Healthy bones: more than just calcium or drugs

This scenario plays itself out on a daily basis: women are administered a bone density test and found to have some degree of bone loss labeled osteopenia in milder cases or osteoporosis in more severe ones. They are then prescribed one of several drugs known as bisphosphonates that include Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva, and a few others. At the same time they are instructed to take large daily doses of calcium.

The drugs do work. When repeated, bone density tests show improvement. WebMD tells us how they work: they “slow or stop the natural process that dissolves bone tissue, resulting in maintained or increased bone density.”

Stopping the bones from dissolving might seem like just the right thing to do

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, except that these natural processes are essential for bone tissue to remain healthy. Bones need to be continuously broken down and rebuilt, and if you disrupt this process you generate bones that are denser but also unhealthy and brittle. Read More »

Four interesting new supplements

These are supplements that have either been recently released or are new to me and are now available from my office.

Cereboost 6-hour: this supplement contains extracts from the herbs American ginseng, which improves focus and overall brain function, and Rhodiola rosea, which normalizes stress hormones, and therefore has a positive effect on irritability

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, impulsivity, and other related symptoms. This combination is fast-acting and seems to be very effective. Early reports have been that children are more organized and pay more attention, and adults are more able to multitask when taking it. Though my sample is small, so far no side effects were reported and only one child appeared not to tolerate it.

Though fast-acting the effects of this supplement wear off within approximately six hours of taking it, hence the name. While not a complete or long-term solution, it can be helpful as a brain booster when a little extra help is needed, or for children having trouble focusing in school.

XanthiTrim: this newly formulated supplement from Pure Encapsulations may turn out to be a major help for people trying to lose weight. With ingredients like decaffeinated green tea extract, pomegranate juice and seaweed it contains nothing that comes even close to being a stimulant or an appetite suppressant that could be harmful. What these ingredients all have in common is the ability to stimulate the body to burn fat. Therefore it is no surprise that in studies it was shown to enhance the weight loss effects of diet and exercise. Read More »

The Calcium Story: Part II

A few years ago I wrote a piece entitled “The Calcium Story” that can be found in Newsletters. It dealt with how much calcium we need and how we can get it, especially in a dairy-free diet. Although a great deal of new information has surfaced since I wrote it, readers will still find it informative.

This article follows up on that older one and discusses what happens to calcium inside the body. Although doctors frequently recommend taking 1,000 or even 1,500 mg of calcium, how can we tell if the calcium we take actually goes to strengthen bones and doesn’t instead do something completely different, and possibly even harmful?

Let’s consider some facts: a majority of women past the age of forty or fifty today are being diagnosed with osteopenia, if not full-blown osteoporosis, and a growing number of men are found to have the same problem. This means that, in an aging population, bones are losing calcium at an alarming rate.
Read More »

Add osteoporosis drugs to the list of toxic medications

The problem with modern drugs is simple: virtually all of them are made from chemicals that are foreign to the human body and potentially toxic. They might be fine as long as they are used occasionally or for brief periods of time, but when these new drugs are prescribed “forever” you can bet trouble is around the corner.

An article just published in the New York Times reveals that women who have been on the common osteoporosis drugs are now coming down with osteonecrosis of the jaw, a condition where parts of the jaw bone deteriorate and then die. This is apparently becoming so common that some dentists refuse to treat women on these medications or ask them to stop taking them for some time before dental work. However, this precaution is unlikely to help since these chemicals remain in bones for years after being discontinued.

For the full article, go to What the Times calls a “mysterious side effect” is not a mystery at all to me. I even anticipate that in time we will see this complication develop at other sites as well, not only in the jaw. In fact when these drugs first came out skeptics remarked that while they increased bone density, they also caused the quality of the bones to deteriorate – so we could say that this outcome was predicted from the beginning.
Read More »

Vitamin D for chronic inflammation, MS and (possibly) autism

The more we learn, the more it becomes evident that chronic inflammation is a universal troublemaker that plays a part in almost every ongoing health condition.

Acute inflammation is one of the most beneficial, and often life-saving, defense mechanisms of the body. Acute inflammation is what gives us a fever when our bodies are fighting a virus, a sore throat in response to strep bacteria, or a swollen ankle after a hard fall. In every case like these, inflammation helps promote recovery.

However, chronic inflammation is a superfluous and harmful process. It’s a healthy process that forgot when to stop and no longer serves a useful purpose. What causes it?

According to recent British research, air pollution – something most of us breathe on a daily basis – can cause it. See Exposure to toxins like mercury or lead can also be a cause, as can too much copper, iron, or even calcium in the blood. Studies have shown that a progressive shift in the human diet from consuming mostly omega-3 fats to mostly omega-6 can also set the stage for chronic inflammation (see “The Omega-3 Connection” by Andrew Stoll, MD). Finally, a simple lack of vitamin D can be the culprit.
Read More »

Vitamin D: is it the missing link in (bone) health?

Most women past the age of menopause have probably been offered one of several drugs to treat or prevent osteoporosis. These drugs work primarily by inhibiting hormones like parathyroid, although in most cases these hormones are at healthy levels and are not what causes bone loss. The drugs may well lead to stronger bones, but toxicity and side effects are a real concern.

All of us know about the importance of calcium for bone growth in children and healthy bones in adults. However taking calcium alone has not been shown to help reduce bone loss and osteoporosis. One reason is that the body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and deposit it in bones.

A recent study showed that taking 800 to 900 IU of vitamin D in addition to 1,200-1,300 mg of calcium resulted in increased bone density in both younger and older postmenopausal women. The study also revealed that vitamin D deficiency was widespread among aging individuals. Ensuring adequate intake of vitamin D and calcium would seem to be a reasonable first step in manag ing osteoporosis before even considering drugs that cause undesirable hormone disruption (J Women’s Health (Larchmnt) 2003 Mar; 12:2: 151-6).

Unlike other vitamins, our bodies can make Vitamin D. The skin has enzymes that, when exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun, convert cholesterol into Vitamin D. We also obtain some Vitamin D from food, but since the amount we get from the sun can vary a great deal, it is a challenge to determine exactly how much Vitamin D we need from our food or supplements.

The US recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 400 international units (10mcg) daily from infancy to adulthood, and it was long thought that intakes exceeding 2,000 IU daily posed a risk of toxicity. However, expert opinion is shifting on this point since it has become apparent that the body can make many times more Vitamin D from even brief exposure to the sun.

Deficiency of Vitamin D is probably becoming more common in part because of widespread use of sunblocks that interfere with the skin’s ability to synthesize this vitamin. Large doses of Vitamin A, while beneficial in certain cases, can also induce a deficiency of Vitamin D if the levels of the two vitamins are not monitored and maintained in proper balance.

Studies have also shown that Vitamin D plays a central role in regulating the immune system. People with low blood levels of Vitamin D have been shown to have a higher occurrence of numerous cancers, including prostate, breast, colon, and others. The rate of autoimmune disease is higher in those who are deficient in this important vitamin.

Regular but sensible exposure to the sun may be the best way to ensure adequate stores of Vitamin D. Individuals at risk for osteoporosis, those who take Vitamin A supplements, or those with immune system disorders should ask their healthcare professional to order a simple test called 25-hydroxy-vitamin D to help determine their level of this important vitamin.

The Calcium Story, Part I

More and more of us are finding that eliminating dairy from our diet can help solve chronic health problems. Children stop having ear infections, digestive problems or constipation suddenly improve, and asthma, headaches and even depression may finally come to an end with just this simple step.

I am not suggesting that milk is always bad, or that everyone should avoid it, but those who are sensitive to it are better off without it. This is not an indictment of milk itself, but of the
modern production techniques that have altered an otherwise perfectly healthy food.

The next question on many people’s minds is: how can I get enough calcium without milk? The calcium story is a bit more complicated than just counting the number of milligrams consumed per day, but the good news is that there are many excellent sources of calcium aside from milk.

The first point to keep in mind is that the body cannot use calcium by itself. Without enough Vitamin D, for example, we cannot adequately absorb and utilize calcium. Bones also need other important minerals, and taking too much calcium alone can be actually damage our health by causing acidity in blood and contributing to plaque buildup in arteries.

To promote ideal calcium absorption, a majority of our calcium should come from natural food sources, whether we consume dairy products or not. Calcium-rich foods don’t just contain calcium; they also contain many associated nutrients including minerals and proteins that promote optimal calcium utilization. This complex food synergy cannot be easily achieved by just taking supplements. Supplements are man-made and can never quite match the optimal balance of nutrients found in nature.

Most foods contain at least some calcium as this mineral is found everywhere in nature. Certain grains, seeds and green vegetables are very rich in calcium, with sesame seeds containing four times more calcium than milk. The seeds can be digested properly only if finely ground – it’s easy to grind them in an inexpensive coffee grinder at home and sprinkle them over salads or other foods, add them to drinks like smoothies, use in baking, etc. If you are concerned about your ability to fully digest these foods and absorb the calcium and other nutrients they contain, having them with a digestive enzyme might help.

One strategy to obtain enough calcium is to select several combinations of high-calcium foods you can include in your or your child’s diet on a rotating basis. Calculate the calcium content of each combination using the table at the end of this section. You may also take a well-balanc ed, high-quality calcium supplement every day to fulfill any residual need.

For example, on Day One you can have one cup of amaranth flour and a quarter of a cup of ground sesame seeds in your meals for a total of 750 mg of calcium. Add 250 mg of calcium from a supplement if you need to reach 1,000 mg.

On Day Two, have half a cup each of almonds, tofu and ground flaxseeds and reach roughly the same 750 mg of calcium. You will not be able to match exactly every day’s calcium intake, so just average it and remember: variety is the key to obtain not only calcium but also a wide range of synergistic nutrients!

The next question is how much calcium do we really need on a daily basis? Unfortunately there is no general consensus on this point. Although the US recommended daily allowances (RDA) are often very low and have been nicknamed “recommended deficiency allowances,” they are unusually high when it comes to calcium.

The U.S. RDA for calcium in children aged 1 to 10 is 800 mg per day, whereas in the United Kingdom the recommended intake is 350-550mg. In addition, other dietary factors affect

calcium balance. Sugar and caffeine cause excretion of calcium and other minerals from the body, so if the diet is high in these products you will need extra calcium to make up for the loss.

In my opinion, an intake in the range of 500 mg in children under the age of 11, roughly double that for children over 11 and 700 mg in adults is adequate as long as the diet is “clean”
and low in sugar, stimulants and other junk foods. Higher intakes of calcium should be considered in special cases, including osteoporosis. I have included both the U.S. and U.K.

RDAs for calcium to give you more information about target intakes.

Food/Calcium content (mg) per cup unless otherwise indicated.

Milk, whole/291
Milk, 2%/297
Milk, nonfat/302
Cottage cheese/150
Yogurt, plain/274

Currants, zante, dried/124
Figs, dried/269 per 10 figs

Amaranth grain, boiled/276
Amaranth flour/407
Carob flour/359
Cassava flour/193
Cottonseed flour (low fat)/1,080
Garbanzo flour/324
Quinoa flour/324
Rice bran/128
Soybean flour (low fat)/165
Sweet potato flour/115
Teff, grain or flour/407 (note: contains gluten)

Hummus spread/124
Black-eyed peas, boiled/212
Navy beans, boiled/128
White beans, boiled/161
Wax beans, cut, canned/174
Beet greens, boiled/165
Chard, Swiss, boiled/102
Dandelion greens, boiled/146
Kale, boiled/180
Mustard greens, frozen, boiled/150
Okra, boiled/100
Parsley, dried/912
Taro, Tahitian, cooked/202

Soybean products:
Firm tofu/516

Nuts, seeds and nut butters:
Almond butter/688
Brazil nuts/400
Cashew butter/96
Cottonseed flour, low-fat/1,080
Filberts (hazelnuts)/424
Macadamia nuts/160
Pistachios, shelled/304
Pumpkin seeds, dried/96
Safflower seeds, dried/176
Sesame seeds, whole/1,408
Soybean nuts, dry roasted/464
Sunflower seeds/272

Sea Vegetables:
Agar agar, dried/1,438
Arame, dried/2691
Carragheen, dried/2,036
Dulse, dried/681
Hijiki, dried/3,220
Kelp, raw/386
Kelp, dried/1,840
Wakame, dried/2,990

Fish and shellfish:
Salmon (canned)/167 per 3oz serving (includes bones)
Sardines (canned)/371 per 3oz serving (includes bones)
Oysters (raw)/226

Sources: mostly from “Calcium without the Cow” by Sally Rockwell, PhD, CCN. Other books by Dr. Rockwell include “Allergy-Free Baking Tips for Special Flours,” “Allergy Recipes” and “The Rotation Game,” all available from

Recommended daily allowances for Calcium

Category/Age (years)/US RDA (mg)/UK nutrient intakes (mg)
Infants/7-12 mo/400/535

Bone strength compromised by oral contraceptives

We have all heard that weight-bearing exercise helps build stronger bones. A new study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2001;33:873-880) confirms this but also reveals that oral contraceptives may hinder this benefit. The study monitored bone density in young women aged 18 to 31 who engaged in regular resistance exercise and weight training over a period of two years. Bone strength increased in all but those who were taking oral contraceptives.

DHEA Shown to Reverse Bone Loss

Two recent studies have shown that DHEA can help restore bone mass. In the first study (Clin Endocrinol, 2000;53:561-568) 10 women and 8 men in their 70’s were given 50 mg of DHEA daily for 6 months. At the end of this period, the bone mineral density of their total body, including the spine, increased; fat mass decreased; and fat-free mass increased.

A second one-year, double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted in France (Family Practice News, Nov. 1, 2000:24) also found that in 70 women aged 60 to 69, those receiving DHEA had an increase in bone mineral density, while those on placebo suffered a loss.