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An Information Deficiency Disease!

By Don Bennett, DAS

Many people would characterize osteoporosis as a calcium deficiency disease. Nothing could be further from the truth. The United States has one of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world, yet is one of the highest consumers of dairy products, products touted for their high calcium content. It isn't that we're not getting enough calcium, it's that we're losing more than we get; a "negative calcium balance". Because of this, osteoporosis kills more women every year than cancer of the breast, cervix, and uterus combined. Why have 25 million people in this country been diagnosed with osteoporosis? This doesn't have to be!

There was a poster in a doctor's office, put out by a pharmaceutical company, that said, "Take [name of drug] to help prevent the bone loss disease, Osteoporosis". I was shocked! Like a lot of other "diseases", osteoporosis is not a disease; it is a symptom of an underlying condition. It literally means porous bones. It's not caused by something their pill is going to address, but the drug company would have you believe that it's a disease, and since the best way to deal with disease is to prevent it, take this pill. I say, find out why your bones are losing their mass, and correct the cause. And like I said above, it's unlikely that you're not getting enough calcium.

When bone mass is lost, bones are weakened and become more susceptible to fracture. Americans suffer more than 1.5 million fractures every year from osteoporosis. It is a widespread problem, affecting both men and women, with potentially devastating consequences. Approximately 25% will never walk again unassisted, 25% will end up in nursing homes, and 25% will die within three months of conditions related to the fracture. Like most other chronic, degenerative conditions, osteoporosis is extremely rare among cultures that eat traditional plant-based diets.
We replace about 20% of our bone mass every year, but with osteoporosis, more bone is lost than is replaced. What accounts for this? If you eat a diet that is high in meat, dairy, sugar, salt, phosphorous, and caffeine, and low in fresh fruits and vegetables, and don't get enough exercise, and sunshine, you're writing yourself a prescription for osteoporosis. Specifically, here are some of the things that can cause bone loss.

Meat is a high protein product. Animal protein metabolizes in our bodies forming two strong acids, sulfuric and phosphoric. To keep our blood pH slightly alkaline, our bodies need to neutralize (buffer) these acids, and calcium is the best substance our bodies have to do this. And the most plentiful source of calcium is, you guessed it, our bones. Animal protein also contains large amounts of phosphorous, which reacts with calcium to form an insoluble compound, inhibiting calcium absorption. If you eat a diet high in animal protein, it doesn't matter how much calcium you consume, you will still lose bone mass.

"Dietary protein increases production of acid in the blood which can be neutralized by calcium mobilized from the skeleton." - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1995

Dairy products are another factor in bone loss. If milk were really good for our bones, Americans would have some of the strongest bones in the world. Instead, we have some of the weakest! For the same reasons as meat (high protein), the calcium in dairy products causes a negative calcium balance; more calcium is lost than is gained. Additionally, milk is low in magnesium, a needed co-factor for calcium uptake. In-other-words, if you want to improve your chances of getting osteoporosis, consume plenty of milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.

"The myth that osteoporosis is caused by calcium deficiency was created to sell dairy products and calcium supplements. There's no truth to it. American women are among the biggest consumers of calcium in the world, and they still have one of the highest levels of osteoporosis in the world. And eating even more dairy products and calcium supplements is not going to change that fact."
- Dr. John McDougall

Another contributor to osteoporosis: Refined sugar. These sugars are absorbed quickly, and rapidly increase the glucose levels in our cells. These levels increase faster than the cell's oxygen level, which causes incomplete oxidation of the glucose, which form acids. And as stated above, acids acidify the body, requiring buffering with calcium which leads to bone loss. And processed sugars strip the body of magnesium, which is needed for bone remineralization.

Soda containing phosphoric acid also contributes to osteoporosis; the acid having to be neutralized with calcium.

While a major culprit, diet isn't the only cause of osteoporosis. Bone loss is also intensified by smoking, caffeine, alcohol, and lack of weight-bearing exercise and inadequate sunshine. But besides bone loss, lack of bone gain also invites osteoporosis. Adequate absorption of vitamins and minerals are necessary to form new bone. As you might expect, calcium is a big player in this process. But it is usable calcium that forms bone. Good sources of bioavailable calcium are green vegetables like romaine lettuce and spinach, and various fruits like strawberries for example (actually all fruits have some calcium).

Bone building also needs magnesium, which converts vitamin D to its bioactive form necessary for calcium absorption. Exposure to adequate amounts of strong enough sunlight will provide you with vitamin D (and D sulfate). Manganese is another player, needed both for bone mineralization and for synthesis of the organic matrix on which calcification takes place.

A host of other nutrients are essential for strong bones. Folic acid, vitamins K, B6, C, and the minerals silicon, boron and zinc play a major role. Eating a plant-based diet consisting of a variety of fresh, unprocessed, uncooked, organic fruits, vegetables, and occasional nuts and seeds is a way to get some of these nutrients. Along with weight-bearing exercise, enough sunshine, and the avoidance of lifestyle habits that interfere with calcium absorption, you should be able to have healthy bones for your entire life.
As you can see, osteoporosis is an avoidable condition (and not one caused by a deficiency of calcium supplements). And the good news is that if you adopt lifestyle practices that help prevent its formation, you'll also benefit by reducing the risk factors for other degenerative conditions that are caused by the same things that cause osteoporosis.

"The dairy industry has a powerful hold on the nutrition industry in this country; it pays huge numbers of dietitians, doctors, and researchers to push dairy products, spending more than $300 million annually, just at the national level, to retain a market for its products. The dairy industry has infiltrated schools, bought off sports stars, celebrities, and politicians, pushing all the while an agenda based on profit, rather than public health… Despite the dairy industry funding study after study to try to prove its claims, Dr. John McDougall, upon examining all the available nutritional studies and evidence, concludes: "The primary cause of osteoporosis is the high-protein diet most Americans consume today. As one leading researcher in this area said, 'Eating a high-protein diet is like pouring acid rain on your bones.'" Remarkably enough, if dairy products have any effect, both clinical and population evidence strongly implicate them in causing, rather than preventing, osteoporosis." - Bruce Friedrich

Also read:

Raw Food Vegans Have Low Bone Mass, But May Be Healthy
Want Osteoporosis? Drink Chocolate Milk
Osteoporosis - The Bones of Contention

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