© Michael Schachter M.D., F.A.C.A.M.
Osteoporosis in women following menopause is one of our most serious health problems. It frequently leads to hip fractures and death due to complications. Many risk factors contribute to its development. They include a thin body frame, fair skin, use of tobacco, caffeine, alcohol and refined foods, excessive protein and phosphorus in the diet, lack of exercise, deficiencies of several nutrients including calcium and vitamin D, the use of certain medications, such as steroids and others.
To measure bone density, either a dual photon densitometer or a specially adapted CT machine may be used. These measurements are most useful when taken serially over time in order to determine the rate of bone loss.
The fact that loss of bone mass occurs so rapidly with the onset of menopause suggests that hormonal changes are the main cause of osteoporosis. Some studies suggest that the administration of calcium supplements and estrogen hormone replacement therapy with the onset of menopause will slow down bone loss and many conventional physicians recommend one or both of these treatments. Additionally, conventional physicians may recommend the hormone calcitonin by injection or a class of drugs called biphosphanates to women with osteoporosis.
Complementary physicians take a broader view with regard to osteoporosis. In addition to confronting the many risk factors long before menopause occurs, they supplement with the full range of nutrients necessary for building bone. For example, they believe that it is a mistake to give calcium without balancing it with magnesium, since the imbalance created may lead to soft tissue calcification of blood vessels and other tissues, resulting in disease. At least 22 nutrients have been shown to contribute to building bone and a preventive program should include all of them.
Bone constantly undergoes a process of breaking down of old bone by cells called osteoclasts and building up of new bone by osteoblasts. Osteoporosis occurs when osteoclasts break down bone at a faster rate than osteoblasts can build new bone. Estrogen slows down bone breakdown, so that it can slow down bone loss, but cannot actually increase bone growth.
Natural progesterone, which has largely been ignored by conventional physicians, actually stimulates osteoblasts to new bone formation, resulting in an increase in bone density rather than just a slowing down of bone loss. So it appears that progesterone rather than estrogen is the more important hormone to prevent and treat osteoporosis. Natural progesterone has anti-cancer properties and other desirable side effects
Modifying one’s diet, exercising, using a broad range of supplements to build bone and taking natural progesterone will go a long way to preventing and treating osteoporosis.