The silent disease of fragility

By Sally Buckner

I’ll refer to her as Kathy, an illustration of someone with several common health issues. Kathy thought she was healthy and physically fit. At age 45 she was trim, exercised regularly, and ate virtually no junk food. She felt great. But after a routine DEXA (bone) scan, Kathy was stunned to learn she had severe osteoporosis. How did this happen to someone so young?

Bone is a tissue that is a reservoir for calcium and forms the structure of our bodies. Its honeycomb configuration allows the bone to be both strong and relatively light. Unfortunately, with osteoporosis, the bones become very brittle. As a bone mass, mineral density, and structure all diminish, the honeycomb deteriorates. Effecting both men and women, osteoporosis can develop undetected and often is not diagnosed until someone breaks a bone. 

Kathy was a poster child for someone particularly susceptible to osteoporosis. She was small-boned and Caucasian. Being lactose intolerant, she never drank milk or ate dairy products. At age 30 Kathy had a total hysterectomy. This limited her estrogen production, an important source of bone protection in females. 

She was later diagnosed with celiac disease and placed on a gluten-free diet. With a few gluten-free products available, her diet largely consisted of meat and cooked vegetables. Her only liquids were water and coffee. Given what was essentially a strict ketogenic diet, her bones were deteriorating undetected. Her system became highly acidic as her body worked to increase its alkalinity by leeching calcium from her bones. Additionally, she exercised aerobically but did no strength-training to stimulate bone formation. 

Kathy took calcium daily to strengthen her bones, but it wasn’t working. This was because she needed magnesium to enable her body to assimilate the calcium. In fact, the calcium (without magnesium) only gave her headaches, leg cramps, and constipation. 

So what should Kathy have done?

  1. The impact of a high protein diet overtime cost her dearly. Our bodies need a balanced diet that includes both protein and complex carbohydrates. Kathy could have eaten beans, for example.
  2. Fortunately, she was eating vegetables which are great for bones. They are one of the best sources of Vitamin C which stimulates the formation of bone-forming cells.
  3. She needed calcium that was bio-available like the calcium found in dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. Her calcium supplement should have been taken along with Vitamin K2, Vitamin D3, and magnesium. 
  4. Recent studies have shown probiotics can have a positive effect on calcium absorption and bone health. Kathy should have considered adding yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, tempeh, kimchi, or sourdough bread to her diet.
  5. Weight-bearing exercise is key. Walking, particularly with elevation change, strength training, dancing, low-impact aerobics, elliptical training machines, stair climbing, and gardening are all good choices. Additionally, Kathy should work on flexibility and balance to prevent falls.
  6. Good news. Kathy can enjoy up to two drinks a day. In fact, they may actually help prevent fractures; however, more than that could reduce the absorption of calcium.
  7. Sunlight is important to the body’s production of Vitamin D. But this does not mean to pass on the sunscreen. If it is applied just before going outside, the 10-15 minutes before the sunscreen takes full effect offers enough exposure to boost Vitamin D levels.
  8. Finally, for a great bone boost, Kathy should consider putting the carcass of her Thanksgiving turkey to use. It’s as easy as putting it in the crockpot and covering it with water, and a teaspoon of vinegar. For extra flavor add your choice of veggies such as onion, celery, or carrots. Cook on low for 10-12 hours for a delicious and beneficial broth. Your bones will thank you!

Sally Buckner is a member of the Healthy Living Committee, a part of the Wellness Collaborative. She is an A.C.E. certified Health Coach and Personal Trainer with additional Specialty Certifications in Senior Fitness, Fitness Nutrition, Behavioral Coaching, Mind-Body Fitness, and Weight Management.

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