If you are over 50 and find yourself having worsened and more frequent back pain, the chances that you may have osteoporosis is relatively high.
There are more than 3 million people in the United States who are affected by osteoporosis, with many more going undiagnosed. Even though it is mostly known as a post-menopausal women’s disease, it still affects one out of five men.
When most patients see their doctor for the possibility of an osteoporosis diagnosis, they usually prescribe bisphosphonates – with no plan to ever take you off of them. This is where conventional medicine differs from our approach. We want you on fewer pills (if possible), not more. We find the root cause of problems instead of covering up the symptoms. First, functional medicine practitioners want to prevent the onset of osteoporosis so that symptoms don’t occur in the first place. If you do experience symptoms, we will find out what’s causing your bones to become brittle.
Osteoporosis is when your bones become less dense and their quality weakens. Your bones become filled with pores (empty spaces) which makes bones more fragile. When your bones aren’t dense and strong, you are more susceptible to bone fractures and pain.
Osteoporosis isn’t an issue with just your bones. We know that all our bodily systems are intertwined. When one system isn’t working properly, most likely there is an imbalance somewhere else in the body. Our bones are constantly and routinely being remodeled by being broken down by certain cells called osteoclasts and built up by osteoblasts.
When these two cells – the builders and the destroyers- are balanced, we have healthy and strong bones. However, when they become imbalanced we run into issues. As you age, your body generates more osteoclasts (destroyers) than osteoblasts (builders), hence the increasingly porous nature of your bones.
One reason why osteoclasts increase is because of inflammatory issues going on in the body. These inflammation markers tend to upregulate (create more) aggressive osteoclasts. The osteoblasts can’t keep up with the creation of osteoclasts and your bones become less and less dense.
If you have increased inflammatory markers in your body, it could be the reason why your bones are getting more brittle at a faster rate. Factors that can increase inflammation are stress, poor diet choices, infections, toxins, imbalances in the gut microbiome, and lack of movement from the body.
While anyone can be diagnosed with osteoporosis, if you fall into one or more of these categories, you may be at a higher risk.
Over the Age of 50
Being Small Framed
Excessive Alcohol Drinker
Lack of Exercise
If you find yourself dealing with some of these symptoms, you could have osteoporosis or be at a higher risk for it.
Height is Getting Smaller
Easily Broken Bones
Going straight to taking pills doesn’t have to be the answer. However, if your labs are showing a serious bone loss, short term medication use is recommended to prevent bone fractures. With that being said, you can still incorporate these practices into your weekly or daily routine to get your bones back to being healthy.
Moving a couple of times a week can help keep your bones strong. Try running, walking, stair climbing or weight-bearing exercises. Those who commit to exercising are less likely to experience bone fractures according to one study done in osteoporotic patients. After a year, their bone mass also improved.
Calcium can help decrease bone loss and reduce your risk of bone fractures. However, the exception is with late post-menopausal women. There doesn’t seem to be a significant benefit for bone loss after this point, but that doesn’t mean late post-menopausal women shouldn’t be aware of their calcium intake. Vitamin D can also help increase the absorption of calcium through the gut, so your serum calcium levels increase.
Hormones play numerous roles in the body. When they are imbalanced, it can cause other bodily systems to get out of whack as well. Too much thyroid hormone, from either an overactive thyroid or from using too much medication, can cause bone loss. Lowered sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone) can also reduce bone mass – which we see in post-menopausal women when estrogen levels decrease.
Excessive alcohol drinkers and smokers are at a higher chance to develop osteoporosis because they have reduced bone formation. So in addition to their osteoclasts (bone destroyers) increasing with aging, their bodies also have reduced osteoblasts(bone builders) which quickens the process of bone loss.
There are some reports that say too much protein is bad for bones. However, this doesn’t mean to avoid it. Getting enough protein (but not going overboard) is key. Get your protein from healthy sources. If you are going to eat meat, buy organic and even local if you have that option. Limit protein from animal sources as excessive animal protein can cause calcium loss through urine.
The key here is to try and live an overall healthy lifestyle as best as you can. When you focus on your entire wellbeing, you will help all areas of your body – since even though we have separate bodily processes and systems, they all work together. It’s not too late to start living a life that focuses on good health. Even if you are currently struggling with health issues, lifestyle factors can play a huge role in treating or managing your conditions.
Dr. Lisa Ballehr is a Functional Medicine Doctor located in Mesa, Arizona. She specializes in managing and treating gastrointestinal disorders, autoimmune and arthritis, diabetes, hormone imbalances, chronic pain, and neurodegenerative disorders by working with you to find the root cause. You can take her FREE Online Health Assessment Now to see how she can help you get your health back on track.