Most of us will recognize that smiling female celebrity on those tv commercials, constantly reassuring us about the perfect remedy for our bone loss. Not only is she a very popular television series star, but a spokeswoman for Boniva, a bone-density drug. The market for such drugs is now estimated at $3 billion. Is it any wonder we are constantly hearing the drug companies pitches to us through all those television commercials?
Now patients and health care providers are being warned about a clear link between thigh bone fractures and the long term usage of bone-strengthening drugs called bisphosphonates, like Fosomax, Actonel and Boniva.
I wonder how Sally Field feels about this latest news. It makes me think about Dorothy Hamill and Bruce Jenner, well-known athletes who endorsed Vioxx (a pain relief drug that was recalled due to patients on it having heart attacks). And then there was Lauren Hutton endorsing hormone replacement therapy. (When doctors learned of the benefits of high estrogen levels given before menopause to help protect women against osteoporosis, it was not known until much later (and many prescriptions given out) that estrogen may also increase the risk of developing breast cancer, not a very good tradeoff).
What causes osteoporosis in the first place that would create such a market for drug companies? According to Dr. Dean Ornish, osteoporosis is a disease caused by bone demineralization (depletion of calcium). Calcium deficiencies usually are caused by two factors: too little calcium in the diet, or too much excretion of calcium in your urine. If either of these occurs, then your body begins to absorb calcium out of your bones in order to maintain a constant calcium level in your bloodstream. Over time, your bones can become demineralized (depleted of calcium), leading to osteoporosis. If the bones become sufficiently depleted, they fracture more easily, even from everyday activities.
Bisphosphonates are a class of drugs created to reduce the rate of osteoporotic fractures…fractures that can result in pain, hospitalization, and surgery…in people with osteoporosis. According to RADM Sandra Keweder, M.D., deputy director, Office of New York Drugs in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, “The FDA is continuing to evaluate data about the safety and effectiveness of bisphosphonates when used long-term for osteoporosis treatment. In the interim, it’s important for patients and health care professionals to have all the safety information available when determining the best course of treatment for osteoporosis.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is recommending a labeling change and Medication Guide, reflecting the risk of thigh bone (femoral) fractures for those using bisphosphonates.
Back to Dr. Ornish’s “real cause of osteoporosis.” He believes it is not insufficient calcium intake, but excessive excretion of calcium in the urine. Interesting to note that vegetarians excrete much less calcium, and this is why they have very low rates of osteoporosis even though their dietary intake of calcium is lower than those on a meat-eating diet.
To substantiate this even more, at the University of Texas Medical School at Dallas, scientists conducted a study reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in 1988, comparing urinary excretion of normal subjects who were given two different diets: one diet contained only vegetable protein while the other contained only animal protein. Both diets had the same amount of protein, sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphate, and magnesium.
Urinary calcium excretion was 50 percent greater on the animal protein diet than on the vegetable protein diet. The authors concluded that the inability of the subjects to compensate for the animal protein-induced loss of calcium in their urine might predispose them to develop osteoporosis as well as kidney stones.
Many of us are familiar with the work by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study. In his study of 6,500 Chinese, he found that although most Chinese consume no dairy products and obtain their calcium from vegetables, osteoporosis is uncommon in China even though the people there consume only half the calcium as Americans. According to Dr. Campbell, “Ironically, osteoporosis tends to occur in countries where calcium intake is highest and most of it comes from protein-rich dairy products,” which cause the body to lose more calcium than consumed. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of dairy consumption and calcium intake, yet has one of the highest rates of osteoporosis. Makes me think of that famous commercial, “Got Milk?”
So what is the answer? Exercise of course has many benefits, one of which is increasing bone density so there is less risk of osteoporosis and fractures. And eating one cup per day of nonfat milk or yogurt provides some extra calcium to help insure against osteoporosis without increasing protein intake excessively. Consuming less animal products and focusing more on a plant-based diet can certainly help.
I have implemented the following 3 things into my lifestyle and do not “rally with Sally” for my own bone health!
- I have chosen to exercise more (to let the bone know that the body is active and needs stronger bones)
- I am making more plant-based diet choices
- I supplement daily with a comprehensive, easy to swallow supplement that provides 1,000 mg. of elemental calcium, 400 mg of magnesium and of course Vitamin D3, all that have been clinically proven to be absorbed. (for the body to use calcium to build and maintain strong bones, calcium must first be absorbed)
What about you? What is your strategy to make sure you have good bone health?