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Good bones: How to prevent and heal fractures naturally

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There’s a lot of fearmongering when it comes to the risk of fractures in older women, says Marcelle Pick. Here’s what you need to know and how to look after your bones naturally

The fear of breaking a bone is a big concern for many of the women I see—and with good reason. Fracturing a major bone, such as the pelvis, hip or spine, can be debilitating. And the media sends terrifying messages about the risk of fracture in women.

It seems like every time you turn on the TV, there’s another celebrity endorsement for a “magic pill” that will protect your bones from withering away. Or there are experts emphatically telling you to heed their advice or risk joining the purported 50 percent of women over age 50 who have an osteoporosis-related fracture during their lifetime.

But let’s pause for just a minute before you panic. I’ve found that these numbers highlighting the prevalence of fractures due to osteoporosis just don’t match up with what I know.

First, even the experts can’t agree on a number. The estimates range from 30–50 percent of women over 50 who will experience osteoporosis-related fractures at some point in the remainder of their lives; that’s a fairly big difference in numbers. Add to that the fact that many of these fractures are far less serious than you may have been led to believe, and the fear factor may drop considerably.

This, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of what happens to your bones as you age. There are steps you can take to reduce your risk, and if you do find yourself with a fracture, there are natural ways to help your body heal.

Fracture risk factors

Many factors can increase your risk of fracture. Being aware of them is the first step toward better bone health.

Low bone density

You’ve probably heard something about the importance of bone density—maybe even more misleading statistics. But there are a few things you should know.

First, your body type, racial background, exercise profile and more will impact your bone mineral density (BMD). Often when BMD is tested, women are told the T-score, which is compared to those of average women in their late 20s to early 30s—without accounting for any of these demographic factors.

The Z-score is more accurate, comparing you to someone of your own age, race, gender and weight. But all too often, providers don’t explain the difference, leaving room for more fear than is warranted when you receive news that you have suffered “bone loss.”

Another thing to keep in mind is that less dense bone can often support you as long as it’s strong, healthy bone. Poor-quality bone is what increases risk, not low density alone. So don’t buy into the idea that lower-than-standard bone density automatically means treatment by prescription.

Falls

Most fractures occur as the result of falling. But often these fractures—particularly in the wrist—have less to do with the fragility of the bones and more to do with conditions of the fall.

Often women brace themselves as they fall, resulting in a fractured wrist. As response time declines with age, women are less able to throw their arms up in time and end up falling on their hips.

Statisticians tell us more than one-third of people over 65 will fall at least once. Of that number, half will fracture a bone.

If you have established osteoporosis, the risk of a fracture that seriously impedes your life is elevated because once an osteoporotic bone is broken, it’s very difficult to mend. That’s why finding ways to reduce your risk of falling is as important as boosting your bone health.

Other factors

There are plenty of other things to think about when it comes to the health of your bones. Deficiencies of certain vitamins—such as vitamins D and K—can have a large impact on your bone health.

Lack of physical activity, weak muscles, a history of prior fractures, use of corticosteroid drugs, and a diet low in minerals and high in acid all contribute to risk of fracture as well.

Types of fractures

An important thing to know about the statistics is that they include any type of fracture—not just those that can alter your life significantly. Most notably, they include spinal fractures, which are far more common but less debilitating than fractures in other areas. Here’s what you need to know about spine and hip fractures.

Spine fractures

Losing height and developing an upper-back hump are two images of osteoporosis seared into our brains by the media—but the truth of spinal fractures is less daunting. Most vertebral fractures are due to compression and are symptom-free.

Spinal compression occurs when the cushioning tissue between the vertebrae deteriorates over time—it has nothing to do with osteoporosis unless you have been diagnosed with spinal osteoporosis. And for the vast majority of women, losing height is just part of gravity’s pull.

Spinal deformity caused by hairline fractures in the vertebrae can cause curvature of the spine and back pain—the dreaded “dowager’s hump.” The chance of developing this condition is exceedingly rare in women under age 80. Not only that, but the loss of muscle strength and weakened posture is far more likely to cause a dowager’s hump than multiple spine fractures.

Hip fractures

Hip fractures are particularly frightening because they have the most impact on a woman’s quality of life. After age 75, about 30 percent of people with hip fractures don’t recover enough to fully engage in their usual lives. By age 90, one-third of all women may experience a hip fracture.

But these figures are misleading when it comes to osteoporosis because at least half of all hip fractures after age 80 can be attributed to a fall caused by other factors—not by a bone spontaneously breaking. And in most cases when bone fragility was a factor, there were other co-factors.

The best statistic to pay attention to is that over 85 percent of women turning 50 years old today, with a life expectancy of 80, will not have a hip fracture—regardless of their bone density. It’s still important, of course, to pay attention to your bone health.

Steps for building bone health

The small number of people who exhibit multiple risk factors is the group most likely to sustain a hip fracture. Though not all risk factors are things you can change, there are steps you can take to improve your bone health and reduce your risk of fracture.

Assess your personal risk

Start by having an honest discussion with your healthcare provider to assess your actual risk. Remember, people with multiple risk factors have the highest risk of fracture.

Ask about the World Health Organization’s tool FRAX, which accounts for age, weight, previous fracture history, family history and other risk factors to determine a more accurate score than one bone density scan can provide.

Get the right nutrients

If you aren’t providing your body with all the nutrients it needs, it will seek them out in your bones. The best diet centers around fresh, whole foods, primarily plant-based, with a moderate amount of animal protein.

Processed foods, white flours, additives, preservatives and refined sugar are best avoided.

Supplement with bone-building minerals

While I recommend a high-quality multivitamin to all women, there are also some specific nutrients key to bone health, including vitamins D and K, manganese, zinc and copper. Making sure you’re getting enough of each of these can impact your bone health in a big way.

Suggested dosages from food and supplements

Vitamin D: 5,000–15,000 IU daily; for best results, get a blood test

Vitamin K: 100–300 mcg daily, MK-7 form; do not take if you’re on blood thinners

Manganese: 2–5 mg daily

Zinc: 20 mg daily

Copper: up to 10 mg daily

Focus on alkaline-forming foods

The American diet is high in acid-forming foods, including animal protein, processed foods, refined sugars and flours, the wrong kinds of fat and alcohol. Too many of these foods can prompt your body to raid your bones for “base” minerals that will counteract the acid, depleting the mineral reserves in your bones.

Vegetables (especially green leafy vegetables and root vegetables), fruit, nuts, seeds and spices can all help. Try adding fresh lemon or lime to your water, eliminate caffeine and soda from your diet, and reduce the amount of animal protein you consume.

Exercise for better bones

Your body needs to move! When you exercise, you trigger bone-building processes in your body. It doesn’t have to be strenuous—walking and yoga are both great options. But if you want to build more bone, extensive strength training can help.

Practice fall prevention

You can avoid fracture, even with osteoporosis, simply by being more aware of the risk of falling. Build better balance through practices like yoga, qi gong, dance and tai chi. Be aware of, and remove, tripping hazards in your home. Make sure your home is well lit. Consider wearing hip protection if your risk of falling is great.

Reduce stress

Chronic stress can increase your body’s acid load, whether it’s physical stress or mental stress. And even historical stress—issues from your past—can take a toll.

The major stress hormone, cortisol, is extremely tough on your body if it remains constantly elevated. Take at least a few minutes for yourself every day to calm your mind and body.

Take control today

I certainly won’t tell you that a broken bone won’t impact your life. But avoiding the issue because it frightens you won’t arm you with the information you need.

You have more control than you think—and now is the perfect time to do everything you can to keep your bones healthy and strong.

Healing fractures naturally

Sometimes, no matter what you do, a fracture will happen. Healing can take a lot of time and energy, but it’s not all out of your control. There are steps you can take to speed up the process and get yourself up and about sooner than you might think. Here are five simple tips for helping your bones to heal.

1. Add a quality multivitamin and mineral supplement

Bone is almost three-quarters mineral content by weight. To heal, you need an ample supply of all the minerals it’s made of.

Some of the key minerals to promote fracture healing are zinc, copper, calcium, phosphorus and silicon. Vitamins such as C, D and K are also key to the process of healing.

Suggested dosages from food and supplements

Vitamin C: up to 10,000 mg daily; lower the dose when it produces a watery bowel movement

Vitamin D: 5,000–15,000 IU daily; for best results, get a blood test

Vitamin K: 100–300 mcg daily, MK-7 form; do not take if you’re on blood thinners

Zinc: 20 mg daily

Copper: up to 10 mg daily

Calcium: 1,000–2,500 mg daily

Phosphorus: 700–4,000 mg daily

Silicon: 10–50 mg daily

2. Pay attention to protein intake

Healing bones requires more protein, and even a small increase in your diet can speed up the healing process. Add plant-based protein, such as from soy, lentils, almonds and quinoa, to avoid creating an excessively acidic environment.

3. Increase anti-inflammatories

Research indicates that antioxidants can speed fracture healing by slowing down the inflammatory effects of the free radicals that are released when tissues rupture. Try adding more berries to your diet, include leafy greens in your recipes and consider an omega-3 supplement.

4. Don’t take aspirin or ibuprofen

While it’s our instinct to reach for a pain reducer when injury occurs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can actual slow healing. Acetaminophen, or paracetamol, may be a better choice (unless you’re pregnant), as are natural pain-relief solutions such as quercetin.

5. Get moving

While you might not think of exercise as a way to boost healing, you should. Good circulation and adequate blood flow are essential to healing, and each is enhanced by exercise. To choose the right exercises that will avoid stress and accelerate healing, talk to a physical therapist.

References
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