Ever wonder why osteoporosis seems to happen more often in post-menopausal women? Estrogen actually protects against bone loss (so does testosterone, by the way), and when hormones decline, so does bone density. Men experience similar bone loss with age, but they’ve generally got more bone to begin with, so they can usually afford to lose more of it than women can. But menopause alone doesn’t have to lead to osteoporosis – there are other factors involved.
A staggering 51% of fractures worldwide occur in Europe and the Americas, which suggests that osteoporosis is a disease of Westernized cultures. Why is that? Most of the staples of the Standard American Diet (SAD – love that acronym) include acidic foods, such as sugar, meat, coffee, alcohol, white flours or grains in general. Your body buffers excess acid with a molecule called calcium bicarbonate (calcium that might otherwise be used to build bone). Another culprit is soda, which leeches phosphate from the bones. High salt diets are also a poor choice, and one common to Westernized cultures. The kidneys are forced to eliminate the excess salt, and this may increase the loss of other minerals as well.
Other causes include Vitamin D deficiency, since the primary function of Vitamin D in the body is to maintain calcium levels in the blood. Even in Arizona, a staggering number of my patients are Vitamin D deficient according to labs. I’m not really sure why this is, but I suspect it has to do with a decrease in consumption of Vitamin D- containing foods, and perhaps increased use of sunscreen.
Certain medications and lifestyle choices also impair the absorption of key nutrients necessary for bone formation. These include smoking, high alcohol consumption, proton pump inhibitors (such as omeprazole – these are incredibly common medications for reflux), corticosteroids (such as prednisone), coffee (back to the acidic discussion), eating disorders, or just a poor diet devoid of nutrients.
Weight-bearing exercise is also quite important – this encourages not only new bone formation, but muscle formation as well. And it’s no secret that Western cultures tend to be sedentary.
Finally, there are more serious conditions can result in poor nutrient absorption or nutrient loss, including malabsorption syndromes, kidney disease, and any number of inflammatory conditions. These need to be ruled out.