What happens to your bones as you get older? Do they become stronger? Do they increase in bone density? Do we tend to maintain our youthful height along with a straight, erect stature? I think most people know that the answer to all of these questions is no. The natural processes of aging cause our bones to become weaker and less dense, resulting in a shorter height and a bent over stature.
Over time, these changes can even lead to osteoporosis. Many people think osteoporosis is a death sentence for their health and vitality. And having weak, brittle bones can cause big problems quickly. But it’s possible to fight and even reverse this condition. Many of my patients have done it. And you can too.
Some of these strategies are good for everyone. Others apply only if you have low levels of certain vitamins or hormones. So it’s a good idea to go ahead and find a doctor willing to help you protect your bones naturally. He or she can help you get the tests you’ll need to check your levels.
One of the most important tests you’ll need is one to check your estrogen and progesterone levels. These hormones are vital to your bone health. But many women experience dangerous drops once they hit menopause.
The good news is that it’s possible to supplement your body with these hormones. I recommend you stay away from synthetic hormones. But I think natural, bio-identical hormones can be a great tool. These hormones exactly mimic what your body produces on its own (or used to produce on its own). The chemical reactions are the same.
In fact, I’ve seen them work miracles on my patients. My colleagues have seen the same thing. And studies prove our experience. Clinical studies have shown that supplemental natural progesterone increases bone density by 7% in the first year, by 12% after two years, and by 15% after three years!
Yes, that’s new bone! Natural progesterone can help you rebuild the bone you’ve already lost. And natural estrogen is just as important.
You see, progesterone stimulates cells called osteoblasts. These cells build bone. Estrogen, on the other hand, slows the activity of cells called osteoclasts. These cells break down bone. Osteoblasts and osteoclasts work together to keep your bones healthy.
When you don’t have these hormones, this process of renewing and rebuilding doesn’t happen. With nothing to slow them down, the osteoclasts break down old bone tissue quickly. And the osteoblasts don’t produce new bone tissue. The inevitable result is osteoporosis.
You can find a doctor who uses bio-identical hormones at www.worldhealth.net. Or just Google “bio-identical hormone doctor” for your area.
What Tests Do You Need?
When you visit the doctor, he or she will test your levels of the following hormones: estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, and testosterone. If your hormones levels are in the low end of the expected range, and especially if you have symptoms that are typical of hormone deficiency, your doctor can set up an individualized hormone replacement plan for you. I do this for my patients, and it works far better than a one-size-fits-all plan.
While you’re at it, ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels too. You’ve probably heard that you need calcium to have strong bones. That’s true. But more calcium doesn’t necessarily mean stronger bones. A study that looked at 310 participants in Iceland helps to explain why.
Researchers divided these subjects into groups based on how much calcium they consumed daily. Then the researchers measured the participants' vitamin D and parathyroid hormone (PTH) levels.
PTH, which your tiny parathyroid glands make, is critical for keeping just the right amount of calcium in your blood at all times. If you're not absorbing enough calcium from your food, your glands will secrete PTH. PTH draws calcium from your bones to keep up proper blood levels. The result is osteoporosis. Your goal is to keep a low level of PTH as you age.
The easiest way to keep your PTH level low is to keep your vitamin D level high. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium into your bloodstream. This keeps PTH levels low and prevents calcium loss from your bones.
How well does vitamin D protect your bones? The researchers concluded that Icelanders (who get very little winter sun, a major source of vitamin D) with the highest levels of vitamin D don't need more than 800 mg daily of calcium. (I suspect people who live in more southern areas don't even need that much.) Based on this conclusion, the authors suggested that low levels of vitamin D over a long period of time might be your biggest risk of osteoporosis.
Ask your doctor to measure your 25-hydroxy vitamin D level. I routinely use this test to measure vitamin D and have done so for years. It should be a staple lab test, just like cholesterol. I want my patients to be in the upper third (over 55.0 ng/ml) of the normal range (16.0 to 74.0 ng/ml). If you're not there, consider supplemental vitamin D – up to 5,000 units daily.
Other Supplements to Start Taking Today
Of course, you don’t have to wait for the results of your bloodwork to come back to start protecting your bones. There are a few other supplements I typically recommend to patients who want to keep their bones strong as they age.
One of these you might already be taking, particularly if you have trouble sleeping. But you might not realize that this common sleep aid is also great for your bones.
Studies have shown that melatonin is a positive regulator and maintainer of our bone mass. The problem has been that despite this information, no one had studied the potential effects on bone mass of melatonin supplements in an aging population. So, recently researchers set out to see what effects melatonin supplements had on the bone mass and bone strength of two groups of elderly male Wistar rats.
The researchers gave the first group a daily melatonin supplement. The second group did not get the supplement. When the animals died, the researchers examined their bones with CT scans, microscopic exams, and bone strength testing. They discovered that the animals treated with melatonin had higher bone volume. Their bones were thicker, and they had more of the collagen scaffold that the bones are built on called trabeculae. And that’s not all.
In addition, the trabeculae were also thicker, and the bones tested stronger and were much less likely to break on impact. The authors concluded, “These compelling results are the first evidence indicating that dietary melatonin supplementation is able to exert beneficial effects against age-related bone loss in old rats, improving the microstructure and biomechanical properties of aged bones.” No matter whether you are a person or a rat, this is good news for those of us taking melatonin supplements.
Previous animal studies have shown quite clearly that when animals take very high doses of melatonin, which in humans equals more than 1,000 mg per day, they have absolutely no negative effects. Melatonin is surely one of the safest supplements that you can take.
I say this specifically because there are still “experts” out there who continue to caution against the kind of high doses of melatonin that are routinely used in these studies because they are supposedly unsafe. They persist in these warnings even though there is absolutely no data to show any reason for caution.
I, like most of the world’s melatonin researchers, take 120 mg of melatonin every night before I go to bed. Sure, I sleep like a stone, but that’s not the reason I take it. I think the data is conclusive that high-dose melatonin will make me live longer and stronger. You can get 60 mg pure melatonin capsules called Melatonin Max at www.perfectvitaminproducts.com. It’s the form I take.
Another supplement helps your body produce more of a free radical. Now, you may think free radicals are dangerous. But that’s only when you have too many of them. Otherwise, they are absolutely critical for optimal health. And we’re finding that one of the healthiest free radicals is nitric oxide. In fact, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association detailed how important nitric oxide is for your bone health.
Heart Treatment Works for Your Bones
The researchers followed 243 postmenopausal women. This was a double-blind, placebo-controlled study – the best kind. In this study, the researchers had half of the women apply 15 mg of nitroglycerin ointment to their skin every night. The other half applied a placebo ointment. Nitroglycerin, as you may know, is a well-known heart treatment. But it’s good for more than your heart. That’s because once you absorb nitroglycerin, your body converts it into nitric oxide.
The researchers had the participants apply the ointments for two years. Here’s what they found: After two years, the spinal bone density in the nitroglycerin group had increased 8% more than the placebo group.
They also measured the bone density in the hip. Once again the nitroglycerin group excelled. They had an increase of 10.7% better than the women using the placebo.
The researchers then measured the n-telopeptide levels in the urine of those taking the nitroglycerin. N-telopeptide is a biochemical marker that shows up in the urine when you lose bone. The higher the n-telopeptide levels, the more bone you’re losing. The women using the nitroglycerin had a 54% reduction in their n-telopeptide levels.
The only side effects they reported were headaches. A brief headache occurring right after using nitroglycerin is a common side effect. In this study, 35% of the women taking the nitroglycerin had these headaches.
How Does It Work?
Nitric oxide acts to stimulate the activity of the bone-producing osteoblasts. In addition, nitric oxide acts to suppress the activity of the bone-destroying osteoclast cells.
So should you run right out and ask your doctor to start you on some nitroglycerin ointment? I don’t think so. Notice that both groups had improvement. And notice that the nitroglycerin group had only a very modest improvement over the placebo.
Besides, it’s very easy to increase your nitric oxide levels without needing any drugs or the headaches that go along with them. Just exercise and eat plenty of leafy green vegetables. These are two proven ways to boost your nitric oxide levels naturally.
Besides, it’s very easy to increase your nitric oxide levels without needing any drugs or the headaches that go along with them. Just exercise and eat plenty of leafy green vegetables. These are two proven ways to boost your nitric oxide levels naturally. You also can eat beets and beet products, which are a good source.
Final Steps to Take to Make Your Bones Strong
You must make sure the bones that break most often – the hips and back – are strong. The best way to do this is with a gentle program of weight-bearing exercise. It doesn’t have to be much. Women who exercise by walking fast for only one hour, three times per week can increase their spinal bone density by 4.4% per year.
Even 30 minutes of walking three times a week will yield results. I recommend walking outside in the sunlight to stimulate the production of vitamin D. However, on a day when that’s not possible, walking on a treadmill, in the mall, or even on a small exercise trampoline will be just as effective.
The trampoline is a good piece of indoor exercise equipment for osteoporosis. When you land on it, it gives your bones a slight compression, which is a good form of stress that builds your bones. After you go down on the trampoline, it shoots you up, giving you a second compression. You get more bang for your buck if you’re running in place on the trampoline than running in place on the floor.
You can also use something called the Power Plate. The Power Plate is amazing for increasing bone density and strength. NASA uses the Power Plate for astronauts in space travel to keep their bones in shape. There is a lot of data on it showing that it really works. You can read about it on my website.
Together, these strategies can go a long way toward preventing and even reversing bone loss. And you’ll likely find that they support many other aspects of your health too.