If you've had a bone density test recently and it says you've lost bone density, there's cause for great concern. Not only are you at greater risk of osteoporosis and its complications, but you're also at greater risk for colon cancer and Alzheimer's.
That's right! Two studies show that the health of your bones is intimately connected to the rest of your body's health.
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In one study on the subject, Dr. Yuqing Zhang and his colleagues from the Boston University School of Medicine found that a woman's risk of colon cancer rises if she is postmenopausal and losing bone mass. Women with the highest bone mineral density were found to have about half the rate of colon cancer compared to women in the lowest quarter.
The researchers weren't sure what caused the connection. They suspect estrogen might be playing a beneficial role, due to its ability to prevent osteoporosis. I have my doubts. (More on that in a moment.)
In another study, the same researchers focused on bone mineral density and its impact on brain function in both men and women. They studied 4,034 people over the age of 50 who had their bone mineral density tested. The researchers found a direct correlation between memory and bone health. As bone mineral density lessens, memory becomes more and more impaired.
They also found that mental impairment actually decreases as bone density increases. In fact, those with the highest density had less than half the risk of verbal impairment as those in the lowest mineral density group.
Again, the authors speculated the connection has something to do estrogen. But Second Opinion readers know that studies don't support the use of estrogen to prevent Alzheimer's disease or circulatory disease. In fact, estrogen replacement therapy may increase the risk of vascular disease.
I find the data interesting and helpful, but for other reasons than the authors' conclusions. Basically, the data tell us that the same factors that maintain healthy bones also reduce cancer risks and dementia. And bone mineral density has many factors other than estrogen.
So if estrogen isn't the answer, what is it that protects bones?
I think it's vitamin D. If you've been reading my newsletter, you know that there are reams of research showing this vitamin prevents colon cancer, breast cancer, and dementia. And you know it helps thinning bones.
Researchers have found vitamin D receptors in just about every part of your body. These include your intestine, bone, kidney, brain, stomach, pancreas, skin, gonads, breast, and immune cells (all sites of some of the most common cancers). I've seen vitamin D work wonders in many autoimmune diseases. And the highest rates of multiple sclerosis, insulin-dependent diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis are in areas where vitamin D availability is lowest (either lack of sunlight or low dietary intake).
So this isn't about estrogen. It's about vitamin D.
How could the researchers miss this obvious connection? Their primary goal was to show how estrogen works for more than just osteoporosis prevention. If they're correct, then the pharmaceutical companies will get doctors to prescribe their drugs for more ailments. That, of course, means big profits for the drug companies. They weren't looking for anything else other than estrogen benefits. So they missed it.
It is unfortunate that the author's estrogen bias precluded looking at the nutritional and lifestyle factors in preventing these diseases. I believe dietary factors have a far greater role to play than estrogen. And, since they are safer, cost nothing, and do not dump more profits into the pharmaceutical cartel, they are the best place to start.
In addition to adding vitamin D to your supplement regimen, I also recommend a regular bone mineral density test. It's one of the few regular tests I recommend. And now there's even more reason to have it done.
This new research shows that this screen may help us prevent dementia and colon cancer (if not other cancers) by allowing us to intervene and correct bone mineral loss. If you can correct your bone-loss problem, you'll also prevent other health problems down the road.
Ref: Am J Epidemiol 2001 Jan 1;153(1):31-7.