Osteoporosis - Bones Of Contention
By Sherrill Sellman
©1998 Worldwide Rights Reserved
Osteoporosis is big news-and big business-these days. As a disease, it emerged out of obscurity only two decades ago to become a concern for women throughout the industrialised world. Advertising campaigns in the media and fact sheets in doctors' waiting rooms and pharmacies continually warm women of the dangers of disappearing bone mass. The marketing hype announces that one woman in two over the age of 60 is likely to crumble from an osteoporotic fracture (yet one man in three will also get osteoporosis); that the incidence of hip fracture exceeds that of cancer of the breast, cervix and uterus combined; and that 16 per cent of patients suffering hip fractures will die within six months while 50 per cent will require long-term nursing care.1
The statistics also say that in the United States over 20 million people have osteoporosis and approximately 1.3 million people each year will suffer a bone fracture as a result of osteoporosis. In 1993, the US incurred an estimated loss of $10 billion US due to lost productivity and health care costs related to osteoporosis.' However, it's important to put these statistics into perspective. While it is true that death occurs in men and women who have hip fractures, these people are usually very elderly and frail. People who die from hip fractures are not only the most frail but are also ailing from other causes. Women are constantly bombarded with the message that the war on bone loss must include calcium supplements and a daily consumption of calcium-rich foods, primarily dairy products. Doctors strongly recommend long-term use of (synthetic) oestrogen to the postmenopausal woman, and, if additional help is required, suggest the use of bone-building drugs like Fosamax. So, armed with this powerful arsenal, a woman is assured that she will walk tall and fracture-free through the latter part of her life. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.
Osteoporosis has spawned a phenomenal growth industry. The sale of just one oestrogen drug, Premarin, grossed $940 million US worldwide in 1996.1 The US dairy industry is thriving with its annual $20 billion US of revenue.4 And sale of calcium supplements has spiralled upwards into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The osteoporosis industry has not only created a huge market for its wares; it has also been specifically designed to target women. Obviously, the fear-mongering advertising campaign about osteoporosis as a 'silent thief, stalking women's bones, has paid off. Unfortunately, unsuspecting women are unaware they are really being stalked by an unholy alliance of the pharmaceutical companies, the medical profession and dairy in try who have orchestrated one of the most successful and well-planned marketing manoeuvres in history.
By distorting the facts, by manipulating the statistics and by withholding scientific research in the pursuit of profits, this powerful alliance has once again jeopardised lives by exposing women to an increased incidence of such illnesses as breast and ovarian cancer, strokes, liver and gall bladder disease, diabetes, heart disease, allergies, kidney stones and arthritis.
Something had to be done to salvage such a lucrative market. Since unopposed oestrogen was deemed as the cause of endometrial cancer, the drug companies, acknowledging their misjudgement on prescribing unopposed oestrogen to women with intact uteri, attempted to rectify their fiasco by adding a synthetic progesterone, progestin. It was argued that progestin would protect the uterus from oestrogen's proliferative effects (as is done in nature), although no long-term studies were conducted to prove the safety of combining progestin and oestrogen. Thus, hormone replacement therapy (HRT)-oestrogen therapy repackaged made its debut. However, women were seriously starting to question the use of synthetic hormones, so the drug companies had to find a compelling reason to lure them back on to hormones. Osteoporosis, a disease that 77 per cent of women at that time had never even heard of, was waiting in the wings. As Sandra Coney points out: "In the interests of rehabilitating HRT, womenhave been subjected to 'a carefully orchestrated campaign' to advocate oestrogen as a prevention for osteoporosis.""
There are many cultures in the world where the postmenopausal woman are fit, active and healthy until the end of her life. It is equally true that the women in these cultures do not suffer from osteoporosis. If menopause itself were indeed one of the causes of osteoporosis, all women throughout the world would be handicapped with fractures. This is clearly not the case.
The Maya women live for 30 years after menopause but they don't get osteoporosis, they don't lose height, they don't develop dowager hump and they don't get fractures. A research team analysed their hormone levels and bone density and found that their oestrogen levels were no higher than those of white American women-in some cases they were even lower. Bone density tests showed that bone loss occurred in these women at the same rate as their US counterparts."
It used to be thought that all women have a considerable decrease in bone from lower oestrogen levels at menopause, thus oestrogen deficiency was said to be the cause of osteoporosis. Continuing research has disproved this idea. Studies following individual women's bone density over time have shown that although some women lose a lot of bone with menopause, others lose comparatively little; also, that some loss starts earlier." One study using urine tests to measure calcium loss found that some women are 'fast losers' and others are naturally 'normal losers'.
If osteoporosis is due to oestrogen deficiency, we would expect to find lower oestrogen levels in women with osteoporosis than in women without the disorder. However, studies have shown that sex hormone levels were found to be similar in postmenopausal women both with and without osteoporosis." Dr Susan Brown comments: "Even in the United States, where osteoporosis is common, many older women remain free from the disorder. In addition, the higher male and lower female osteoporosis rates found in some cultures do not support the notion that excessive bone loss is due to declining ovarian oestrogen production."
And what about dairy foods for bones? Dr Michael Colgan, a well-known researcher in nutrition, an author and the founder of the Colgan Institute in the US, has said: "The medical advice to drink milk to prevent osteoporosis is self-serving poppycock." After all we've been indoctrinated with, it's a shocking revelation to discover that dairy products contribute to bone loss. The countries that consume the highest amounts of dairy products also have the highest rates of osteoporosis; the non-dairy-consuming countries have the lowest osteoporosis rates.
In the body's wisdom, the highest priority is to maintain the proper acid/alkali balance in the blood. A high protein diet of meat and dairy products poses a great osteoporosis risk because it makes the blood highly acidic. Calcium must then be extracted from the bones in order to restore proper balance. Since calcium in the blood is used by every cell in the body to maintain its integrity, the body will sacrifice calcium in the bone to maintain homeostasis in the blood.
The drug companies boast one other weapon in their anti-osteoporosis arsenal: medication that promises to halt bone loss. One of the drugs in favour is Fosamax, the only non-hormonal drug approved by the US FDA to treat osteoporosis. Studies of this drug were cleverly stopped after four to six years. This is just the point at which the fracture rate for women taking similar drugs began to rise. So, although Fosamax will superficially appear to increase bone density, in reality it decreases bone strength. Fosamax is a metabolic poison and will actually kill osteoclast cells which are required to maintain dynamic bone equilibrium." In addition, Fosamax can cause severe and permanent damage to the oesophagus and stomach. It is also hard on the kidneys and can cause diarrhoea, flatulence, rashes, headaches and muscular pain. Rats given high doses developed thyroid and adrenal turnouts. Fosamax also causes deficiencies of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, all essential for the bone-building process."
It is clear that the osteoporosis treatments doctors most often recommend to women-HRT, calcium supplements, dairy products and drugs-have certainly benefited the medical establishment and drug companies most of all. The real long-term benefit to women is minimal at best, and life-threatening at worst.
Fortunately,there are other options that not only can prevent further deterioration of bone density and poor bone repair but can actually increase bone mass in women of all ages. According to Dr Susan Brown, the six intervention areas that form the strongest, surest program for building and repairing bone include: maximising nutrient intake, building digestive strength, mirlimising anti-nutritive intake, exercising (especially with weights), developing an alkaline diet and promoting endocrine vitality. She believes that "no matter where you are on the bone health continuum, no matter what your lifestyle has been, it is never too late to begin rebuilding healthy bones" .41
Some of the leading lights in safely preventing, halting and restoring bone mass include supplementation with natural progesterone, hydroxyapaptite, calcium citrate, or Chinese herbal formulas. When it comes to ensuring healthy bones, it's important to remember it's not only about what one puts in the body but also what one doesn't.
More and more studies are validating the extremely beneficial effects of a regular weight-bearing exercise program in increasing bone density in postmenopausal women. A woman's lifelong tendency to diet has been an unrecognised cause of bone loss. At least seven well-controlled studies have shown that when a woman diets and loses weight, she also loses bone. A recent study found that in less than 22 months, women who exercised three times a week increased their bone density by 5.2 per cent, while sedentary women actually lost 1.2 per cent.41 Effective strength-training includes such exercise as walking uphill, bicycling in low gear, climbing steps and training with weights.
Osteoporosis is not an ageing disease or an oestrogen or calcium deficiency but a degenerative disease of Western culture. We have brought it upon ourselves through poor dietary habits and lifestyle factors, and exposure to pharmaceutical drugs. It is our ignorance that has made us vulnerable to the vested interests that have intentionally distorted the facts and willingly sacrificed the health of millions of women at the altar of profit and greed. It is only by our willingness to take responsibility for our bodies and make the commitment to return to a healthy, balanced way of life that we'll be able to walk tall and strong for the rest of our lives.
NOTE: (the above are excerpts from - Osteoprosis - The Bones of Contention, which may not be reprinted or published in any form without written permission of the publisher. GetWell International © 1998 All Rights Reserved)
The author presently lives in Australia where she conducts a private psychotherapy practice and also devotes time to lecturing, training and writing. She is a contributing writer to holistic publications in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England, Europe and the United States on topics of interest that concern her, relating to health, women's empowerment, relationships, and personal and planetary transformation. She may be contacted at Light Unlimited, Locked Bag 8000 - MDC, Kew, Victoria 3101, Australia, - Fax: Int'l + 613 9855-9991 E-mail: