Preventing Osteoporosis – using ‘Food as Medicine’, and a bit of sunshine.



Remember those ads they were showing on TV a few years ago with an old man hunched over and almost crippled, and in pain – from osteoporosis? They were scary advertisements with the aim of getting us to eat more dairy so as to reach our RDI (recommended dairy intake) of calcium, to avoid this undesirable and preventable situation in our winter years.

Even now I still hear people ask ‘where do you get your calcium if you don’t eat dairy then?’ And ‘aren’t you worried about getting osteoarthritis?’ I reply with the news that we have one of the highest consumption rates of dairy on the planet, as we do one of the highest rates of osteo’. We par the UK and the States with the rates. Yep, wealthy country’s that did as we were told and ate loads of dairy. Processed dairy, that is.

[private] The problem is that the majority of the dairy we’re eating has been pasteurised which means the enzymes we need to digest the milk have been destroyed through heating. These are the same enzymes (lactase) we need to properly digest the lactose in the milk. Plus there are many additives in modern day, commercial, dairy farming not only to preserve it but also to homogenize it. This means to stop the milk and cream separating. This process is toxic and makes the final product more acidic. (Reducing the fat is a whole other matter and renders the product even more acidic.)

Yes cow’s milk contains calcium but at what cost are we getting this source calcium? A big one I reckon – and not only to our health, but it’s helping to destroy the health of our planet, as cows are not a sustainable farming practice. When I was a little one growing up in Brisbane in the 70’s, we still had our milk delivered in those cute milk baskets by our milkman, and in glass jars. I’m pretty sure it was pasteurized and homogenised, (which made no difference to me either way as I could never digest milk anyway – but at least it didn’t come in plastic bottles made from toxic chemicals like it does now, and I bet it didn’t contain as many chemicals either.

I realise some people just love diary, and that’s fine. Of course it’s ok to eat sometimes but choose the best quality you can afford. All animal products really do need to be organic, or at least raw. You can get raw, organic cows milk from most health food stores now – the cream and milk separate and it’ll take you bake to days gone by. Or if you’ve never tastes this kind of ilk, that is – before it gets messed with – then you’re in for a real treat. And as far as cheese goes – yes there’s loads of calcium here also, but again please choose organic, dairy products.

Osteoporosis – coming from the Greek ‘porous bones’ – affects 1.2 million Australians, with women twice as likely to be affected. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals – such as calcium and magnesium – faster than the body can replace them. This leads to a loss of bone density or mass – leading to an increased risk of fracture. Any bone can be affected by osteoporosis but the most common sites are the hip, spine, wrist, upper arm, ribs or forearm. Fractures in the spine due to osteoporosis can result in losing height or changes in posture, and in more serious cases it can result in a Dowager’s hump in the back.
A simple scan – commonly known as a ‘bone density test’ – will determine the density of your bones, with deviations below 2.5 considered low.

1 to -1 is normal
-1 to 2.5 – Osteopenia: fracture risk is low to medium. At risk of developing OA
2.5 or less – Osteoporosis: fracture risk is high

This disease may be classified as primary type 1, primary type 2, or secondary. The form of osteoporosis most common in women after menopause is referred to as primary type 1 or postmenopausal osteoporosis. Primary type 2 osteoporosis or senile osteoporosis occurs after age 75 and is seen in both females and males at a ratio of 2:1. Secondary osteoporosis may arise at any age and affect men and women equally. This form results from chronic medical problems or disease, or prolonged use of medications such as glucocorticoids.
Women are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis because of the rapid decline in oestrogen levels during menopause. When oestrogen levels decrease, the bones lose calcium and other minerals at a much faster rate. As a result bone loss of approximately 2% per year occurs for several years after menopause. By age 30, our bones are as dense as they will ever be, so a good diet in our younger years is important.

Men also lose bone as they age; however testosterone levels in men decline more gradually so their bone mass remains adequate.

Calcium – where else besides dairy?

Adults require 1,000 mg per day – preferably through diet – and this increases to 1,200 mg per day in women over 50 and men over 70. Hopefully we’re getting enough calcium from food, but if not then your body will use your bones as a bank, borrowing the calcium it needs today from the abundant supply in your bones.


Almonds, raw
Bok choy
Chia seeds
Dandelion greens
Figs, sundried
Cow’s milk, raw
Miso paste
Non-fat yoghurt
Pinto beans
Salmon, wild Alaaskan
Sesame seeds, unhulled
Soya beans, organic
Sunflower seeds
Organic Tofu
Wheatgrass and barley grass

Some foods that contain calcium, namely rhubarb, silver beet and tahini – also contain oxalic acid, which is a substance that binds to calcium, making some of it unavailable to your body. Recent studies have shown that it’s not enough to worry about, as the calcium you’re getting from these foods outweighs the amount you’re loosing.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D allows calcium to move from the gastrointestinal tract to the parts of the body that need it — including the bones. Vitamin D can be made in the body through a reaction of the skin and sunlight. Just ten to 15 minutes of sun on the bare skin of the arms three or four times a week is enough to keep most of us healthy. You need at least 800 International Units (IU) of vitamin D daily.

Sources of Vitamin D – Wild Alaskan salmon, mackerel (not king), sardines, herring, organic soybeans, yogurt, egg, and of course the sun.


Magnesium plays an integral role in bone crystal growth, thereby helping to strengthen bone structure. In addition, magnesium helps your body absorb calcium. For calcium to be absorbed in the body, it needs two things: vitamin D) and parathyroid hormone (PTH). Because magnesium affects PTH, it indirectly — but very critically — affects how much calcium is available for building and maintaining bone. Magnesium helps your body neutralize metabolic acids, absorb calcium, and maintain strong bone structure.


Brown rice
Chick peas
Flax seeds
Leafy green vegetables
Navy Beans
Natto miso
Pumpkin seeds
Raw cacao
Rice bran
Sea vegetables
Sweet potato
Sunflower seeds


Potassium helps to increase bone formation, improves calcium balance and increases bone mineral density.

Sources – white potatoes, organic soybeans, Swiss chard, all fish, sweet potatoes, avocado, cantaloupe, artichokes, bananas, spinach, lettuce especially romaine, radicchio, rocket, and endive, honeydew melon, pumpkin, carrots; legumes like black, navy, kidney, borlotti and chick peas, lentils, lima beans, apricots, papaya, split peas, pistachio nuts, butternut pumpkin, soy milk, watermelon, beets, tomatoes (including sauce, juice), kale, mushrooms, raisins, peanuts, plums, almonds, sunflower seeds, prunes (and juice), oranges (and juice), broccoli

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is essential for the formation of osteocalcin, a type of protein found only in bone. High intake of vitamin K has been linked to lower risk of fractures. Vitamin K is a natural blood thickener that plays a role in the formation of blood clots, so people who are taking blood-thinning medication (such as warfarin) should talk with their doctors before eating vitamin K–rich foods.

Sources – Kale, spinach, endive, mustard greens, lettuce, parsley, broccoli, broccoli sprouts, Brussels sprouts, watercress, asparagus, okra.
Note – Vitamin K is a natural blood thickener that plays a role in the formation of blood clots, so people who are taking blood-thinning medication (such as warfarin) should talk with their doctors before eating vitamin K–rich foods. And also anyone on dialysis.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is essential for the health of collagen, a key protein in bone tissue that contributes strength and resilience. Some studies have shown that eating lots of foods high in vitamin C increases bone mineral density and results in fewer fractures. Studies suggest that these vitamin C–rich foods may also slow the rate of bone loss as we age.

Sources – capsicum, citrus fruits, and broccoli; berries, guava, pineapple, mangoes, lychees, persimmons, hot chili peppers, kohlrabi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes, squash, papaya, kale, kidney beans, kiwi, rock melon, cauliflower, cabbage, mangoes, white tomatoes, sugar snap peas, snow peas, okra, lychees, persimmons, goji berries. The Australian Bush Tucker food Gubinge and Camu Camu from the Amazon are thought to be the two highest sources on the planet.

Soy Protein
Soy foods contain natural chemicals called isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens — plant substances that mimic estrogen. Knowing that women lose bone density after menopause because of the loss of estrogen, some scientists believe that the plant estrogens in soy foods could help increase bone density. Studies have shown that long-term addition of soy protein in the diet seems to prevent bone loss after menopause. Foods like organic tofu, edamame, miso and tempeh are perfectly safe.

Sources – organic (otherwise they’ll be GMO) tempeh, tofu, soybeans (edamame), natto (fermented soybeans), miso and dairy milk.


Protein is an important component of bone and absolutely necessary for bone strength. Studies show that people who don’t get adequate protein may have reduced calcium absorption, reduced bone density, and higher rates of bone loss. People who eat relatively large amounts of protein have a reduced risk of fractures and higher bone mineral density. A few studies suggest that vegetarian proteins like beans, lentils, and whole organic soy foods may be more beneficial to bone health than animal proteins. But too much protein from any source may still be harmful, so protein powders, protein bars and any foods fortified with protein.

Sources – fish, eggs, beans, lentils and beans, soy foods like those above, and nuts and nut butters and milks, goats products, hemp seeds and oils.

Risk factors

Certain conditions and medications can increase impact on your bone health
Corticosteroids – commonly used for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions
Low hormone levels
Thyroid conditions – over active thyroid or parathyroid
Conditions leading to malabsorption eg: celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease
Some chronic diseases eg. rheumatoid arthritis, chronic liver or kidney disease
Some medicines for breast cancer, prostate cancer, epilepsy and some antipsychotics

Lifestyle factors
Low levels of physical activity
Excessive alcohol intake
Weight – thin body build or excessive weight (recent studies suggest that hormones associated with obesity may impact bones)
Have adequate calcium, vitamin D and exercise to support your bone health
Start bones density exercise such as yoga, gymnastics or Pilates as young as possible.

Again the lesson is the earlier your start to look after yourself by eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones, getting enough appropriate exercise – including those that increase bone density – and preferably outdoors, then chances are you’re going to enjoy wellness and strong bones right through your winter years.

2014 Janella Purcell [/private]


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