Calcium is a good example. The dairy industry spends millions of dollars every year to convince us that their products are all that’s standing between us and bones as fragile as crystal. While calcium is important to healthy bones, there are two problems with this view. One, there are other, equally important bone-building substances that cannot be ignored. Secondly, the calcium in dairy is not very helpful for building bones. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
On the other hand, we have drug companies offering an array of expensiveosteoporosis medications. If you’re a regular reader, you may know by now that I am not a fan of Big Pharma’s tactics when it comes to pitching products to consumers. The glossy magazine ads and smiling spokesmodels on television only tell you part of the story. For the rest, you need to look at the fine print in the drug insert, where you’ll see that the side effects of these drugs may include disastrous things like disintegration of the jaw bone, unusual bone fractures, upset stomach, vision disorders, and more.
Those side effects are what brought Susan to my office not long ago. She had been taking one of the most popular osteoporosis drugs for about two years. Then, a friend who was also taking the medication suffered a horrific case of jawbone erosion requiring multiple surgeries to repair the crumbling bone. Susan’s friend’s jaw never healed properly and, to this day, she has trouble eating and drinking.
“After seeing what she went through, I don’t feel comfortable taking the medication any more,” Susan told me. “But I don’t want to end up hunched over like my grandmother, either. Isn’t there something I can do to keep my bones strong without creating a whole other set of problems?”
As a matter of fact, there are plenty of safe, effective things we all can do to protect and strengthen our bones. And, as the shortcomings of osteoporosis drugs become better known, some medical experts are recommending diet, exercise, and nutritional supplements first, saving prescription drugs for use only as a last resort.
Let’s start with a few key facts about bone health. First, keep in mind that bone is living tissue, not a hard, lifeless object. The elements that make up our bones are constantly being renewed, with old bone material discarded and healthy, new bone replacing it. But to do that, certain nutrients need to be available, while substances that weaken bones need to be minimized. Just as importantly, bone needs exercise to stay strong and healthy.