Are you losing your bone density?
Bone loss or osteoporosis is something we tend to associate with older age but in fact, bone density starts to slowly decline from around 40 years of age. This will accelerate in the first few years post-menopause, resulting in a period of rapid bone density loss due to the steep decline in oestrogen. Bone loss then continues at a more moderate rate into our old age.
Premature loss of bone density can occur below the age of 40 in women who don’t get a menstrual period due to low oestrogen levels, which is often due to low body weight or excessive strenuous exercise.
Loss of bone density or osteoporosis can lead to weak, brittle bones that are more likely to fracture during a fall, with fractures commonly occurring in the hips, spine, and wrists. These fractures can be serious and debilitating, so it’s very important to prevent bone loss.
Who’s at risk?
Your risk of bone loss increases if you:
- don’t consume adequate dietary calcium
- have low vitamin D levels
- smoke cigarettes
- have more than two standard alcoholic drinks per day
- drink 3 or more cups of coffee or another caffeine equivalent daily
- lack physical activity
- enter early menopause (before the age of 45)
- have poor kidney function
- lose your menstrual period if it is associated with reduced production of oestrogen, which is vital for healthy bones (low body weight or strenuous exercise can cause this)
- use corticosteroids long-term
- have thyroid disease or an overactive thyroid gland
- have conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic liver and kidney disease, Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
How to prevent bone loss
There are various drugs and hormone replacements that reduce bone loss but these all come with their own set of undesirable side effects, so it’s great if you can avoid them.
You may have heard of these common strategies for preventing bone loss:
- vitamin D supplementation
- weight-bearing exercise
- calcium supplementation
Yes, these are important but will have minimal impact if we aren’t addressing the other major source of bone loss – acidity!
Let’s have a quick recap of acid and alkaline. Anything with a pH below 7 is acidic, and above 7 is alkaline, while pH 7 is neutral. Acids can be used to neutralise alkaline products – e.g. ever spilled bleach on your skin? Water won’t wash it off. You need to use vinegar to neutralise it. Similarly, alkaline substances can be used to neutralize acids. This is known as buffering an acid.
On a day-to-day basis, our body must remove or buffer acids that are generated as a by-product of eating, breathing and producing energy. Acids are removed through our kidneys mainly. Our body must maintain strict control of the pH of our blood, otherwise, we would end up in hospital or dead from a condition called metabolic acidosis. so it’s pretty serious stuff!
Metabolic acidosis is where our body just can’t keep up with removing the acidic load. This doesn’t usually occur unless there is kidney failure or severe poisoning with a toxin. The body usually can comfortably deal effectively with the smaller acid level produced from regular day-to-day life. Our body does this by buffering – adding an alkaline substance. Where do we get this alkaline substance from? We call upon our huge stores of a very alkaline mineral, the calcium from our bones! Yes, that’s right, calcium is actually leached from our bones to buffer our blood!
So what do we do? We can’t stop breathing and producing energy right? But we can change what we eat. We can balance our diet so that fewer acids are being generated.
What are the acidic foods?
We are not talking about lemons here. Foods that taste acidic have no correlation with acid generation in the blood. Let’s take a look at some of the foods that do generate acids. The first one will shock you the most.
- Dairy! Yep, that’s right, our calcium-rich, dairy products that have been touted as promoting good bone health may actually be doing the opposite. Does that mean we should stop eating dairy? No, it’s not about that, it’s about balancing the quantity of dairy with the right amount of alkalizing foods. If we drink a litre of milk, we will need to eat nearly half a kilo of veggies to balance this out! A glass or milk, however, needs just a simple 100g of veggies. Much more manageable. We can still get some calcium from dairy products but add in loads of calcium-rich dark green leafy veggies and we’ll have adequate calcium and an alkaline environment.
- Animal and vegetable protein. Any sort of animal or vegetable protein actually has an acidic load. These occur in meat, eggs, legumes, and grains. So do we stop eating these? Well, we still need protein very much. Protein forms the very building blocks of our cells, detoxification enzymes and many other important processes that we need to survive. Without it, we lose muscle mass and have trouble controlling our blood sugar. The key is to balance our protein intake with fruits and vegetables. Unsurprisingly, this too contributes to acid load and includes natural sugars like honey.
- Alchohol and caffeine. Again, if being used, these need to be balanced out with vegetable and fruit intake.
What are the alkalizing foods?
Simply, good old fruit and vegetables have an alkalizing effect. So how much do we need to eat? Well, that depends on your acidic food intake. Here are some examples to give you an idea:
- 100g of meat (any type) = 300g veggies or fruit
- 2 eggs = 600g veggies or fruit! Add 100g of spinach and reduce this to 300g total.
- 250ml milk = 100g veggies or fruit
- 30g hard cheese = 200g veggies or fruit
- 100g legumes = 50g-100g veggies or fruit
- 2 slices of bread = 50g-100g veggies or fruit
- Cup of coffee = 50g-100g veggies or fruit
So you can see the average plate of food really needs to be full of veggies, accompanied with some animal or vegetable proteins. Your fruit and veggie intake can be spread across the day and doesn’t necessarily need to be in the same meal as the protein (although this does help in terms of ensuring you get it all in). Also be sure to include more veggies than fruit. Note that fruit still contains sugar and this can cause problems with blood sugar and weight so stick to 2-3 pieces of fruit per day and make the rest of your alkalizing foods vegetables.
How do I know I am doing it right?
You can do a simple test urinary pH test at home to see if your overall diet is acid or alkaline. For urinary pH to be accurate be sure to follow the instructions carefully.
- Order some litmus paper online or buy from your local pharmacy
- Measure and record your urinary pH as below, just before lunch or dinner (2-4hrs after eating). Do this five times – on five different days over the period of a week or two. It doesn’t matter which days you do it on, the idea is for it to be a random sample of your diet over the 5 days.
- Take a look at your results and if your pH is most often close to 7 you are eating enough veggies. In short, a green reading = good, yellow-orange, not so good. Increase your vegetable intake if you aren’t getting green.
How to measure your urinary pH
- Midstream*, quickly wet the litmus paper with your urine flow
- Immediately compare the colour of the paper to the pH colour chart provided with your litmus paper
- The closest matching colour indicates the pH level – write this down.
- Alternatively, collect midstream* urine into a glass or jar and dip litmus paper into the urine. Immediately compare the colour of the paper or the plastic strip to the pH colour chart.
* Midstream means to start your urination and when you feel you’re half finished, that’s when you dip your paper into the urine flow or when you collect a small sample for measuring.
With this simple technique, you can get started on limiting bone loss immediately no matter what age you are, however, if you have risk factors for bone loss or just want peace of mind, have a naturopathic assessment to ensure you are doing all you can to look after your bone density.
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