The conventional guideline to preserving bone density advocates for taking high-dose calcium supplements along with some vitamin D – 1,000 mg a day for women under 50 and 1,200 mg for women over 50. If one already has osteoporosis (low bone density), the first-line treatment is bisphosphonate drugs like Fosamax, Reclast, Actonel, or Boniva.
Unfortunately, both approaches have major drawbacks.
High-dose calcium with vitamin D supplements –
Based on many studies from the past two decades, researchers found that high-dose calcium along with vitamin D supplements do not prevent fractures at all. In fact, they may actually promote kidney stone formation and raise the risk of heart attack by increasing calcification of the arteries.
Bisphosphonate drugs –
Bone is a living organ that is continuously being reshaped and rejuvenated in a process called remodeling. In this process, cells called osteoclasts remove bone tissue while cells called osteoblasts deposit new bone tissue. With osteopenia (bone density slightly below normal) and osteoporosis, the rate of bone breakdown exceeds the rate of bone formation, resulting in a decrease of bone mass.
Bisphosphonate drugs work to kill the osteoclasts, cells that break down bone tissue, so your bone becomes denser. However, researchers found that after several years of bisphosphonate use, your bone also becomes weaker and more prone to fractures. This is because these drugs only stop the breakdown of old bone, they do not help to rebuild any new bone. Besides, they may have unpleasant side effects like heartburn, difficulty swallowing, joint pain, muscle pain, headaches, nausea, and rotting jaw.
Hence, bisphosphonate drugs is not be the ideal solution for osteoporosis. There are some very effective natural ways to build strong bones, but before going into that, let’s first look at why one may develop osteoporosis in the first place.
Common Causes Of Osteoporosis
- Aging – the natural decline in estrogen in women after menopause and testosterone in men results in lower bone density.
- Inactive lifestyle or lack of weight-bearing activities
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Low vitamin D and vitamin K2 levels
- Gluten, if you have an autoimmune disease or a gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a grain protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. When the body cannot properly digest gluten, it causes inflammation in the small intestinal lining, results in intestinal permeability, and malabsorption of nutrients including calcium.
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Heavy metal accumulation in the body especially cadmium, lead, and mercury
- Over consumption of soft drinks that contain phosphoric acid
- Hormonal imbalances. The main hormones in the body that directly correlate to bone density are progesterone, estradiol, testosterone, and DHEA which all decline naturally over time. However, when there is chronic high stress, the decline becomes more rapid.
- Gastric bypass surgery
- Taking excessive thyroid hormone
- Long-term use of certain medications such as:
- steroids like cortisone and prednisone (for arthritis, asthma, lupus, and multiple sclerosis)
- phenytoin and phenobarbital (for epilepsy)
- GnRH (for endometriosis, prostate cancer, and female infertility)
- aromatase inhibitors (for breast cancer)
- antacids containing aluminum and proton pump inhibitors (for heartburn)
- chemotherapy drugs (for cancer)
- cyclosporine and tacrolimus (for preventing rejection in organ transplant)
- heparin (for blood clots)
- loop diuretics (for heart failure, edema, and kidney problems)
- medroxyprogesterone acetate (for contraception)
- methotrexate (for cancer and rheumatoid arthritis)
- thiazolidinediones (for diabetes)
How To Increase Bone Density Naturally
1. Avoid foods that cause osteoporosis
- Gluten. For those who have an autoimmune disease or have a gluten sensitivity, gluten is the major contributor to bone loss. Therefore, if you have osteopenia or osteoporosis, you should be screened for gluten sensitivity. Cyrex Labs Array 3 is a blood test that can accurately identify gluten sensitivity.
- Canned soda. The high phosphorus content in canned soda leads to the removal of calcium from the body.
- Alcohol. Excessive alcohol interferes with the balance of calcium and the production of vitamin D, a vitamin essential for calcium absorption. Chronic heavy drinking also leads to hormone deficiencies. In men, it lowers testosterone and in women, estrogen.
- High-sodium processed foods. Salt causes excessive calcium excretion through the kidneys.
- Coffee. Over consumption of caffeine leaches calcium from the bones. Limit to two cups a day if you already have osteopenia or osteoporosis.
2. Eat plenty of foods that build strong bones
Most people believe that drinking more milk will help build strong bones. Unfortunately, long-term scientific studies have not been able to back up this theory. In fact, they found that countries with the highest milk consumption, including America, also have the highest rate of osteoporosis!
One of the reasons may be because the milk we consume these days is pasteurized and homogenized. These processes alter the milk’s natural chemistry and make it much harder to digest and absorb the nutrients.
Another reason is that besides calcium, there are other nutrients that are needed for building bone, like boron, chromium, copper, iodine, magnesium, manganese, selenium, silicone, and strontium. Merely consuming high amounts of calcium from milk will not contribute to strong bones.
So what kind of foods will give you the whole gamut of nutrients for making strong bones? The following are some that are particularly beneficial –
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds contain anti-nutrients like phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors which impede the digestion of vitamins and minerals. To overcome this, soak the raw nuts and seeds in warm, filtered water for up to 12 hours, depending on the type. Keep the bowl at room temperature and cover with a kitchen towel. Drain and rinse afterwards. Eat immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
almonds (soak for 8-12 hours)
Brazil nuts (3 hours)
hazelnuts (8-12 hours)
sesame seeds (8 hours)
walnuts (4 hours)
canned Alaskan salmon with bones
canned sardines with bones
wild caught fish
made from organic, pastured-raised chicken, beef, bison, pork, veal, or wild caught fish bones
bee pollen/propolis/royal jelly
seaweed such as agar, dulse, nori, kelp, kombu, or wakame
3. Make sure you get enough vitamin D and vitamin K2
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium whereas vitamin K2 prevents calcium from being deposited into the wrong places. For example, it keeps it out of the kidneys where it would cause kidney stones, and out of blood vessels where it would cause heart disease. K2 makes sure calcium gets into all the right places – the bones and teeth – and lowers risk of fractures and cavities.
Vitamin D is made by our skin when exposed to sunlight. Most people do not get enough vitamin D through the diet – mainly oily fish, liver, eggs, and red meat. Therefore, if you do not spend much time outdoors or are concerned about skin cancer, consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement instead. Most people need about 5,000 I.U. a day to reach the optimal level of 50-80 ng/ml in the blood.
Food sources of vitamin K2 –
natto, Japanese fermented soybeans
kefir, fermented raw milk
butter from grass-fed cows
cheese, hard and soft
dark chicken meat from pasture-raised chickens
egg yolk, from pasture-raised chickens
organ meats from pasture-raised animals
4. Engage in weight-bearing and muscle-training exercises
Weight-bearing exercises are activities that make you move against gravity while staying upright. They help build bones and keep them strong. Examples include:
- doing aerobics, both high and low impact
- walking, jogging, or running on a treadmill or outside
- jumping rope
- climbing stairs or using a stair-step machine
- using an elliptical machine
Muscle-training or resistance exercises are activities where you move your body, a weight, or some other resistance against gravity. Examples include:
- lifting weights
- using elastic exercise bands
- using your own body weight, such as push-ups and chin-ups
- doing functional movements, such as squats, which train the muscles to work the way they do in everyday tasks.
Vibration therapy involves standing on a mechanic vibrating plate such as the Power Plate. As the machine vibrates, it transmits energy to the body. It causes the muscles to contract and relax dozens of times each second with the aim of increasing circulation, muscle strength, and flexibility. Recent studies found that doing it for 10-20 minutes a day may help prevent and regain bone loss.
Like weight training, yoga works by stressing the bone. When bone cells get stimulated through being compressed, twisted, or elongated, they produce more bone mass to resist the pressure, resulting in stronger bones. Yoga also helps to improve balance, muscular strength, range of motion, and coordination.
Pilates is an exercise technique that conditions the entire body by strengthening the muscles in the stomach and the back, referred to as the “core”. Studies show that pilates helps build bone density, increase muscle strength, improve balance, flexibility, and posture.
If you already have osteoporosis or have had bone fractures, please consult with your doctor before engaging in any forms of exercise. Some movements may not be appropriate for your particular condition.
5. Consider Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT)
Bioidentical hormones are not synthetic hormones. They are exactly the same, down to the last atom, as those produced by our bodies. Hence, bioidentical hormones have been shown to have a much safer profile than the synthetic Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) drugs like Premarin, Prempro, and Provera, which elevate women’s risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and atherosclerosis (artery hardening).
BHRT for women usually combines estrogen as well as progesterone. It is, without doubt, a valid and viable option for protecting against osteoporotic fractures.
For men, testosterone replacement therapy is used for bone loss or osteoporosis. There have been concerns that there may be an increased risk of prostate cancer. However, multiple studies over the last 20 years have concluded that testosterone replacement therapy does not increase a man’s risk of prostate cancer.
If you are considering BHRT for osteoporosis, consult with a doctor who is knowledgeable and experienced with using bioidentical hormones. Therapy should be individualized and tailored to the specific needs and risk of the person.