Osteoporosis Part I
Bone health is one of the most common concerns for women over 40, especially when approaching or coming out of menopause. Although osteoporosis also affects men, it is seen more commonly in women due to hormonal influences and the general density of their bones. Women are often told by their primary care physician that bone loss is inevitable and that they should be taking a calcium supplement, often from a young age, to prevent bone loss as they get older. If osteoporosis is confirmed, medications called bisphosphonates are prescribed to help reverse osteoporosis. In this article we will discuss how osteoporosis occurs, what major organs are at play, and what you can do on your own to strengthen your bones.
Osteoporosis literally means “porous bones” and is the condition in which new bone is being generated at a slower pace than old bone is being recycled. Over time this results in sponge like bone that is susceptible to fracture. Bone is a living tissue, just like your skin or muscles, and it is constantly being broken down and replaced to maintain the support our bodies need for proper movement and function. Once bone resorption outpaces bone growth, a condition called osteopenia will develop. Osteopenia is a less severe form of osteoporosis and might lead to osteoporosis if not detected early enough to reverse the process.
The organs that play the largest role in bone health are the parathyroid, thyroid, liver, and kidneys. Let’s look at these organs individually and see what they do.
The parathyroid is an oft forgotten organ that consists of four small glands that sit just behind the thyroid in the neck. Its main job it is to regulate the body’s calcium and phosphorus levels via parathyroid hormone (PTH) and to keep them within a very fine range in our blood and bodily tissues. While our bones are made up of many different components, calcium and phosphorus are the two major minerals that provide the structural support that produce strong bones. PTH takes calcium directly from our bones by influencing cells called osteoclasts which break down old or damaged bone. If the body is deficient in calcium for any reason it will draw from its calcium stores in the bone, and over time this can lead to bone loss. Once this bone is broken down, calcium is released into the bloodstream to be kept there if blood calcium levels are low, or to be pushed into our body’s tissues for muscle contraction, nerve signaling, or hundreds of other functions. Calcium must always be in balance with phosphorus as osteoclastic activity will also result in phosphorus being released into the bloodstream. The two work together, and in opposition, so while they are both needed to build healthy bones, they also inhibit the absorption of the other. This means that any imbalance in one of these minerals can result in the imbalance of the other, for instance continuous supplementation of calcium resulting in low phosphorous levels.
Fats are needed to push calcium into our soft tissue, and without proper fats, calcium cannot be utilized in the body correctly. This can result in a dysfunctional parathyroid over time. Fats that might be necessary for proper calcium metabolism include DHA or EPA from fish oil, arachidonic acid found in meats, eggs, and butter, or certain vitamins or minerals that help produce healthy fats in the body such as vitamin B6 (P-5-P), zinc, or magnesium. Calcium also needs proper acidity to be pushed into our tissues. This acidity is especially important in the stomach where betaine hydrochloric acid (HCL) can help acidify the body to promote calcium absorption, stimulate the gallbladder to produce bile, and help with protein digestion. Bile breaks down the fats like fish or butter into fatty acids such as DHA and EPA while adequate protein in the body is important to keep in balance with fats.
The parathyroid also plays a role in vitamin D synthesis. Calcium can only be absorbed efficiently from the gut and pulled into the bloodstream via vitamin D. PTH plays a role in converting the inactive form of vitamin D3, calcidiol, into the active form of vitamin D3, calcitriol, to be used to stimulate calcium absorption.
The thyroid acts as an antagonistic to the parathyroid by releasing the hormone calcitonin. Calcitonin suppresses osteoclast activity (which breaks bone down) and promotes osteoblast activity which are the cells that form new bone and need calcium to do so. Healthy parathyroid and thyroid function are necessary for proper bone health as they are constantly acting in balance with the other to maintain appropriate calcium levels wherever it is needed. Your thyroid is known for its role in hormone production and regulation, so if your thyroid is sluggish for whatever reason, it may influence bone health.
Liver and Kidneys
The liver and kidneys play prominent roles in the mineral balance of our body. The kidneys for example filter our blood and either excrete or reabsorb minerals such as calcium and phosphorus to potentially be used to build bones. As we discussed vitamin D earlier, the conversion of vitamin D3 into its active form takes place in the kidneys, so kidney function is very important. The liver has hundreds of functions, and while it needs to work properly to maintain the body’s mineral balance, it has a direct link with the parathyroid due to glutathione. Glutathione is one of the most powerful antioxidants in our body as it neutralizes free radicals and supports the immune system. While much of our glutathione is produced in our liver, it is also produced in our parathyroid. Osteoporosis is a major complication for people with liver disease, so there is a direct relationship between bone health and our liver.