Osteoporosis means “porous bones,” and it is the thinning and weakening of your bones. It occurs as a consequence of aging and is more frequent in women than men. In women, it is primarily due to estrogen loss following menopause (estrogen in women helps prevent bone loss). In men, 50 percent to 70 percent of cases are caused by other diseases (especially liver and endocrine) or medications (such as steroids, antiseizure drugs, and even tobacco or alcohol). All bones can be affected by osteoporosis. The most harmful (and potentially fatal) complication of osteoporosis is bone fracture, which occurs most frequently in the spine, hip, and wrist. Men with fractures have a much worse outcome than women; 30 percent to 50 percent die within a year of fracture, versus 20 percent of women.

Common Symptoms

There are usually no symptoms of osteoporosis until a bone fracture occurs. There can be back pain, loss of height, and loss of bone in the jaw (seen on x-ray).

What You Need to Know

Some medications typically prescribed for other diseases also can reduce bone loss. These include thiazide diuretics for swelling or hypertension and stat ins for high cholesterol. These are the preferred medications to take if you have these diseases and have osteoporosis as well.

General Recommendations

Diet: Vegetarians have a lowered risk of osteoporosis in the later decades of life, so increased intake of vegetables is recommended for helping prevent and treat osteoporosis. Dairy products and calcium-fortified juices and cereals are important sources of calcium and vitamin D. Carbonated beverages increase the risk for osteoporosis and should be avoided.

Exercise: One of the most important methods for preventing osteoporosis is exercise Weight-bearing (resistance) exercises are recommended because they stress the bone, which stimulates new bone formation. I recommend walking, running, tennis, stair climbing, and weight lifting. Swimming and bicycling are not helpful for osteoporosis because they do not put enough stress on the bones.

Your balanced healing action plan for Osteoporosis

Step 1 : Take Calcium, Magnesium, and Vitamin D

I recommend starting with a combination of calcium (800mg to 1200mg daily), magnesium (400mg to 800mg daily), and vitamin D (400 lU daily). Calcium alone is not enough; it requires the presence of vitamin D to be deposited in bone. Magnesium is also essential for bone formation, and not taking it with calcium and vitamin D can intensify the risk of heart disease. Take these products all together, in a form that is highly absorbable. (See Appendix B for recommended formulations.)

A recent study demonstrated that sustained-release sodium fluoride significantly reduces the risk for spine fractures by stimulating new bone formation, whereas the above nutrients primarily prevent loss of bone. A sodium-fluoride medication is awaiting FDA approval at this writing and should be included with the above nutrients when approved.

Step 2: Take Natural Progesterone and Natural Estrogen

Natural progesterone (50mg to 100mg twice daily in oral form, 109 to 40g daily if in cream) can increase bone density, while natural estrogen (1.25mg to 2.5mg daily) can prevent bone loss after menopause. I recommend that all post-menopausal women take these natural hormones. However, do not take natural estrogen if you are at a high risk of or have had breast cancer. For men who have osteoporosis, I recommend taking the natural progesterone, which will increase bone density without any feminizing side effects. You should see improvement in bone density within three to six months.

Step 3: Take Ipriflavone, Fish Oil, and Evening Primrose Oil

If you still have osteoporosis after following the previous steps, take Ipriflavone, 600mg daily. This synthetic isoflavone (plant estrogen) has been shown to significantly reduce or prevent post-menopausal bone loss. In addition, you can take a combination of fish oil (1,000mg daily) and evening primrose oil (1mg to 2.5mg daily). These oils, when taken with calcium, have been shown to decrease bone turnover and increase bone density.

Step 4: Take Low-Dose Synthetic Estrogen Replacement

If you are a woman and the previous steps have not increased your bone density, your doctor can prescribe low-dose synthetic estrogen replacement. Because estrogen can increase your risk of breast cancer and blood clots, you should use only low-dose estrogen or a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM), such as Raloxiphene, an estrogen that has minimal risk of breast cancer. Because synthetic estrogen use can increase the risk of heart attack during the first few years of use, consult with your doctor if you have heart disease.

Step 5: Take Prescription Biphosphonates

If your osteoporosis continues to progress, your doctor can prescribe biphosphonates (such as Fosamax), which can help slow bone loss and prevent fractures. Calcitonin-salmon nasal spray is also effective for preventing the progression of osteoporosis and preventing fractures and is commonly used with biphosphonates. Use it if you have had a fracture, because it also helps reduce pain while your fracture is healing. Important note: Calcium can decrease the absorption of biphosphonates, so take your calcium at least two hours before or after the biphosphonates.

Step 6: Receive Parathyroid Hormone Injections

If you are a woman who has had bone fractures from osteoporosis, your doctor may prescribe daily injections of parathyroid hormone (a natural hormone that regulates calcium in the body) to increase bone density and help prevent future fractures.