Osteoporosis is a condition in which the normal amount of bone mass decreases. The density of minerals in the bones reduces, disrupting bone microstructure and altering collagen proteins – an important part of the bone matrix. Osteoporosis causes brittle bones, increasing the risk of fracture, particularly in the hip, spine and wrist.
Osteoporosis is most common in postmenopausal women, when it is called postmenopausal osteoporosis, but it may also develop in men. Osteoporosis affects women more than heart disease, stroke, diabetes or breast cancer. Its increased risk of fragility fracture means that osteoporosis may significantly affect life expectancy and quality of life.
Osteoporosis can be prevented with dietary and lifestyle advice, and supplementation can help. In people who have already developed the disease, diet, lifestyle and supplements can also play key roles in slowing disease progression.
The initial stages of osteoporosis are asymptomatic – it’s not until the later stages that symptoms start to appear. These include:
- Loss of height (the result of a weakened spine)
- Cramps in the legs at night
- Bone pain and tenderness
- Neck pain
- Persistent pain in the spine or muscles of the lower back
- Abdominal pain
- Tooth loss
- Rib pain
- Broken bones
- Spinal deformities
- Periodontal disease
- Brittle fingernails
Testing for Osteoporosis
Although the initial stages of osteoporosis are silent, early identification can greatly increase the chance of treatment success.
An Osteoporosis Test can identify the disease before symptoms are present. It measures urine levels of certain proteins which are released when bone is broken down, allowing accelerated bone loss to be identified earlier on. The test can also be used to monitor how well you are responding to therapy.
This test is particularly applicable if you have risk factors (see below), or a family history of osteoporosis.
Genetic predisposition: inherited defects in bone collagen formation or turnover can interact with other factors to cause bone loss. An osteoporosis genetic profile evaluates variations in the genes that modulate bone formation, bone breakdown and inflammation, including key regulatory mechanisms affecting calcium and Vitamin D3 metabolism, the two most important bone health nutrients.
Timely identification of osteoporosis risk allows early nutritional intervention, which can aid long term prevention.
Acidic diet: a diet high in animal protein, sugar, fizzy drinks and processed food creates a lot of acidity in the body, which attempts to mop up this extra acid by releasing calcium from the bones back into the blood stream. Over time, bones are weakened and osteoporosis develops.
A more alkaline diet based on fruits and vegetables supports the slightly alkaline conditions which the body strives to maintain. Getting the acid-alkaline balance correct in your diet can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and help to slow further bone loss.
Nutrient deficiencies: it’s well known that calcium is important for building bones, but there are many other vitamins and minerals that are important for bone health. Since nutrition plays such a vital role in keeping bones strong, nutrient deficiencies will directly increase risk of bone loss.
Insufficiencies can be identified using the NutrEval Test. If you discover that you have a potential deficiency, Smart Nutrition can advise you on dietary changes and supplements to help restore healthy levels and support bone health.
Sex hormone imbalances: bone is not a static material: it’s constantly replaced and renewed, a process controlled and regulated by hormones. Women’s bone turnover is controlled by oestrogen and progesterone; in men this role is carried out by testosterone. The sudden drop in female hormones after menopause is thought to be the reason that women are much more likely to suffer from osteoporosis than men – in men, testosterone production decreases much more gradually.
Having a Female or Male Hormone Test is a great way of identifying any hormonal imbalances that may predispose you to osteoporosis. The results can then be used by Smart Nutrition to put together an effective treatment plan that will tackle any imbalances, and support longterm bone health.
Thyroid imbalance: chronically high production of thyroid hormone increases the rate of bone resorption and can result in lower bone density. Typical hyperthyroid symptoms include fast metabolism, heart palpitations and feelings of irritability or nervousness.
If you experience these symptoms or suspect you may have an overactive thyroid, a Thyroid Test is a useful investigative tool.
Digestive dysfunction: although nutritional deficiencies can be caused by low intake, they can also be the result of inadequate absorption. The body finds it difficult to absorb nutrients from food that it has not properly digested, which can result in deficiencies of bone-dependent nutrients.
The efficiency of the digestive process can be assessed by a Stool Analysis Test. If suboptimal digestive processes are identified, Smart Nutrition’s nutritional therapists can put together a specific protocol for you to get you back no track and ensure you get the maximum from your food.
Heavy metal toxicity: environmental metals such as lead can displace calcium from bones, impairing bone health.
If you’re concerned about your exposure to heavy metals, there are two ways of testing for toxicity: you can chose between a Hair Mineral Analysis or a Urine Test. If you find out that you do have a metal toxicity, a nutritional therapist can advise you on key dietary changes and supplements to assist toxin removal as well as bone rebuilding.
Stress: this natural physiological response evolved to save life in the short term. Over the course of human history, stress was usually a physical change that resulted in the need to stand and fight or to escape danger. Elevated stress levels affect bodily systems that are not immediately vital to survival: digestion is temporarily shut down, for instance, and to reduce the likelihood of bleeding to death, blood is made thicker. This is achieved by drawing calcium out of the bones.
Once calcium has been removed from bones, it is then in the form of calcium salts – and cannot be returned. Consequently, longterm stress gradually depletes bone calcium and the suppressive effect of stress on digestion means that absorption of new calcium is compromised.
If you have a particularly stressful lifestyle, an Adrenal Stress Test can pinpoint critical imbalances in stress hormones. Smart Nutrition can then work with you to put together a specific diet, lifestyle and supplement plan to reduce your stress response and protect longterm bone health.
Medication: longterm use of certain drugs such as the contraceptive pill, corticosteroids and the thyroid medication thyroxine can interfere with bone remodelling processes and calcium absorption.
Consulting a qualified nutritional therapist can help to minimise these effects and, in some cases, can support you by addressing the underlying condition, reducing the need for drugs in the first place.
Lack of physical activity: the body remodels bone in response to physical stresses such as walking and weight-bearing exercise. As exercise increases, bone density is also increased to meet the extra demand. Lack of physical activity is therefore a major risk factor for developing osteoporosis. Proper advice on the right kinds of exercise can be an excellent way to start to improve bone health and counteract some of the density lost through osteoporosis.