I don't like to stray too far off course from discussions of heart disease and related issues in this blog. But the question of bone health comes up so often that I thought I'd discuss the strategies available to everybody to stop, even reverse, osteoporosis.
Coronary atherosclerotic plaque and bone health are intimately interwoven. People who have coronary plaque usually have osteoporosis; people who have osteoporosis usually have coronary plaque. (The association is strongest in females.) The worse the osteoporosis, the greater the quantity of coronary plaque, and vice versa. The two seemingly unconnected conditions share common causes and thereby respond to similar treatments.
Incredibly, rarely will your doctor tell you about these strategies. Your doctor orders a bone density test, the value shows osteopenia or osteoporosis, and a drug like Fosamax or Boniva is prescribed. As many people are learning, drugs like this can be associated with severe side-effects, such as jaw necrosis (death of the jaw bone), a dangerous and disfiguring condition that leads to loss of teeth and disfigurement, followed by reconstructive surgery of the jaw and face. These are not trivial effects.
Note that drugs are approved by the FDA based on assessment of efficacy and safety, NOT proven equivalence or superiority to natural treatments.
In order of importance (greatest to least), here are strategies that I believe are important to regain or maintain bone health. Indeed, I have seen many women increase bone density using these strategies . . . without drugs of any sort.
1) Vitamin D restoration--Vitamin D is the most important control factor over bone calcium metabolism, as well as parathyroid function. As readers of this blog already know, gelcap forms of vitamin D work best, aiming for a 25-hydroxy vitamin level of 60-70 ng/ml. This usually requires 6000 units per day, though there is great individual variation in need.
2) Vitamin K2--If you lived in Japan, you would be prescribed vitamin K2. While it's odd that K2 is a "drug" in Japan, it means that it enjoys the validation required for approval through their FDA-equivalent. Prescription K2 (as MK-4 or menatetranone) at doses of 15,000-45,000 mcg per day (15-45 mg), improves bone architecture, even when administered by itself. However, K2 works best when part of a broader program of bone health. I advise 1000 mcg per day, preferably a mixture of the short-acting MK-4 and long-acting MK-7. (Emerging data measuring bone resorption markers suggest that lower doses may work nearly as well as the high-dose prescription.)
3) Magnesium--I generally advise supplementation with the well-absorbed forms, magnesium glycinate (400 mg twice per day) or magnesium malate (1200 mg twice per day). Because they are well-absorbed, they are least likely to lead to diarrhea (as magnesium oxide commonly does).
4) Alkaline potassium salts--Potassium as the bicarbonate or the citrate, i.e., alkalinizing forms, are wonderfully effective for preservation or reversal of bone density. Because potassium in large doses is potentially fatal, over-the-counter supplements contain only 99 mg potassium per capsule. I have patients take two capsules twice per day, provided kidney function is normal and there is no history of high potassium.
5) An alkalinizing diet--Animal products are acidic, vegetables and fruits are alkaline. Put them together and you should obtain a slightly net alkaline body pH that preserves bone health. Throw grains like wheat, carbonated soft drinks, or other acids into the mix and you shift the pH balance towards net acid. This powerfully erodes bone. Therefore, avoid grains and never consume carbonated soft drinks. (Readers of this blog know that "healthy, whole grains" should be included in the list of Scams of the Century, along with Bernie Madoff and mortgage-backed securities.)
6) Strength training--Bone density follows muscle mass. Restoring youthful muscle mass with strength training can increase bone density over time. The time and energy needs are modest, e.g., 20 minutes twice per week.
Note that calcium may or may not be on the list. If on the list at all, it is dead last. When vitamin D has been restored, intestinal absorption of calcium is as much as quadrupled. The era of force-feeding high-doses of calcium are long-gone. In fact, calcium supplementation in the age of vitamin D can lead to abnormal high calcium blood levels and increased heart attack risk.
These are benign and easily incorporated strategies. They are also inexpensive. I challenge any drug to match or exceed the benefits of this combination of strategies. Keep in mind that strategies like vitamin D restoration provide an extensive panel of health benefits that range far beyond bone health, an effect definitely NOT shared by prescription drugs.