Dr. Lani’s Bone Health Guide is set to be released by late Spring or early Summer – Many of you (including myself) have been waiting a long time for this book. I decided to share the introduction that I wrote for the book so you can see what it’s all about.
Introduction - As a chiropractor in private practice and a college-level instructor in osteology and arthrology (the study of bones and joints), I had been working with and teaching others about bone for 10 years when I was first diagnosed with osteoporosis at the age of 45.
It was 1994, and DXA (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry) bone density scanners were just coming on the scene as the best new technology for testing bone density. A friend of mine had a new DXA machine in his San Francisco office, so I decided to have the test just for the experience. And this test told me that I had osteopenia, or low bone density. I was stunned, and while I showed no reaction in my friend’s office, I remember driving to my home in Berkeley, sobbing all the way. I was terrified, and I felt physically weak.
But I knew that my diet was good and that I had a robust exercise program. I was physically strong and had never broken a bone. So why did I have low bone density? Something didn’t feel right, so that same week I obtained another bone density test at the University of California, San Francisco. And this time, the results were worse! My bone density read as 10% lower than it had been a week earlier, and the new test results placed me in the osteoporosis category.
I was now labeled by at least one testing center as having a disease that I associated with old age, and I was only 45. And I didn’t really know how serious my condition was. What did this mean on a practical level? Did I have to stop the sports I loved, including tennis, biking, running and roller-skating? I was offered a medication (Fosamax) to treat my osteoporosis, but given what I knew about the way these particular drugs impacted bone, this medication regimen did not feel right to me. In addition, I had been told, and many of my colleagues believed, that DXA testing was the gold standard for bone density measurement. Yet it was evident from my own tests that this testing procedure could be quite inaccurate.
It was then that I decided to learn everything I could about osteoporosis—and DXA testing. Things just weren’t adding up, and I knew that my bone health depended on my gaining a much deeper understanding as to what healthy bone actually entails.
And one of the main reasons I wrote this book is to share my discoveries with you. Because one of the main things I learned as I moved through my journey is this: Most doctors’ assessment and treatment of osteoporosis cases is woefully inadequate. Therefore, anyone who wants to maintain and/or improve their bone health needs information and a perspective that’s quite different from that commonly conveyed in doctors’ offices. For example:
- Bone density testing errors are extremely common. And as a bone health consultant who works with both individuals and doctors from all over the country, I see these testing errors over and over again in my practice. These errors often lead to inaccurate reports of bone loss, and this in turn can lead to improper and unneeded treatment.
- Most testing errors occur because of human error, including, for example, inaccurate comparisons of initial and follow-up tests; inaccurate selection of the area of the body to be tested; improper patient positioning; and inaccurate reporting by the reporting physician.
- Not all states require bone density technicians to be trained in densitometry; and NO states require this training of the doctors who interpret the test results. It is this lack of professional training that accounts for the vast majority of testing errors. And the failure to require densitometry training for doctors is especially problematic: If the doctors responsible to interpret bone density tests were trained, they could catch and correct the errors made by the test technicians.
- Nutrition and gastrointestinal health are essentially omitted from most osteoporosis treatment plans. Most conventional doctors do not have training in nutrition; therefore, when it comes to assessment and treatment, they tend only to give a quick “skim” to issues of nutritional status and gastrointestinal health. But these factors are crucial to bone health, and many patients’ bone health problems could resolve when these factors are addressed.
- Osteoporosis medications tend to be overrated and overprescribed. Sadly, I see doctors prescribe medications for patients whose only risk for fractures is a diagnosis of osteopenia, or borderline osteoporosis. I see doctors prescribe medications before ordering the lab tests that could rule out secondary causes of osteoporosis. And I see doctors leave their patients on osteoporosis medications for years and years, despite the fact that long-term use of some of these medications is linked to an increased risk for fractures.
But make no mistake—for patients with significant osteoporosis, medications can be invaluable in reducing fracture risk. And I’m a huge believer in DXA testing – when this testing is done correctly, by providers who have a solid foundation in densitometry.
If you have risk factors for osteoporosis and haven’t had a DXA test, my hope is that this book will motivate you to get one sooner than later. At the very least your first DXA test gives you a ballpark measure of your bone health, and osteoporosis is linked to a whole host of risk factors that cause people to lose bone long before they reach old age. Early bone health assessments that include nutritional and gastrointestinal assessment, BMD testing, lab tests, and evaluation of symptoms and lifestyle factors will go a long, long way toward helping you to prevent fractures.
I don’t have osteoporosis – do I need this book??
Yes. This book is for anyone with a skeleton. Sorry, I am being a bit facetious! But I really want you to understand that this book is not just for people with osteoporosis, and it’s not just for those of you who are elderly or reaching the end of middle age. This is a book for all ages, because the lifestyle choices we make throughout our lives have a direct impact on how healthy our bones will be when we’re older – and it’s also much easier to prevent osteoporosis than it is to reverse it.
Often we think of osteoporosis as a disease of the elderly, but in fact this condition often brews in the background long before it’s finally discovered. This is because, in many cases, osteoporosis develops because of a failure to develop sufficient bone mass when we’re younger and/or because of lifestyle choices or secondary conditions that cause bone loss. Poor nutrition in childhood and adolescence, for example, means that you don’t build the bone reserves you need by the time your body’s bone-building processes slow down.
As another example, alcohol dependence, digestive problems, hormone imbalances, and even medications can result in the bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis. In fact, lifestyle factors are such key players, you can actually prevent osteoporosis if you choose a lifestyle that gets you the nutrients and exercise you need to support your bones. And prevention is a very good strategy, because once we reach middle age many of us will lose bone faster than we’re able to build new bone. It becomes much more difficult to build new bone as we get older.
This book, then, is for anyone, young or old, who wants to build and maintain the health of their bones. If you have osteoporosis, this book will help you to improve your bone health; and if your bones are currently healthy, this book can help you to prevent this disease.
How to Use This Book
While I’ve designed this book so that it can be read from cover to cover, clearly, some of you will find some chapters more or less relevant, depending on your situation.
In my opinion, everyone should review Chapter 4, which describes the many risk factors associated with osteoporosis. Some of these risks – age, height, or a small skeletal frame, for example – cannot be eliminated – but a great number of these can be addressed, and if you can reduce your bone health risks, your bones benefit. Understanding osteoporosis-related risk factors can also help you make treatment decisions.
Chapters 8, 9, 10 and 11 are also almost universally applicable, as three of these chapters address the core requirements of any effective bone health program: proper nutrition; a gastrointestinal system that can actually absorb nutrients; and bone-building exercise—and Chapter 8 addresses the importance of hormonal balance. The Western medical model is a bit anemic and out of shape when it comes to a genuine focus on nutrition and exercise, and whether you’re trying to treat osteoporosis or you’re trying to prevent it, GI health and a healthy, bone-building lifestyle are key. And just as our bones depend on the right nutrients in the right amounts, so too do they depend on the hormones our bodies produce – and these, too, must be available in the right proportions. For some, hormone supplementation can stop bone loss.
If you’ve already had a BMD test, Chapters 2 and 3 can help you to understand some of the significant factors that may have impacted and even skewed your test results. And if you haven’t been tested yet, these chapters will guide you in asking the questions you need to ask to be sure that your tests are as accurate as they can be.
And what if your doctor has told you that your bone health leaves something to be desired? Has she/he taken the time to figure out why this is the case? Too many doctors prescribe unnecessary medications based solely on BMD test results, but osteoporosis can arise from a host of secondary conditions, and if we can treat those conditions, we can improve our bones. Chapter 5 shows you how to test for these, and this chapter also highlights the importance of health assessments that show whether you’re actually currently losing bone. And if your doctor has recommended osteoporosis medications, Chapter 6 provides important information that can help you make informed decisions as to whether or when to include these as part of your treatment regimen. The most popular osteoporosis medications have serious side effects, so it’s best to be sure you need them before accepting a prescription.
Finally, whether medications are appropriate for you or not, everyone should be aware of treatment alternatives. Chapter 7 lists alternative treatments that can help improve your bone health, and this chapter also illuminates a key perspective that’s often overlooked in the alternative world, namely, low bone density is not easily reversed, and there are no quick fixes when it comes to osteoporosis.
My hope is that this book provides those who read it with a new way of thinking about bone health. Osteoporosis is not a simple disease with simple answers. If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis, question the diagnosis and question your doctor’s recommendations for treating it. Also, though, know that it is not my intention that you use this book as a self-diagnostic tool. Instead, seek the expertise of qualified providers who truly understand bone health and bone density testing—and use the information in this book to guide you as you evaluate the information your providers give you.
Please leave comments below – they keep me going!
I TRIPPED TODAY
That is not a good thing for somebody who has osteoporosis.
Someone placed a rock right at the edge of the sidewalk. Indeed, the rock should not have been put there, but I was walking fast and when I turned right to go down the next street, I did not notice the rock and I tripped. Fortunately, I did not fall this time. Was this near fall preventable? In this case, I think it was avoidable. The exercise of asking myself this question is not to lay blame, but rather to increase my awareness so that I can avoid a similar situation the future.
Those who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis and especially those who have sustained a recent fracture often live with a fear of falling. This fear is understandable, but there are things we can do to lessen this fear. The top two things we can do are to work on balance and to be mindful when we are moving.
Studies have shown that
90% of hip fractures occur because people fall.
It would be interesting to do a study of 1,000 people who practice balance exercises and mindful walking compared with 1,000 people who did not incorporate these practices. My guess is, fractures would be reduced significantly in the mindful group.
Most falls can be avoided
One of my patients told me that she fell 2-3 times every year. When I inquired about why she fell she said the sidewalks in Berkeley are bad. This is true, sidewalks in Berkeley are bad, which means that you really must pay attention when walking. On my street the sidewalk is very uneven in spots, due to tree roots that have pushed up sidewalk sections. I have stumbled more than once. Another added hazard is that the street is very dark at night.
When a patient reports to me that they have fractured a bone, I ask why? Following are some of the reasons patients have shared with me about how they fractured a bone:
- A 68-year-old woman broke her ankle after tripping on a rug that was not secured on a hardwood floor.
- An 82-year-old woman broke her shoulder following a fall on stairs – she was distracted and missed a step, resulting in a horrible fall.
- One man broke two vertebrae after lifting a 50-pound box at arms length while twisting.
- A woman was walking in the dark and she tripped and fell hard on the sidewalk and broke her hip.
- A 52-year-old woman fractured her rib during a yoga class that was too advanced for a beginner.
- A 69-year-old woman broke her wrist while hiking with a friend. She lost her balance and fell while engrossed in a conversation.
All though accidents do happen, there are many things that come into play when thinking about fall prevention. Following are some tips on how to avoid falls:
- If your balance is poor, work on balance exercises.
- Carry a flashlight with you at night to light a dark pathway.
- Wear shoes that are stable.
- Practice walking and being mindful.
- Notice if your eyes are distracted easily when you are walking.
- Pay attention to your surroundings and slow down if necessary
- If you have poor eyesight or balance problems make sure you always walk with someone to help support you and/or use a cane or walking stick.
- Use handrails especially going downstairs. I always use rails whenever possible.
Walking poles: If you get poles make sure they fit you. Poles that are too long or too short may increase your risk of falling. Make sure you know how to use them properly. One of my patients fell and broke her wrist because she was using her husband’s long poles and they actually made her unstable.
Go for a walk alone – it does not have to be a long walk. Before starting note if the shoes you have selected fit well and if they provide good support for your feet. When you walk pay attention to how often your eyes are diverted from your path. I was surprised how often my attention was diverted due to someone talking across the street or some other insignificant sound. While we do look toward sounds we hear, it is a good practice to stop walking and then look before proceeding ahead.
Balance with your eyes open on one foot – see if you can hold that for 10 seconds, then switch feet. Have something in front of you to hold onto if your balance is not good. Work up to 20-30 seconds each leg. This may take a week or so. After mastering eyes-open, try closing your eyes for 10 seconds each leg and hold onto something until you feel secure, or do this with a friend. It is amazing how quickly this exercise will improve your balance. Avoiding a fall is our first priority and catching ourselves when we stumble is just as important to avoid serious injuries.
As we age, bones fracture more easily. What is your fracture risk? Come join a free webinar to learn more about fracture risk due to low bone density and poor bone quality.
Since tripping on that rock, I have been more careful not to allow my eyes to veer off path. If you have sustained a fracture or if you have fallen, ask yourself if there are things you can do to prevent a future fall. Being mindful is a good start.
Please leave a comment if you have ideas to share about how to avoid falls. Or, share your unique near miss or fall experience – we can all learn from each other.
Taking the Taboo out of POO! or MoveOn.ARG
When I take a history from a patient one of the most important questions I ask about is their bowel movements. Grant it, the topic is not one most people want to discuss, yet gastrointestinal health is critical for our over all physical and mental wellbeing. By having patients identify their stool consistency based on the Bristol Stool Chart, (there is a link at the end of this article to the chart), helps me start the conversation. The chart is a useful tool however, there is some disagreement regarding some types. For instance, for Type 3, some authors view as normal. In my opinion (and other healthcare docs agree) it is not normal and rather a lessor form of constipation. Bowel moments should occur at least once a day effortlessly. Some medical references state that constipation is when you don’t eliminate after three days. I strongly disagree with this assessment.
The Bristol Stool Chart Types
Type 1: Separate hard lumps, link nuts (hard to pass) constipation – abnormal
Type 2: Sausage shaped and lumpy (hard to pass) constipation – abnormal
Type 3: Like a sausage with cracks on the surface leaning toward constipation – abnormal
Type 4: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft, may have a curve – easy to pass and is normal
Type 5: Soft blobs with clear cut edges – considered a normal variant
Type 6: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy borderline abnormal stool leaning toward diarrhea
Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces – entirely liquid – abnormal
Adapted from the Bristol Stool Chart
The Bristol chart does not include important symptoms such as, color, smell or symptoms such as burping, foul smelling gas and bloating. All symptoms tell a story – if you have GI symptoms keep a 7-day diary (at the end of the article there is a link to the form that you can download) and also track the symptoms on the same form. Bloating right after eating is different than bloating 3 hours after eating. Good detective work just may result in a clear diagnosis.
What Does an Ideal Bowel Movement Look Like?
Everyone has abnormal bowel moments from time to time due to illnesses or some reaction to a food substance. As it leaves the body it should be effortless (no straining). The color of a healthy bowel movement is brownish and the texture should be soft yet held together. It should not stick to the toilet bowel and may float somewhat. There should be little gas or odor.
A few things about color
Blood in stool – red means that the blood is either coming from your descending colon or the rectum. Blood that is coming from the stomach or intestines is dark and may produce blackish stools. Blood can be an early warning sign of cancer so don’t ignore it. Red beets can produce stool and urine that is red. White or very pail color – not enough bile from the gall bladder digestive juices to add color.
Why is a healthy bowel so important?
If you have chronic GI problems it may mean that you are not absorbing all your nutrients and over time your body will suffer the consequences. GI health is the primary concern I have when assessing bone, heart or thyroid health or any health condition for that matter.
What causes abnormal stools?
Many things can result in chronic abnormal bowel movements. Such symptoms can be a very important piece of information for your health care practitioner to assess. If you have chronic abnormal stools and your health care provider is not paying attention to figuring out the cause, other than recommending medications to deal with symptoms, consider finding a new doctor. Part of your health history should include a diet diary and symptoms assessment.
Constipation – not enough water, fiber or excessive intake of protein. Hypochlorhydria (lack of or low production of hydrochloric acid production). For many people constipation can be easily fixed with dietary changes to a whole foods diet including more water and fiber and making sure there is enough magnesium in the diet. However, if you have been constipated for years it is possible that your large colon is permanently stretched, which means that ongoing constipation is possible. The permanent stretching can also mean that there is nerve damage and the normal movement of the large intestine (peristalsis) is permanently damaged.
Loose stools – Food intolerances such as gluten (Celiac disease), some food sensitivities. Loose stools points directly to malabsorption meaning that vital nutrients are passing right though your body. The transit time of food needs to be slow enough for nutrient intake to take place.
Hypochlorhydria – Really? Is this possible with all the gastric reflux and ulcers? Yes, it is quite common. Once my patients clean up their diet and add HCL (if they need it) their GI symptoms and gastric reflux disappear. I know, it happened to me! DO NOT attempt to use HCL without being assessed first – it could be the wrong thing and you could cause more GI problems.
Enzyme deficiencies – lack of producing various enzymes that breaks down food particles small enough for them to be absorbed. Examples of this include lactase deficiency that results in lactose (cow’s milk) intolerance.
Overgrowth of bacteria in the gut that can be the result of too much carbohydrates (sugar and processed grains) intake along with not enough good bacteria to balance it out.
Candida – overgrowth of yeast in the gut, which also results in abnormal stools and often associated with skin conditions – rashes, eczema etc.
Mucus in Stool
Whitish mucus in stool may indicate there is inflammation in the intestines. Mucus in stool can occur with either constipation or diarrhea.
Skin and our GI Tract – Skin conditions are often caused or made worse by GI problems. Keep in mind that the source of GI problems can simply be poor dietary intake or food sensitivities or intolerances.
Several companies offer stool testing. I suggest a lab such as Genova for a comprehensive stool analysis if a diagnosis is not clear.
OK so this was a brief discussion on GI problems – want more? Workshops online and in the Berkeley area will be posted soon.Want help sorting out your digestive concerns? Call my office to set up an appointment. Appointments can be in person or by phone. 510 898-0933
Most importantly, don’t ignore abnormal digestive issues!
Insufficient calcium leads to bone loss, muscle cramps and insomnia. Too much calcium may result in calcium being deposited in unwanted areas of the body such as the arteries. So, where is the sweet spot for calcium intake? The chart at the end of this article from the National Institute of Health (NIH) lists the recommended daily allowance for calcium needed to insure good health for all ages. Following is some information about calcium to help you understand this vital mineral:
- According to the NIH adults need about 1,000 – 1,200 mg. of calcium each day, from all sources! That means foods and supplements. I think this range is good for most people, unless there is some reason that an individual is not absorbing calcium. Osteoporosis is one example of a condition where higher amounts of calcium may be needed.
- Calcium absorption is increased by as much as 50% if you have enough vitamin D on board. I have covered vitamin D in past articles but a blood level of 45-55 ng/ml is a good amount. Most people do need supplemental vitamin D to obtain this amount. Without testing, 2,000 IU is safe for healthy people. Unhealthy people may need more or less vitamin D depending on their condition and should be tested.
- Too much calcium can cause constipation.
- Magnesium is needed to balance calcium. There are different opinions ranging from a 2:1 ratio (calcium / magnesium) to 1:1. I favor somewhere in between depending on the patient. Too much magnesium can cause loose stools. Since most people I see suffer from constipation the added magnesium to the diet is usually a welcome relief.
- Calcium is best when taken in smaller, more frequent doses and taken with meals.
- Calcium supplements – calcium citrate or calcium malate is absorbed better than calcium carbonate because it has an acid component and you need acid to digest calcium.
- If you do take a calcium supplement only take as much as you would get from a serving of yogurt or a glass of milk – 200-300 mg. at one time.
- Only about 30% of the calcium we ingest is absorbed
Elemental calcium and magnesium
Supplemental calcium comes in the form of a compound. The most common calcium supplement is calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is 40% calcium by weight and calcium citrate is 20-25% calcium by weight. Some supplements list elemental calcium and some do not. This is important because a supplement stating 500 mg. calcium may only contain 200 mg. of elemental calcium. On the other hand, if it is elemental, then 500 mg. is a hefty dose – too much for one dose. Know your source.
Are you getting too much calcium?
I have found that many of my patients do consume too much calcium – especially those who eat a lot of dairy. On top of this some are taking very high doses of calcium supplements thinking if the RDA is 1,200 mg. then they should take 1,200 mg. of supplemental calcium. Remember 1,000 – 1,200 mg. total, from all sources. That said, many of my patients who have osteoporosis are not getting enough calcium for a variety of reasons. This is why patients need individualized assessments. Also, chronic gastrointestinal problems can lead to malabsorption and these people may need more calcium and magnesium along with a good work up as to why they have GI problems.
Dairy is high in calcium, however a lot of people are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy. One 6 – 8 ounce serving of yogurt or milk contains ~ 300 mg. of calcium. Some of my favorite non-dairy calcium rich sources include: Sardines, salmon, sesame seeds, almonds, collard greens and figs. The herb nettles is an amazing source of calcium – If you are interested in making infusions of nettles there is an article on my website under osteoporosis articles. Tahini (sesame seeds) dressing is loaded with calcium and great for salads and veggies.
The International Osteoporosis Foundation has a food chart to look up foods that contain calcium www.iofbonehealth.org search – calcium-rich foods
As noted above, calcium citrate absorbs better than calcium carbonate because it has an acid component – you need acid to digest calcium. Calcium carbonate is not the best for most people because you need to take it with food and it dilutes the acid needed not only for calcium absorption but also for protein and other foods that need acid to break down. Many people take the antacid Tums as their supplement. This practice may actually lead to bone lose years down the road. Remember that you must balance your calcium with magnesium. The best supplemental magnesium source is magnesium citrate or magnesium glycinate.
What is the best time to take calcium?
I am dairy-free and a light eater so I do take a calcium and magnesium supplement. I found a liquid product of calcium citrate and magnesium citrate. One tablespoon = 250 mg. calcium and 170 mg. of magnesium. I always take one tablespoon before bed. Why before bed? Bone loss occurs more during the night and I have low bone mass. Calcium and magnesium also help with sleep. As mentioned above, small amounts throughout the day of calcium rich foods is the best and adding a supplement if necessary.
Who should be concerned about getting enough calcium?
- People who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or low bone mass.
- Those who consume a diet high in foods that increase acidity in the body are at risk of not absorbing enough calcium. The top foods to avoid, are the same ones we hear about all the time: Sugar and processed carbohydrates – you know these non-foods. When considering sugary drinks, just say NO! Also, a diet high in protein, especially animal protein can leach calcium from bone.
- People with low vitamin D in their blood – vitamin D increases calcium absorption by as much as 50%.
- Malabsorption – gastrointestinal problems that impact absorption such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease.
- Those who lack stomach acid either from medications or because their body does not produce adequate amounts of stomach acid.
- Dairy-free diet – while it is true that greens contain abundant calcium it still may be difficult for some to get enough calcium from their diet.
- Excessive intake of any of the following can inhibit calcium absorption or utilization: protein, caffeine, alcohol and sugar.
- Phytic acid and oxalic acid are found naturally in some plants; both bind with calcium and inhibit calcium absorption. High levels of oxalic acid can be found in spinach, collard greens, sweet potatoes, rhubarb, and beans. Foods high in phytic acid are fiber-containing whole-grain products such as wheat bran, beans, seeds, nuts, and soy isolates. These are healthy foods and should not be totally avoided. This is why eating a diet with a wide variety of foods is so important, making sure you eat plenty of greens daily.
If you have any questions regarding calcium please leave it in the comments section – I actually read my comments.
The National Institute of Health recommends the following RDA for Calcium intake:
Table 1: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Calcium 
- Adequate Intake (AI)
Resources and references
Office of Dietary Supplements
Heaney RP, Recker RR, Stegman MR, Moy AJ. Calcium absorption in women: relationships to calcium intake, estrogen status, and age. J Bone Miner Res 1989;4:469-75. [PubMed abstract]
• Massey LK, Whiting SJ. Caffeine, urinary calcium, calcium metabolism, and bone. J Nutr 1993;123:1611-4. [PubMed abstract]
• Hirsch PE, Peng TC. Effects of alcohol on calcium homeostasis and bone. In: Anderson J, Garner S, eds. Calcium and Phosphorus in Health and Disease. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1996:289-300.
Potassium Essential for Heart and BONE!
Are you getting enough potassium for your bones and your overall health? In general, potassium, one of the electrolytes, is a type of mineral that is required for your body to work properly. A high intake in potassium-rich foods can protect you against heart disease and stroke and is vital in maintaining a good pH balance in the body. I have written about the importance of maintaining a diet that leans toward creating more alkalinity in the body. Potassium is crucial in this process.
Potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the body and belongs, with sodium and chloride, to the electrolyte family of minerals. These minerals are called electrolytes because they conduct electricity when dissolved in water. About 95% of potassium in the body is stored within the cells. Potassium in bone health relates to the ability of selected potassium salts to neutralize bone-depleting metabolic acids. Because these potassium compounds are alkaline they help neutralize acids. Many fruits and vegetables are high in potassium. As an electrolyte, which takes on a positive or negative charge that helps to regulate blood pressure, potassium helps with muscle contractions and nerve transmission and generally keeps our bodily functions working right. In a nutshell, potassium is needed to do the following:
- Build proteins
- Break down and use carbohydrates
- Maintain healthy bones
- Build muscle
- Maintain normal body growth
- Control the electrical activity of the heart
- Control the acid-base balance
So how do you know if you are getting enough potassium?
I know there are convenient aps that calculate such things, but I have not tried one yet. One way to know is to work with the list of foods that are known to contain high potassium content. Many of my patients, especially the small women who have osteoporosis, are not big eaters, so they typically do not consume enough food to take in high enough quantities.
According to the University of Maryland, “studies show a positive link between a diet rich in potassium and bone health, particularly among elderly women, suggesting that increasing consumption of foods rich in potassium may play a role in osteoporosis prevention. More research is needed to determine whether a diet high in potassium can reduce bone turnover in people.”
Why is potassium important? A high intake of potassium-rich foods can protect you against heart disease and stroke and helps maintain bone density and bone health. It is vital in maintaining a good pH balance in the body.
Several studies have shown an increase in bone mineral density in older adults using potassium supplementation. In a 2-year placebo-controlled study that was presented at the American Society of Nephrology’s 43rd Annual Meeting, “results showed that long-term neutralization of diet-induced acid loads by [potassium] citrate can significantly increase bone density in an elderly population with normal baseline BMD.”
Another study found that “among a group of healthy elderly persons without osteoporosis, treatment with K-citrate for 24 months resulted in a significant increase in BMD and volumetric BMD at several sites tested, while also improving bone microarchitecture.”
OK, so now we know that potassium is important for our bones muscles and heart – so how much do we need each day?
There is no RDA (recommended daily allowance) for potassium but there is an AI (adequate intake) amount. For adults this is 3,800 mg to 4,700 mg each day. That seems like a huge amount to me since I am one of those small-boned women who do not consume a large volume of food. From my interpretation on the information out there I think it is best to lean toward 4,700 mg for men and women.
Should you supplement? Discuss this with a doctor who knows nutrition. It is always best to get potassium from the foods you eat. Supplements can result in stomach problems, including nausea, which is why the maximum amount that a supplement can contain is 99 mg. It is always best to get it from the foods that we eat.
Top Foods High in Potassium Content
I checked several sources, including the USDA and The University of Maryland Medical Center and of course the exact amount of any nutrient in any given food varies. However, the amounts listed below are a good estimate.
One of my recent favorite discoveries is black strap molasses, which I add to beans and my steel-cut oats. One tablespoon of black strap molasses contains between 450 and ~700 mg of potassium and 200 mg of calcium plus many other nutrients The sugar content is low. Must buy organic! Try a small amount to begin with, as the taste is strong.
Seeds and Beans
Beans and seeds tend to be rich in potassium.
½ cup white beans ~ 595 mg
Lima Beans ~ 484 mg
½ cup pinto beans ~ 400 mg
¼ cup sunflower seeds ~ 250 mg
¼ cup pumpkin seeds ~ 200 mg
Whole grains contain the most potassium
1 cup black rice ~285 mg
1 cup quinoa ~300 mg
½ cup amaranth ~350 mg
Dried apricots, prunes, and dates are high, but they are also high in sugar.
1 oz dried coconut ~150 mg
1 fig ~54 mg
1 date ~160 mg
1 banana (small) ~422 mg
¼ cup apricots ~375 mg
½ avocado ~475 mg
1 mango (medium) ~325 mg
¼ cup prunes ~350 mg
1 papaya ~780 mg
1 kiwi or nectarine ~285 mg
Meat, fish and dairy products are top sources of potassium
3 oz broiled salmon ~319 mg
8 oz yogurt ~534 mg
Goat’s milk and cow’s milk are good sources
Cooked lean beef and roasted turkey are also high in the mineral, with each providing about 250 mg per 3-oz serving.
3 oz. canned clams ~534 mg
3 oz rock fish ~442 mg
½ cup cooked spinach ~415 mg
1 cup asparagus ~288 mg
½ cup Brussels sprouts ~250 mg
1 cup cooked beets ~500 mg
¼ cup tomato paste ~665 mg
¾ cup tomato juice ~417 mg
1 cup winter squash ~896 mg
½ cup beet greens ~655 mg
1 cup carrot juice ~685mg
1 sweet potato, with skin, 694 mg
1 potato with skin ~610 mg
Many spices contain a good amount of potassium, including one of my favorites, turmeric.
If you want more statistics go to the USDA website they list servings per 100 grams which is 3.5 ounces. If you search other sources you will see content varies widely. I suspect some websites with overly high estimates did not calculate the grams correctly when converting to ounces or cups.
Medications and health conditions that impact potassium:
Many medications impact potassium. Some that lower potassium include diuretics, corticosteroids, antacids, and many others. If you are on medications, check to see if any impact potassium. If you have a health condition, especially a kidney condition, talk with your health care provider about potassium. For more information regarding health conditions and medications as they relate to potassium please visit, University of Maryland Medical Center
The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
University of Maryland Medical Center
Susan Brown, Ph.D.
Salt in BONE OUT?
Table salt (refined) and sea salt is primarily a combination of sodium and chloride (NaCl). Sodium is an essential element, which means we can’t live without it. Our bodies need sodium and it makes the taste of food, oh-so-good. But too much of a good thing can result in bone loss. Most people are aware of the connection between high blood pressure and sodium intake, but few are aware that too much sodium can result in bone loss. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) estimates that the average American adult consumes nearly double the recommended daily intake of sodium per day.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends an upper limit of 2,300 mg. each day or 1,500 mg. if you’re age 51 or older, or if you are black, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. I would add to this, those who are concerned about their bones should also strive for no more than 1,500 mg. each day. The exception to this is for those who sweat for extended periods of time, through exercise or work.
How does high salt intake impact bone?
Following is an excerpt from Science News.
“Todd Alexander and his team recently discovered an important link between sodium and calcium. These both appear to be regulated by the same molecule in the body. When sodium intake becomes too high, the body gets rid of sodium via the urine, taking calcium with it, which depletes calcium stores in the body. High levels of calcium in the urine lead to the development of kidney stones, while inadequate levels of calcium in the body lead to thin bones and osteoporosis.
“When the body tries to get rid of sodium via the urine, our findings suggest the body also gets rid of calcium at the same time,” says Alexander, a Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry researcher whose findings were recently published in the peer-reviewed journal American Journal of Physiology — Renal Physiology.”
In essence the higher your sodium intake, the larger your calcium losses are. Maintaining your sodium intake well below the recommended 2,300 mg. each day while meeting your daily requirement for calcium should cover calcium losses through your urine and maintain your bone health. Recommended daily intake of calcium is 1,000 mg. per day, with an upper daily intake of 1,300 mg. per day. Some people need more depending on their absorption of calcium.
Sodium – how important is it and what does it do?
- It is found in every cell of the body
- Helps to maintain the right balance of fluids in your body
- Used to transmit nerve impulses
- Influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles
- Too much or too little salt intake can result in electrolyte disturbance, muscle cramps or dizziness, which can cause neurological problems, or death.
- Drinking too much water, with insufficient salt intake, can result in water intoxication (hyponatremia).
Salt Sense – here are some salt facts so that you can be salt savvy:
- Sodium is an essential nutrient
- Recommended daily intake
- 2,300 mg.
- 1,500 for people over 50 or for those with elevated blood pressure or congestive heart failure. While no studies exist on how much salt intake is OK for bone health, my opinion is that 1,500 mg. is a good target.
- One teaspoon of salt = 2,335 mg. of salt – yikes! Hold that salt please!
- One tablespoon soy sauce = 1,000 mg. salt – Oy, the soy!
- Whole foods naturally contain salt – all vegetables, meat, dairy and shellfish with crabmeat toping the scale at over 900 mg. of salt per 3 oz. Yes, most of us can handle occasional high dose foods.
- READ LABELS: Processed foods often contain huge amounts of salt – note the serving size!
- Foods can taste sweet yet still contain a significant amount of salt
- Salt bombs
- Processed and prepared foods tend to contain a lot of salt.
- Frozen foods – pizza 1,800 mg.
- Spaghetti sauce – one cup 1,000 mg.
- Packaged grains – one flour tortilla can have as much as 500 mg. of sodium
- Cheese – tends to be high in sodium and cottage cheese can be as high as 800 mg.
- Meats especially smoked – bacon can contain as much as 350 mg./slice (Canadian Bacon)
- Canned foods can contain as much as 1,300 mg. of salt
- Canned fish
- Tuna 300 mg. per can
- Sardines (a good choice for bone health) can have as much as 300 mg. per 3 ounces. Read the label – some have less than 50 mg.
- Restaurant foods can contain a lot of salt. If you are concerned ask your server if they have low sodium options.
Table salt versus sea salt
Table salt is sodium chloride with additives for anti-caking and other ingredients that are often added, such as iodine. Sea salt does not contain iodine or other additives, but it does contain additional trace elements such as calcium and magnesium. Interestingly, sea salt is more alkaline than table salt because of the natural trace elements. However, sodium is sodium and regardless of origin maintaining a healthy level is important for your health. My favorite brand of salt is Real Salt, which is produced in the USA. It is mined in Utah – no additives and no chemicals.
You can lower your salt intake. If you are used to a salty taste it will take some time before your taste buds lower their expectations, but it is worth the effort for your bones and for your overall health.
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Vitamin D Winter
It is critical for you and your family to get this vitamin/hormone in the right amount. I used to think that I was not deficient – after all, I live in California and I am outside biking, walking and gardening – without sunblock most of the time. But because of my vitamin D deficiency I was losing bone mass. Vitamin D increases calcium and phosphorus absorption by a whopping 50%. At the time I did not understand the sun’s ultraviolet rays and when these rays were strong enough to manufacture this vital nutrient. I thought that if the sun was shinning and my skin was exposed, that would produce vitamin D.
Not all sunlight produces vitamin D. In fact, most of North America is now in Vitamin D Winter. Only one ultraviolet ray (UVB) produces vitamin D when it interacts with a pre-cholesterol just under the top layer of skin. The UVB ray is strongest when the sun is directly overhead. When the sun is at a 45-degree angle or less, the skin will not produce vitamin D. The closer one lives to the equator the more potential there is to produce vitamin D. Where I live, in the San Francisco Bay Area, vitamin D will not be produced through sun exposure from November through the end of March.
How much vitamin D do you need?
It is hard to know exactly without testing and testing is not exact, but it will certainly put you in the ballpark. The test to take is 25, hydroxyvitamin D. Make sure that the correct test is ordered; don’t take the 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D. A good target is between 40-55 ng/ml. Labcorp is providing the most accurate testing presently.
What kind of vitamin D should you supplement with?
Vitamin D3, not Vitamin D2. Most people need at least 2,000 IU each day and some people need much more depending on digestive problems or other health issues that might impact vitamin D absorption. It is always best to work with a health care practitioner familiar with vitamin D.
If you are low what should you do?
1,000 IU of vitamin D3 should increase your blood level of 25 hydroxyvitamin D by 10 points. It takes up to 6 weeks to saturate your tissue levels. Test again in 6-8 weeks to see if you have reached your target.
TIP: When your shadow is taller than you are, you will not produce vitamin D.
Bone density exams can be flawed
Did you know that bone density testing facilities are not required to have certified trained technicians? Also, the doctor reading the exam is not required to be certified as a densitometrist? Training is voluntary! Any MD can issue a report on a bone density test. This is a huge problem, densitometry, is not a required field of study in radiology or medical training. I review cases from all over the country and I find preventable errors many times a week. When a report with an erroneous error concludes that bone loss has occurred, that is a trigger for medical doctors to prescribe medications.
“errors are not uncommon”
International Society of Clinical Densitometry
Following are real cases that I have evaluated. The names have been changed for confidentiality.
Case study #1
Melanie was diagnosed with osteoporosis. She was frightened to hear her diagnosis. Her bone density T-score is – 2.5 SD (translation – 30% less than an average 30 year old or borderline osteoporosis). She has never fractured a bone and she is 58 years old. She eats a healthy diet and exercises. Her doctor told her that she has lost 2% bone mass and that she has moved from osteopenia (low bone mass) to osteoporosis. No family history of hip fractures or osteoporosis.
Her doctor recommended that she take Fosamax. Melanie is active and wants to stay that way, but she is concerned about the side effects of Fosamax. Should she take Fosamax? As a chiropractor I cannot tell her not to take the medication. What I can do is assess her case as a densitometrist. First and foremost 2% bone loss or gain is not a reliable number. The least significant loss or gain is in the neighborhood of 5%. My personal view is that Fosamax has side effects that should be weighed carefully before embarking on such medications. I interviewed, Dr. Jennifer Schneider regarding the use of Fosamax. When I first heard Dr. Schneider speak on a Diane Sawyer interview I knew I wanted to have her on my webinar program. It is free to view on my website. Click here for the free webinar.
Case study #2
Frank was told that he lost 5% bone mass in a five-year period. The report was flawed because the radiologist who wrote the report compared the neck of the femur to the total hip, which was an error. When compared correctly he had not lost bone and in fact, his bone was stable.
Case study #3
Susan was told that she lost 7% bone mass in her hip. The hip rotation was incorrect in her previous exam. This rotation error is a common mistake, but should have been easily caught by the technologist and if not the technologist the doctor reading the exam. Improper hip rotation can result in up to a 10% error with either an increase or decrease in bone density.
Case study #4
Rachel was told she had lost bone in her lumbar spine. On closer examination in her first bone density exam in 2008, the technician selected lumbar vertebra L1-L4 (this is correct) and in 2012 the technician selected T12 through L3. Since vertebral bones get larger from the top to the bottom of the vertebral column, the mistake showed she lost bone. I called the radiologist and told him about the error and mentioned that the technologist needs to first identify L4 and count from the bottom up. He said at their facility they count from the top down. It was obvious that neither the radiologist nor the technician had been trained in densitometry.
Sahara called to tell me that she knows of a new supplement that increased her bone density by 2%. If you have read this far I think you know the answer to this one. The 2% is not a reliable number.
Errors on bone density exams? Isn’t bone density testing reliable?
Bone density testing is only as good as the technicians ability to set up the patient correctly and the doctor’s ability to evaluate the data that the computer analyzes. The least significant change that is reliable when comparing two bone density exams is around 5%. This is because the machine itself is not perfect every time and the technician can make errors when setting up the patient. Such errors can result in an exam of a patient that appears to have lost or gained bone density. When the treating doctor reads the report furnished by the bone density exam center they rely on these reports to determine whether or not to prescribe medications.
Some facilities are doing great work. For instance in the San Francisco Bay Area – The Foundation for Osteoporosis Education, Elliot Schwartz MD (Oakland) and UCSF in San Francisco. The doctors who read these reports have been trained and they are certified clinical densitometrists. You can ask your facility whether or not the tech and the doctor reading the exams are certified. While this does not remove all errors, it is a huge step in the right direction.
For some people it is advisable to seek a second opinion regarding bone density exams, especially if there has been a comparison study noting a significant loss and gain for that matter. The error rate for some facilities is much lower than others mostly due to excellent training and not simply the brief training offered by the company selling the equipment.
Bone Density and Bone Quality
What is it that makes bones more susceptible to fracture as we age? Is it poor bone density, poor bone quality or both? It seems that all we hear about is bone density. This is because bone density can be measured, but bone quality cannot be measured. Bone density is part of overall bone quality, but not the entire picture. This is one reason why some people with the same low bone density may fracture while others do not. However, if bone density is significantly low (such as a T-score of -3.5 SD which is 40% less than an average 30 year old) that alone decreases the bone quality. For some this can result in osteoporosis related fractures. Osteoporosis related fractures are breaks that occur with minimal trauma. The larger picture regarding things that can impact bone quality include: digestive health, healthy nutrition, bone robbing medications such as proton pump inhibitors (Nexium, Prilosec) and prednisone to name only a few. These factors and many more contribute to the overall health (quality) of our bone. Your bones are what you eat and also reflect your lifestyle. Smoking for instance impacts bone quality and bone density due to lack of circulation in the bone itself. You can improve bone quality by improving nutrition, digestive health and by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Improving bone quality reduces fracture risk.
Some facts about bone
Bone is alive and dynamic – it is a reservoir of nutrients
• 80% of our lifetime bone mass is laid down by the age of eighteen.
• Our peak bone mass is achieved by the age of thirty.
• After the age of thirty it takes more effort to maintain bone mass.
• Age related bone loss is .5-1% per year. Post menopause years can boost bone loss to 1-3% each year.
• Woman with small bones and low body weight are most susceptible to age related bone loss. We learned from astronauts going into outer space that gravity impacts bone. An astronaut can lose 10-20% bone mass after being in space for a prolonged period of time. They also lose muscle mass that is why they need assistance walking when they first step on earth again. Low body weight can contribute to bone loss.
• If any product claims to build bone mass be skeptical. Everyone is different. One person may have osteoporosis due to parathyroid disease, gluten intolerance any many other conditions. Make sure you have had a thorough evaluation.
• The diagnosis of osteoporosis does not mean active bone loss is occurring. This is surprising to many people when they first hear it. Let’s take the example of a 55-year-old woman who has just had her first bone density exam. She has borderline osteoporosis – is she losing bone? Maybe she never gained a good bank account of bone in her teens, she may have had an eating disorder, smoked cigarettes or ate a diet that did not build her bones. Active bone loss can be a serious problem while stable bone may be just fine.
• Some patients have told me that they have osteoporosis in their neck, thinking it is their actual neck, above their shoulders. The neck refers to the neck of the hip.
• Will exercise and a healthy diet reverse serious osteoporosis. This is very important question. My first question always is why does an individual have serious osteoporosis in the first place? Are they presently losing bone or is their bone stable. There are two ways to determine this. 1. Two bone density exams from the exact same machine that have been compared correctly. 2. Lab tests including bone markers or other specific tests for the parathyroid or kidneys may be necessary to sort out if and why bone loss is occuring. Bone is complex there is no one size fits all. Unfortunately, it all to common to see osteoporosis evaluated incorrectly.
Most importantly evaluating bone takes time and in our age of managed care many patients are simply offered a prescription rather than a complete and thoughtful evaluation.