Better Bones: Preventing Osteoporosis

Throughout your lifetime you’ve naturally been losing bone and building it back. For many there comes a point when they start losing more bone than they can replace. For women this often occurs around perimenopause or menopause.

Osteoporosis is a progressive disease that manifests in low bone mineral density, thus making the individual susceptible to bone fractures. Osteopenia is also substandard bone mineral density, but is not clinically low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. Both conditions need to be addressed.

Dr. Susan E. Brown, PhD, CNS, specializes in osteoporosis and osteopenia and has more than 25 years of experience in clinical nutrition and bone health research. She is also a medical anthropologist who has authored numerous academic articles and several books, including Better Bones, Better Body. (1) Dr. Brown outlines the major myths about bone health:

Myth #1 Calcium and vitamin D are enough to maintain strong bones. Although it’s true that these two nutrients play a vital role, they are only two of the twenty nutrients essential for healthy bone structure and function.

Myth #2 DEXA testing for bone density is the only way to measure bone health. It’s more accurate to say the DEXA is the best test we have. But DEXA tests often scare women unnecessarily. To learn that your bones aren’t as dense as those of a 20-year old shouldn’t surprise you — but that’s not nearly as important as how strong your bones are.

Myth #3 Osteopenia leads to osteoporosis and bone fracture. This progression is only true for a fraction of women. You can do plenty to reduce your risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture even if a doctor has diagnosed you with osteopenia. With proper nutrients, diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes it’s possible to stop osteopenia, or even osteoporosis right in its tracks!

Myth #4 Prescription drugs are the only answer for osteopenia or osteoporosis. While prescription drugs may help a minority of patients, these medications can often do more harm than good. And the risks are still being discovered as the years go by. Why take the risk when a natural approach is safer and more effective?

According to Dr. Brown, these are the greatest risk factors for bone problems:

  • Inadequate nutrition
  • Low levels of specific nutrients vital to bone formation
  • An acid-forming diet
  • Lack of weight-bearing exercise
  • Risk of falls
  • Chronic stress
  • The use of bone-depleting medications and pharmaceuticals



broccoliEat an alkaline-forming diet. The modern American diet is filled with large amounts of acid-forming foods, such as animal protein, refined flour products, an array of processed foods, low-quality fats, refined sugars, and alcohol.

Acid-forming foods can upset your biochemistry and may force your body to turn to your bones to provide alkalinizing or “base” minerals to offset the acid load. While this works in the short-term, it’s harmful to bone health in the long run because it depletes your bones’ mineral reserves. Here’s what you can do:

  • Include more vegetables (especially root crops and green leafy vegetables), fruits, nuts, seeds and spices.
  • limeAdd fresh lemon or lime to your water. They are thought of as acids, but they actually alkalinize your body.
  • Eliminate soda, excess caffeine, and excess animal protein from your diet.
  • Avoid processed foods, white flours, refined sugars, additives, and preservatives.


Monitor your urinary pH. Tracking your first morning urine pH (after at least 6 hours of sleep) is a simple and convenient way to know how your nutritional changes are affecting your body. When this number is between 6.5 (slightly acidic) and 7.5 (slightly alkaline), it suggests that your overall cellular pH is where it should be — slightly alkaline. Results in an acid range can suggest that your bones are being depleted of minerals to offset the excess acid in your system.

Get the optimal amount of Vitamin D through sunlight, food sources and supplementation. Harvard researchers note, calcium supplements often contain vitamin D; taking calcium paired with vitamin D seems to be more beneficial for bone health than taking calcium alone. (2) Vitamin D has been shown to reduce fractures as much or even more than the drug therapies. Try to get in sun for at least 15 minutes a day.

Deficiency levels: < 50 ng/ml Optimal levels: 50 – 80 ng/ml

“Sunlight is not the enemy. It’s lack of antioxidants in your diet that is the enemy. Natural light is a lovely source of vitamin D; you can’t overdose. But many people – to get their levels of vitamin D into optimal – are going to need 5,000 to 10, 000 international units per day. So, vitamin D is important. You can get your level drawn through without a doctor’s prescription.” –Dr. Christiane Northrup, MD

Add a high-quality multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement. This needs to contain the 20 key bone building nutrients in optimal doses to fill in any gaps.

SpinachGet more Vitamin K. Vitamin K has been shown to affect how calcium helps with new bone building by allowing calcium to bind to the bone matrix.

Vitamin K, which is found mainly in green, leafy vegetables, likely plays one or more important roles in calcium regulation and bone formation. Low levels of circulating vitamin K have been linked with low bone density, and supplementation with vitamin K shows improvements in biochemical measures of bone health. (3)

A report from the Nurses’ Health Study suggests that women who get at least 110 micrograms of vitamin K a day are 30 percent less likely to break a hip than women who get less than that. (4) According to the nurses, eating a serving of lettuce or other green, leafy vegetable a day cuts the risk of hip fracture in half when compared with eating one serving a week. Data from the Framingham Heart Study also shows an association between high vitamin K intake and reduced risk of hip fracture in men and women, and increased bone mineral density in women. (5)

Limit animal protein. Animal proteins are high in sulfur-containing amino acids and are particularly acid-producing as you metabolize them. Protein is absolutely required for your bones and just about every other body tissue. But try to limit your animal protein sources (beef, chicken, pork, eggs, and dairy products) to 40 grams or less per day and increase plant-based protein sources.

Generate stronger bone with exercise. Remember that our bodies were meant to move, and our bones need exercise to trigger bone-building activity. Any form of exercise can help halt bone loss by building muscle, as long as you supply the body with adequate nutrients.

Weight training is the most effective way to increase bone mass and decrease the risk of osteoporosis. Numerous studies reveal this fact. A one-year study using a strength training routine three days a week showed in women, the more weight they lifted the greater the increase in total body bone mass density.(6) In another study done in 2007 young women participated for five months in a resistance training program. The conclusion was that strength training increased bone mass.(7) A third study done in 2000 showed that the positive effects of resistance training on the musculoskeletal system reverse when training is withdrawn.(8)

Minimize stress. Chronic stress takes a huge toll on our health — it increases the body’s acid load. (Keep in mind this can be physical stress, as occurs during the menopause transition, as well as emotional or mental stress). And keep in mind, it’s not just the day-to-day stresses of modern life which affect our bodies, but also issues from the past which can manifest themselves in new places in our lives. Cortisol, our major stress hormone, can be extremely detrimental to bone and other organs if it remains at high levels around-the-clock.

Be good to yourself, and seek help if you need it or simply give yourself more breaks — whether it’s to take a relaxing bath or simply reading alone on the couch for an hour. Any time you quiet your mind and relax your body, you can lower your stress level.

Bone is ever-changing, and when we take control of our diet, exercise habits and stress, we will build better and more beautiful bones—no matter what our age.


1. Brown, Susan and Russell Jaffe, MD. Better Bones, Better Body : Beyond Estrogen and Calcium. McGraw Hill. Apr 1, 2000.
1. Calcium and Milk: What’s Best for Your Bones and Health?The Nutrition Source. Harvard School of Public Health.
2. Weber P. Vitamin K and bone health. Nutrition. 2001; 17:880–87.
3. Feskanich D, Weber P, Willett WC, Rockett H, Booth SL, Colditz GA. Vitamin K intake and hip fractures in women: a prospective study. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999; 69:74–79.
4. Booth SL, Tucker KL, Chen H, et al. Dietary vitamin K intakes are associated with hip fracture but not with bone mineral density in elderly men and women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000; 71:1201–08.
5. Booth SL, Broe KE, Gagnon DR, et al. Vitamin K intake and bone mineral density in women and men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003; 77(2):512-16
6. Cussler, Lohman et al. Weight lifted in strength training predicts bone change in postmenopausal women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 35(1):10-7
7. Nickols-Richardson, S.M., Miller, L.E., Wootten, D.F., Ramp W.K. and Herbert, W.G. Concentric and Eccentric isokinetic resistance training similarly increases muscular strength, fat free tissue mass and specific bone mineral measurements in young women. Osteoporosis Int. 2007; 18(6):789-96.
8. Winters, K.M. and Snow, C.M. Detraining reverses positive effects of exercise on the musculoskeletal system in premenopausal women. J Bone Miner Res. 2000; (12):2495-503.


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