevent the development of osteoporosis. Copper can be found in for example liver, buckwheat, wholewheat, oysters, prunes, cocoa and black pepper as well as some dark green leafy vegetables.
Boron. Boron helps maintain Calcium balance and so helps keep bones healthy. It regulates the hormones which control mineral movement and make-up of bones and it affects the balance of Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphorous in the body. A Boron deficiency could lead to osteoporosis. Boron can be found in for example some soils, apples and nuts. A diet high in refined foods is unlikely to provide sufficient Boron.
Fluoride. Studies have shown that Fluoride can help strengthen bones by increasing bone mass and reduce the risk of osteoporosis by reducing the loss of Calcium in bones. In excess Fluoride can cause bone brittleness to increase thus again a balanced intake is important. Fluoride can be found in for example seafood, some drinking water and some toothpastes.
Strontium. Strontium adds strength to the bones and so help to prevent osteoporosis by helping to improve the mineral matrix and cell structure of bones. As it is present in most foods deficiency is unlikely.
Vanadium. Vanadium is involved in Calcium metabolism and due to its enzyme stimulating properties it has a role to play in bone formation. Vanadium can be found in for example fish and vegetable oils.
Lead. Lead toxicity can interfere with Calcium absorption. Lead can displace Calcium in bone causing ‘soft’ spots and Lead lines which can be seen on X-rays. A good intake of Calcium, Magnesium, Copper and Zinc will help to lessen Lead contamination. Limiting Lead exposure by avoiding the use of Lead based paints, soldered cans and not exercising near heavy traffic can be beneficial in preventing Lead toxicity.
Molybdenum and Zinc. Both these are also needed in adequate amounts to ensure bone health. Molybdenum can be found in oats, buckwheat, lentils and potatoes. Zinc can be found in oysters, liver and wholegrains, oats and pumpkin seeds for vegetarians.
Get Sunshine! Exposure to sunlight helps with the manufacture of Vitamin D in the skin. Vitamin D works with parathyroid hormone to aid Calcium metabolism. It also helps to increase Calcium absorption from the gut and reduces Calcium loss through excretion from the kidneys. Vitamin D can also be found in egg yolks, oily fish( sardines, mackerel), liver and butter. It is especially important for Vegans to ensure a sufficient Vitamin D intake by supplementation if necessary. Be aware though that excessive Vitamin D can result in Calcium loss from bone.
Osteoporosis is by no means an inevitability and eating a varied diet, high in fruit, vegetables and whole grains as well as adequate complete proteins and plenty of clean water will go a long way to preventing the development of osteoporosis. Several other factors such as getting enough weight bearing exercise also play a role and if one gives attention to a healthy lifestyle there is no reason why osteoporosis should ever be a possibility in later life.