Better bone health begins when you lighten your load

In our day-to-day routines, many of us habitually act in ways that have profound, long-term effects on our bone health — without even realizing it! Some people regularly spend an hour at the gym or go for a run in the early morning — unknowingly giving wonderful benefits to their bones. Other people routinely spend hour after hour late at night in front of a computer screen instead of sleeping, knowing that the double espresso they buy every morning will clear out the cobwebs — but completely unaware of the stresses this habit places on their skeleton. Still others exercise and get adequate rest, but work under highly stressful conditions and unwittingly deplete their bone mineral reserves by eating a quick fast-food lunch at their desk every day.

All habits, good or bad, can affect our bones

But where the bad habits are concerned, we often don’t realize that the effects are cumulative — they add up over time — or that multiple lifestyle factors can eventually form a very heavy burden on our bones. The image below, showing the burdens that lifestyle, diet, and other factors place on our bones, might be something of a wake-up call to some people!

Camel burdens

Total load model of bone-depleting factors ©2009. Please click on the image for a printable version.

To a certain extent, an otherwise healthy person can offset some of his or her unhealthy habits by eating good food and making sure to get the full spectrum of essential nutrients for bone health. But if you’ve had a fracture, a diagnosis of osteoporosis or osteopenia, or even simply reached the understanding that you need to improve your bone health, developing healthy lifestyle habits is a crucial step in the right direction.

By now, nearly everyone understands that smoking cigarettes, eating a lot of fatty, sugary foods, and drinking to excess are unhealthy habits. It’s also no secret that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to disease on all levels. Some people even recognize that stress and negative emotions — anger, resentment, fear, grief, and depression — can generate serious health problems, and indeed we find that the people most likely to have thin bones are those who are habitually worried and stressed.

The association between these unhealthy habits and emotional states has been well documented scientifically, and we’ve seen in clinical practice how they can impact bone health (see our article on the causes of osteoporosis). But even if you know you have these factors, what can you do about them? How do we change ingrained habits and emotions, particularly if they’ve been with us a long time?

A bone-building program you can live with

The first step to changing our lifestyles toward a healthier alternative is to recognize the places that need changing. The second step is to understand that it will take time and may not be easy, but if you’re committed to it, you can succeed. True lifestyle change may require months or even years of vigilance. Behavior change does not happen in one step. Rather, we tend to progress through different stages on our way to successful change. Also, each of us progresses through the stages at our own rate.If you are looking for ways to improve your bone health, our “total load model” of bone depleting factors can be helpful. Click on the image of the overloaded camel for a printer-friendly version and print it out.

Take a few minutes to look at all of the bone-depleting lifestyle factors this camel carries, and circle the ones that apply to you. These are the factors that might be affecting your bone health. Identify one factor you would like to work on first — one straw you would like to take off your “camel’s back.” Next, jot down three to five reasons why altering this lifestyle factor would be good for your bones and your entire body.

Finally, develop a simple action plan — for example, decide that, beginning today, you will walk 15 minutes twice a day, or include 1 cup of vegetables with every lunch, or lower your coffee intake to one cup a day and use green tea as an alternative beverage if you really need caffeine. Develop a simple approach that makes one change at a time and notice how empowering this feels. You will find that each small life-supporting change builds on the others to help you build bone strength the way nature intended.

Bone health tips for underweight women

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I’ve talked about how women who can’t gain weight are at heightened risk of osteoporosis and fracture. Just to quickly recap, I identified 3 basic issues that I see fairly often:

  • There are those who tell me, “I eat just fine, but I just never seem to put on any weight.”
  • Others say they simply don’t get hungry or don’t feel like eating, so they skip meals. Sometimes, eating makes them feel sick, so they eat less (or less often) as a result.
  • Some say they eat well some of the time, but that they eat less when they’re under stress — and they’re under stress often.

The question now becomes, what can a woman do to address these issues?

For people who stay thin despite eating well, I look at 3 factors

First, are they really eating enough food on a regular basis, or is that simply their perception? While the average adult needs 2000-2500 calories, that’s an average; some people require more, but may not realize it — and gaining weight might simply be a matter of eating more nutrient-dense foods. I also recommend that underweight women supplement with the 20 key nutrients required for bone health, particularly if they’ve been thin most of their lives, so they can be sure those nutrients are available for bone strength.

Second, I’d consider whether a metabolic or endocrine issue could be at work. Hyperthyroidism, latent autoimmune diabetes in adults, and various other chronic disorders can prevent people from gaining weight, even when they eat well. Simple blood tests can generally uncover the presence of such health issues, which need to be addressed by a specialist.

Finally, I’d look at the possibility that they might not be absorbing the food they eat. Malabsorption syndromes and digestive issues like IBS or Crohn’s disease, have obvious symptoms attached — diarrhea, gas, bloating, pain — but others, such as celiac disease, can damage the GI tract and impair nutrient absorption capabilities, sometimes without causing any distinct symptoms related to the digestion. If I saw indications of poor nutrient absorption (dry, brittle hair and nails, for instance), I might suggest that a client ask for celiac or other GI testing, and we’d look very closely at how to boost the nutritional and caloric content of her food so she gets more of what she needs.

Suggestions for those who aren’t hungry

Those who don’t feel hungry or who don’t feel like eating usually have one of two problems. Either they have an imbalance in the “hunger hormones” that stimulate appetite (often associated with zinc inadequacy), or they simply are so rushed or busy that they habitually ignore their body’s signals that it needs food, to the point that they genuinely believe they’re not hungry even when they are! These folks benefit by taking time to acknowledge and understand their physiologic needs. I would do the following:

  1. Review their diets to make sure they are getting a full balance of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins
  2. Help them schedule their mealtimes, including time for pre-meal “appetizer” foods such as broth (warm liquids stimulate the appetite).
  3. Suggest an elimination diet or allergy testing for those who say they feel ill or uncomfortable after eating.

If anxiety or worry is prohibiting weight gain

For those who stop eating or eat less due to anxiety or stress, part of the problem is their response to anxiety and worry. For clients whose thinness is related to an anxious mind, I’d help them to learn stress-reduction techniques, and also have them focus on their intentions around eating — that is, to find ways to celebrate their meals as an affirmation of their worth. It doesn’t need to be complicated — simply saying grace before each meal, for example, can send a strong signal from the mind and spirit to the body that the food in front of you is a blessing meant to nourish you. The power of the mind should not be underestimated, and focusing it on nourishment (instead of on anxieties and worries) may be an important component of promoting healthy weight gain.

If you’re underweight, taking steps to build strong muscles, eat a nutritious diet, and reduce stress and anxiety can help you gain weight, meanwhile reducing your fracture risk.  Even if the tips outlined above don’t help you to add a single pound of weight, the bone-strengthening benefits of my Better Bones approach may make the difference in staying healthy and avoiding fractures — and isn’t that what matters in the long run?

 

Building Bone Strength at Any Age — Including 78!

One of the most important things about bone health is that it’s never too late to build your bone strength. That’s why I’m so happy to introduce you to Suzanne, a real-life example of how you can take charge of your bone health at any stage in your life. In Suzanne’s case, she started at age 78.

Meet Suzanne Hoffman (now age 81!)

Four years ago, Suzanne came to talk with me because she was highly concerned after recently breaking her pelvis. She had already fractured five ribs — with all these breaks during the 10 years she had been taking Fosamax. Clearly, her bone drugs were not preventing fractures. What’s more, Suzanne felt her medication might even be increasing her fracture risk, so her doctor recommended that she stop taking it. That’s when Suzanne came to me looking for a better alternative to bone drugs — and found it with my natural approach. She began to implement a personalized Better Bones Program with 20 key bone nutrients, the Alkaline for Life Diet, pH testing, and diet and lifestyle adjustments.

Here’s what happened…

With my natural approach, Suzanne actually gained some bone density in both the spine and in the hip. Her gradual increase in bone density is continuing, with her latest bone density test showing further gains. Even more important, Suzanne has not suffered any new fractures, feels strong, and is sturdier on her feet than she was four years ago.

Suzanne was wise enough to know that the average age of a debilitating neck of the hip fracture is 80 — and that she was likely headed in that direction if she didn’t make some serious changes. Indeed, she “took the proverbial bull by the horns” and made the life-supporting changes of the Better Bones Program.

Kudos to Suzanne! I encourage everyone to use her story as an inspiration to take heart and take action. As you can see, it’s never too late to improve the strength of your bones, build new bone and reduce your fracture risk.

 

 

Bone health advice from patient advocate Trisha Torrey

Empowering_w_border (2)Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing my friend and colleague Trisha Torrey. Trisha was thrown into a dramatic transformation due to her misdiagnosis of a rare form of cancer.

After struggling to get the healthcare she needed and deserved, one of the outcomes was her book, “You Bet Your Life! The 10 Mistakes Every Patient Makes.” Plus, she now works as a professional patient advocate to help others from suffering from misdiagnosis, medical errors and treatment that isn’t right for them.

When I read Trisha’s book, I was struck by how many times I see women who are devastated by a diagnosis of osteoporosis or osteopenia and told their only option is to take bone drugs. Many of them are rightfully frightened and worried. And they know in their heart there’s got to be a better way! For these women — and for all of us — Trisha’s book highlights the problems we face as patients within our healthcare system and shows us what we can do to get better care for ourselves or our loved ones.

Below is a video where Trisha and I talk more about her personal experience, as well as what she feels is most important for women who want to take control of their bone health.

 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about Trisha Torrey, her book and her work as a patient advocate, visit her site here.

 

What I do to help my bones

Dr. Susan Brown in her East Syracuse, N.Y. office/home on 9/5/08. (Photos by Michael Okoniewski-w.SyracusePhotographer.com)

As a bone health expert, I’m not surprised when women ask me what I do to help my own bones. But more than a few might be surprised when they hear my answer.

Not that my routine is bizarre or impossible to follow — quite the contrary. To keep my bones strong, I include yoga, alkaline food choices and even a consistent connection to nature. These are all realistic actions that nearly any one can take (and, more important, stick with) to live a healthier, happier life.

I think it’s my lack of following an extreme approach —a highly-restricted diet or hours of grueling exercise— that astonishes people. But if I’ve learned anything in more than 20 years of working with women to increase their bone health it’s that forcing yourself into unrealistic routines usually doesn’t last for very long.

 

With that in mind, here’s what I do to maximize my bone health

1. I am committed to taking my Better Bones supplement to get the all-important 20 key bone nutrients in therapeutic doses, plus additional anti-oxidants. While I make it a point to eat well, taking my own supplement is my easy guarantee I’ll get all the nutrients I recommend.

2. I enjoy regular group sports like biking, golf, tennis and cross-country skiing. Several times a week I incorporate yoga or Qi Gong, as these really help quiet my mind and strengthen my nervous system —and both also increase flexibility.

3. It’s a joke around the office that I always insist that everyone eat two cups of vegetables for lunch and dinner. I strive to do this daily, and this high veggie diet helps my body stay alkaline.

4. I limit my exposure to foods to which I am hypersensitive or allergic because avoiding these foods helps reduce inflammation. I limit my wheat and dairy exposure and avoid high fructose corn syrup and cornstarch altogether.

5. Every day I meditate at least once for 15 to 20 minutes. On the best days I meditate twice, first as the workday begins, and again after it ends.

6. I am learning to pay more attention to my emotions, and particularly keeping an eye on when I get frustrated. Everyone in the office can hear me performing my de-stressing “tree shake” that Qi Gong Master Lu taught me.

7. Finally, I like to plant tiny seeds in my garden and watch them grow, spontaneously and without effort, into strong healthy plants. This reminds me that my skeleton — along with my entire body — is an offshoot of the amazing intelligence and organizing power of nature.

With my Better Bones Package, you can find your own realistic ways to incorporate bone-healthy activities into your daily life for Better Bones and a Better Body. You now have three options available — right here on the Better Bones website — to fit your bone health needs.

 

 

How to decrease harmful inflammation

We’ve unwittingly created a world where — every day — nutritional, lifestyle, emotional and environmental factors are fueling chronic inflammation that is taking a heavy toll on our bones.

I know it can seem a bit overwhelming. But instead of feeling helpless, I encourage you to remember that you have the power to make changes that will make a real difference. Step by step, you can give your bones exactly the support they need in order to last your entire lifetime — as they are meant to do.

Here are four Better Bones keys to turning off inflammation:

1. Limit pro-inflammatory foods, such as:

• Saturated fats, beef products, and dairy (especially if intolerant to dairy).
• Sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners.
• White flour and all refined grains, and other refined carbs.
• Trans fats, and rancid and over-heated oils.
• Excess alcohol, preservatives and artificial additives.
• Any food to which you are allergic or intolerant.

2. Increase anti-inflammatory foods:

• A wide variety of fresh, whole plant foods high in anti-oxidant flavonoids.
• Daily consumption of green leafy vegetables, onions and garlic.
• Eat 2 cups of vegetables for lunch and 2 cups for dinner.
• Eat 2-3 servings of fruits a day, especially berries.
• Eat 2-3 servings of nuts and seeds daily.
• Liberal use of herbs and spices such as turmeric (containing curcumin), cumin, coriander and ginger.
• Use fish, beans, eggs and lean meats as protein sources.
• Eat high fiber foods totaling at least 25 grams of fiber a day.
• Drink green tea, ginger tea and nettle tea as anti-oxidant beverages.

3. Develop an anti-inflammatory, life-supporting lifestyle:

• Reduce toxic exposure (chlorinated drinking water, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, heavy metal and toxic chemical exposure)
• Get adequate sleep (7-8 hours each night). Lack of sleep is pro-inflammatory.
• Control weight (excess fat becomes an endocrine organ that emits inflammatory factors which enhance osteoclastic bone breakdown)
• Control blood sugar and insulin (both of which are inflammatory when high).
• Exercise at least 30 minutes per day, outdoors when possible.
• Consider practicing mindful exercise, such as t’ai chi which reduces DNA-damaging oxidative stress. Set aside 15-20 minutes a day for meditation or silent contemplation.

4. Supplement with key anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients as needed.

These are the nutrients that send signals to the immune inflammation turn-off switches and control free radical damage:

• Omega-3 fats.
• Antioxidant vitamins (vitamins A, C, E, D, K2).
• Carotenoids (as lycopene, lutein) and flavonoids (as quercetin, kaempferol, epigallocatechin and rutin) Co Q 10.
• Lipoic acid.

You can have access to a powerful antioxidant formula, with a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. The Super Antioxidant is designed to help protect against damaging oxidative stress and support connective tissues, including healthy bone. Learn more about the Better Bones Program.

 

References:

Barbour, K. E., R. Boudreau, M. E. Danielson, A. O. Youk, J. Wactawski-Wende, N. C. Greep, A. Z. LaCroix, R. D. Jackson, R. B. Wallace, D. C. Bauer, M. A. Allison, and J. A. Cauley. 2012. Inflammatory markers and the risk of hip fracture: the women’s health initiative. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 27(5):1167–1176.

Lucas, R., E. Ramos, A. Oliveira, T. Monjardino, and H. Barros. 2012. Low-grade systemic inflammation and suboptimal bone mineral density throughout adolescence: a prospective study in girls. Clinical Endocrinology 77(5):665–671.

 

2013 — The Year of the Better Bones Revolution

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No one cares as much about your health as you do. No one has as much power to build and rebuild your body as you do. And, most importantly, no one will suffer the consequences of self-neglect as much as you will.

That’s why I hope you will join me in making dramatic change in 2013 — or as I am calling it — The Year of The Better Bones Revolution.

The Better Bones Revolution calls us to become informed and to take charge of our bone health, to educate ourselves and to work with nature rather than tinker with it or look to “better living through chemistry.”

Revolution Resolutions

Where to start? To show you that even a bone-health specialist can make improvements, here are a few of my favorite “Revolution Resolutions” to take charge in 2013:

• I will have my vitamin D level measured this winter, and make sure I maintain a 50 ng/ml level all year round. This is something we can all aim for!

• I will make time to exercise 40 to 60 minutes a day. Personally I like to walk with my weight vest, ski, golf, use my whole body vibration platform, practice Qi Gong or take yoga classes — so I have lots of exercise options. If you’re just getting started, you may consider finding an exercise you enjoy and work at least 30 minutes of it into your daily routine (outdoors, if possible).

• I will set aside all the research articles I love to read and sleep more—8-9 hours each night in the winter. I tend to push myself to do ever more at night, but nature rests in the winter and so will I! Are you getting enough sleep?

• I will consume 2 cups of vegetables (or near that) at both lunch and dinner (mostly cooked during the winter). Variety supports life, so I will try eating veggies from all the colors of the rainbow. One dietary change I can make is to rotate in some alkalizing root crops I usually don’t eat (like rutabaga, turnips, kohlrabi and parsnips).

What will be your Revolution Resolution?

Use the comment section below to let me know — and inspire others to join The Better Bones Revolution. Remember, by making your own Revolution Resolution, you’ll be taking important action to keep your bones and your entire body strong, vital and full of life at any age. For a natural approach that includes changes in the key areas that affect bone health, learn more how my Better Bones Program includes the methods recommended by the Surgeon General of the United States for reducing the risk of osteoporosis.

Here’s to a happy, healthy and revolutionary 2013!

Too much information

If you’ve been taking charge with the Better Bones Revolution by staying informed about your bone health — congratulations!

That said, I know it’s easy to feel overloaded and even a little bit panicked by the sheer amount of health news coming out. Many of my patients tell me how difficult it is to stay calm whenever a new study warns about osteoporosis risk or other bone health issues. And, there is a lot of opportunity for worry — I just did an online search of “bone news” and came up with 305,000,000 results!

To help you stay up-to-date without being overwhelmed by the latest bone health news, here’s how to find the news that is most important and relevant to you:

Tips to stay informed–but not overloaded–with health news

• Remember that sometimes no news is good news: While I’m not advocating that you ignore the news completely, I do recommend you limit your news sources by choosing a few reputable news outlets. You’ll be confident the information is credible, while reducing your exposure to “news” based on fear or speculation.

• Use the two-day guide: If you do see some news that alarms you, I suggest waiting for two days. If the story has survived the news cycles and is still in the headlines, it may be worth investigating more. More likely, you may find that after two days, the information has been replaced by something else or just doesn’t seem as important to you.

• Ask — “does this apply to me?” Most of us can eliminate a lot of the noise caused by too much information by continuing our bone-building activities. After all, if you know your vitamin D levels are healthy, news about risks of vitamin D deficiency really isn’t relevant for you!

Finally, if you’re still overloaded and overwhelmed, why not consider taking a few bone-building deep breaths and simply not look at the health news for a couple of days? You may also want to focus on some of the proven, effective methods for strengthening bone in my article “A natural approach to osteoporosis and bone health.”

 

Celebrate National Women’s Health Week

iStock_000010668925XSmallHappy National Women’s Health Week! The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health has designated May 13-19 as the week dedicated to the idea that “It’s Your Time” to make health a top priority. And I couldn’t agree more with the recommendations that empower women to take action for better wellness:

• Visit a health care professional to receive regular checkups and preventive screenings.

• Get active.

• Eat healthy.

• Pay attention to mental health, which includes getting enough sleep and managing stress.

• Avoid unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and not wearing a seatbelt or bicycle helmet.

In fact, it sounds like the government has been listening to me talk about my Better Bones, Better Body approach!

Why not celebrate women’s health by thinking about ways you can make a little extra effort this week to add bone-building activities into your routine? Then see if you can keep them up for the next week as well!

You might also share your knowledge with friends and family who can benefit from making some simple changes to their diet, exercise program or lifestyle. I’ve recently added two new slideshows to my website highlighting important issues in bone health, and National Women’s Health Week is a good opportunity to spread the word to your friends and family so that they can be empowered too!

The top 10 osteoporosis myths – Setting the record straight about your bone health

Six ways to stop bone loss during the menopause transition

And remember, you never need a special occasion to celebrate women’s health!

 

 

Deep breathing for bone health: the simplest way to get started

I’ve written several posts about the importance of deep breathing for bone building – it helps you relax, reduces stress, and boosts any exercise routine. Another benefit I find is using deliberate, full breaths in the morning raises my level of energy and purpose. It’s like turning on my switch!

Still, many women tell me that deep breathing remains somewhat of a mystery to them, and ask: “Do I have to meditate?” “Do I have to do yoga?” and “How do I know that I’m doing it correctly?”

Deep breathing iStock_000001812611XSmall (2)That’s why I wanted to focus this blog post on the simplest way to get started —

Deep breathing and nothing else

Here’s what you can do:

• Sit comfortably and tighten and release your muscle groups — noting what it feels like to be relaxed.

• Begin to breathe slowly and normally through the nostrils. Notice how your normal breathing is generally quite shallow. Your next step is to begin breathing in and out more deeply, but not so deeply that you feel like you are forcing the breaths.

• Breathe even more deeply. Imagine that you have lungs in your belly and that you are creating a gap that you need to fill. Sink into that gap as you breathe in and out.

• Imagine how each breath is bringing in energy — visualize a bright light that’s powered by your breath. You are now letting go of any draining, heavy thoughts.

• Focus your mind in the direction of what you will accomplish — such as rest or energy building.

• Continue breathing.

Follow the breath ratio chart to relax, balance, energize

See how many seconds you should try to allow for each segment of breath in order to achieve your desired result:

At first, you may start with just 3-4 minutes and build up as you wish. I often take 20 minutes in the morning for deep breathing, as well as another 20 minutes the end of my work day. I consider my morning routine a way to gather my internal forces before I power up, and I use the peace of mind to set my intention for the day. At the end of the work day, I use the time to rest and regain my energy as well as to detox and purify, releasing the negative emotions of the day, as well as toxins and acids.

My daily breathing routine is about as simple as it can be, and I encourage you to try it – even right now if you can!

Breathing snip