Good to the Bone


Most of us (especially women) have a tendency to lose bone mass density (BMD) as we age. And the results can be disastrous for the elderly who often find their mobility compromised due to fractures of weakened bones.

One way to help keep bones healthy, of course, is to avoid factors that can undermine BMD long before we reach our later years. But contrary to a long-held, popular misconception, protein is NOT one of those undermining factors.

Eskimo pie

The idea that protein intake reduces BMD probably stems mostly from the fact that increased protein prompts the body to discharge calcium into the urine. Based on this, many have jumped to the conclusion that protein must have a negative effect on BMD.

The confusion over the protein/BMD question is reflected in this question posted by a member named Iris on the HSI Forum: "Does anyone have any information on studies or recommendations that connect high-protein diets and bone loss?"

Responding to Iris's question, a member named Omie posted this comment: "Consider the Eskimo that doesn't have a garden or veggies, exhumed bones from those people that died before learning of the 'white man's diet' had been on a meat and fat diet all their lives and their bones were excellent."

My guess is that Omie has read about the groundbreaking research of Dr. Weston Price. A 19th Century pioneer of nutrition, Dr. Price found that groups that consumed high protein diets (such as Alaskan Eskimos) had little tooth decay and were mostly free of degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis. But when Dr. Price examined the remains of Native American tribes that were largely vegetarian, he discovered skeletons with a high incidence of osteoporosis.

This relationship of high protein intake and strong bones has been reinforced by many studies, and most recently by research from Creighton University School of Medicine (CU) published earlier this year.

The CU team followed dietary protein and calcium intake and the rate of bone loss in almost 500 postmenopausal women over a period of three years. Results showed that subjects with the highest protein intake had a significantly higher BMD compared with women who had the lowest protein intake. This positive association was especially strong among the women who also had a dietary calcium intake of more than 408 mg per day.

The calcium thief

So protein is not the culprit that many have believed it to be. But there is another factor that has been associated with calcium loss and bone fractures: synthetic drug use.

In a study reported earlier this year in the Archives of Internal Medicine, elderly women who took antidepressants and other drugs were 70 percent more likely to break a hip than those who didn't take such drugs. Exactly why this was so was not clear, but the association was strong among a group of more than 8,000 women, even after variables were accounted for, such as unsteadiness caused by medications.

And in a Clinical Geriatric Medicine study referenced on the Atkins web site, many subjects who consumed a "normal" amount of calcium (listed in the study as 800 mg per day) had a negative calcium balance due to an intake of several common drugs; most notably, antacids that contain aluminum.

Beyond the moustache message

With calcium levels being an important issue here, we can't ignore the fact that calcium intake alone is meager way to address BMD problems (contrary to the message sent by the milk "moustache" ads).

In recent e-Alerts I've told you about some of the important benefits of getting an adequate amount of magnesium from dietary sources as well as supplements. And a good magnesium intake is even more important for those who have a high intake of dietary or supplementary calcium.

In the e-Alert "To Lower, or Not to Lower..." HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., had this to say: "Calcium without magnesium doesn't occur in a natural human diet, so it shouldn't be introduced to the body that way. Calcium alone has been found in several experiments to be improperly laid down in the body, even affecting arterial walls before setting up in bones."

And in a recent e-mail from Dr. Spreen, he made it clear that bone health depends on a combination of important nutrients:

"If osteoporosis is the problem, there's WAY more to the issue than calcium and magnesium, in ANY ratio. Most HSI members have long since left behind the commercial baloney about calcium for osteoporosis, but it's even more complicated than most believe, and requires full-spectrum nutrients. The 'biggies' in the list include calcium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin D (in pretty high amounts, too), boron, silica, other micro-minerals, progesterone (natural, human form...NOT Provera), usually additional digestive enzymes (along with plant-based hydrochloric acid), all topped off with reasonable exercise; way less than beating yourself to death, but more than sitting home knitting or channel-surfing...brisk walking is wonderfully adequate.

"Nature works on the team principal, which is why covering up symptoms with single 'magic bullet' drugs has led us down a primrose path of disease."

...and another thing

You could probably use a little spice in your life.

A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study measured the phenolic content and antioxidant activity of 27 culinary herbs and 12 medicinal herbs under laboratory conditions. The medicinal herbs faired well; familiar names like periwinkle, gingko biloba, garden sage, St. John's Wort, valerian, and sweet Annie all showed significant antioxidant content.

But the fresh culinary herbs blew them away. And guess which was the leader of the pack? Plain old oregano.

Oregano was found to have 42 times more antioxidants than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges, and 4 times more than blueberries! That means that one tablespoon of fresh oregano has the same free-radical fighting power as one medium-sized apple.

Overall, oregano had 3 to 20 times more antioxidant content than the other herbs tested. The other good herb antioxidant sources included dill, thyme, rosemary, and peppermint all ranked high.

But the dried herbs didn't quite cut it.

According to the study's authors, fresh herbs are the best choice, as some of the antioxidant concentration is lost in processing.

Most grocery stores now carry a wide variety of fresh herbs, and it's easy to work them into familiar recipes. As a general rule, if a recipe calls for one teaspoon of a dried herb, you can substitute one TABLEspoon of chopped fresh herb in its place for the same taste. Fresh herbs should stay good in your refrigerator for up to five days if stored properly; cooking experts recommend wrapping them in a damp paper towel and sealing in an airtight plastic bag.

Of course, you still need to eat your fruits and veggies; these foods offer a wide range of other beneficial phytochemicals, plus vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are essential to good health. But now we know that fresh herbs can help add even more antioxidant power into our lives, while adding great taste, too.

So, mangiare! Eat up! And pass the oregano.

To Your Good Health, and... Go Ravens!

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute

Sources:
"Protein Intake: Effects on Bone Mineral Density and the Rate of Bone Loss in Elderly Women" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 77(6):1517-25, June 2003, "Eating Protein is Healthy for Your Bones" Dr. Joseph Mercola, 6/25/03, "Dem Bones - Do High Protein Diets Cause Bone Loss?" Sally Fallon, Mary G. Enig, Ph.D., The Weston A. Price Foundation, "Osteoporosis, Calcium Requirement, and Factors Causing Calcium Loss" Atkins "Mood Drugs Linked to Fractures in Elderly" Adam Marcus, HealthScoutNews, 4/28/03, hon.ch Copyright © 1997 - 2003 by Institute of Health Sciences, L.L.C.

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