Today, there are many medical and alternative treatments for osteoporosis available.
What is Osteoporosis?
Very simply, osteoporosis is a condition that refers to thinning bones. This disorder can lead to fractures. The greatest risk groups for osteoporosis are the elderly, women, people with a low body weight, those with decreased sex hormones, menopausal women, smokers, and people who take certain medications.1 Osteoporosis may begin “silently” and only appear after a bone fracture, but some patients have symptoms, such as height loss and pain. Severe back pain, that comes on suddenly, might “indicate a spinal compression fracture”. This may especially occur in older women. Since that back pain can be a sign of weak bones, it is important to consult a healthcare professional. Osteopenia is a warning sign of thinning bones that are on their way to osteoporosis. It is rare for osteoporosis to affect children, but medications and medical conditions may cause it, and it is significant because childhood is a time of “prime bone-building”. Juvenile osteoporosis requires intervention.2
Who Gets Osteoporosis?
The two types of osteoporosis in children are idiopathic and secondary. Idiopathic is rare, and has an unknown cause, while secondary osteoporosis can be a result of anorexia, cystic fibrosis, Cushing’s syndrome, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, arthritis, leukemia, kidney disease, and other medical conditions. Chemotherapy drugs, anticonvulsants, and steroids can also lead to osteoporosis in children. Even though women have “more rapid bone loss in their 50s than men”, bone mass is lost at the same rate for both sexes in their 60s. The risk of osteoporosis for women rises after menopause, especially for white women, Asian women, and those with “small, thin frames”. Thin women in the teens and college-age years, “who exercise excessively”, run the risk of not having their periods (amenorrhea), which is linked to lower estrogen levels and can cause osteoporosis. Low bone density can also be triggered by diets that are missing certain nutrients and calcium. This is especially true for those with eating disorders. In fact, about “30% of ballet dancers suffer from repeated stress fractures”, which could be a sign of low body weight and eating disorders.3 According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis is “not part of normal aging”. With regular exercise, getting enough vitamin D and calcium, eating a balanced diet (with vegetables and fruits), and limiting alcohol and avoiding smoking, people can protect their bones.4
There are many medication options for people with osteoporosis, including Prolia, Denosumab, Fosamax, Boniva, Actonel, Reclast, Evista, Miacalcin, and Forteo. Unfortunately, these medicines contain side effects.5 With Prolia, for example, patients may end up with muscle, back, arm, and leg pain. Bladder infection and high cholesterol are also possibilities. Some of the side effects could include “serious infections in your skin, lower stomach area (abdomen), bladder, or ear” as well as “inflammation of the inner lining of the heart (endocarditis)”. Others may have osteonecrosis or severe problems with the jaw bone. And, despite the fact that Prolia is a medication to treat osteoporosis, patients may actually develop “unusual thigh bone fractures”.6 Patients taking Denosumab run the risk of urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, rashes, joint pain, constipation, cataracts, and skin infections.7
Diagnosis and Prevention of Osteoporosis
Doctors will order a BMD, or bone mineral density test, to check for bone mass, usually in the hip, wrist, spine, heel, or hand. A BMD is typically recommended for women not taking estrogen and who take medications that may cause osteoporosis. Other risk factors include early menopause, a family history of type 1 diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, or osteoporosis, those over 50 with at least one risk factor, and those over 65 who never had a BMD. Repeat bone mineral density tests are done about every 2-5 years. It is possible to prevent osteoporosis in the first place. The “body builds bone mass until you are in your 30s”. Calcium and vitamin D are crucial. Vitamin D helps the body use calcium. Tai chi and other exercises can also help prevent the disorder. Exercise is also good for coordination, balance, and strength. Weight-bearing exercises, done for a ½ hour per day, could also help “prevent falls that cause fractures”. While exercising early in a person’s life “boosts bone mass”, later exercise “helps maintain it”. The other important items to remember when preventing osteoporosis are to quit smoking, limit caffeine “to about 3 cups of coffee a day”, and (for some women) to consider hormone replacement therapy. There are many side effects to HRT, however, including blood clots, heart disease, and breast cancer risk”, so the benefits would have to outweigh the risks.8
Alternative Options Treatment
Because of the risks and side effects of medications, some patients may opt for alternative treatment options. Studies have shown that certain nutrients and foods can limit bone loss, including those rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin D, and vitamin K. Fruits and vegetables are important parts of these dietary choices. Patients can also take dietary supplements. It is important to note that excessive vitamin A could contribute to osteoporosis. Some medications also increase the risk, including antibiotics, immune system suppressants, antacids with aluminum, blood thinners, thyroid medications, steroids, and diuretics. Some studies have found benefits from soy isoflavones, ipriflavone, and omega-3 fatty acids. There are also preliminary studies that have suggested that carotenoids, zinc, vitamin C, and melatonin could “help prevent or treat osteoporosis”. There are herbs that “might offer protection against bone loss”, such as black cohosh, red clover, horsetail, kelp, and oat straw. Besides nutrition, exercise is also important in protecting bones, especially if patients begin at a young age. It is necessary to include “weight-bearing exercise” to help the “bones to produce more cells, slowing bone loss”. Exercise has benefits for coordination, strength, balance, and flexibility as well, and this can decrease the chances a patient will fall and break bones.9
Suggestions from the ACA
Chiropractors can also be a resource to help patients learn about protecting their bones. The American Chiropractic Association recommends calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, and silica, as well as eating a healthy diet, limiting animal proteins, and drinking plenty of water, while avoiding caffeine, sodas, alcohol, and “junk food”, as ways to promote bone health. Too much calcium can cause kidney stones, so it is important to ask a healthcare professional for the proper dosage. In general, 1000 mg/day for post-menopause (and taking estrogen), 1500 mg/day for post-menopause (without estrogen), and about 1500 mg/day for both men and women over the age of 65, are the recommended levels of calcium. Exercise should be performed three times a week, for about 20 minutes a session. To prevent osteoporosis, exercises such as walking, jogging, racquet sports, skipping rope, aerobics, and swimming are suggested options by the ACA. Tai Chi is often recommended for patients with osteoporosis, and those who have had fractures, since it is “a beneficial strength training exercise system”. Before doing any weight lifting, the National Osteoporosis Foundation suggests contacting a healthcare professional to make sure that the bones do not experience excessive strain. Even lifting grandchildren could be problematic; all lifting of heavy objects should be done by bending at the knees and to “avoid hunching when sitting or standing”.10
Learn more about chiropractic and massage for osteoporosis.