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Instep Dance Magazine Articles

Reprints of monthly column as first appearing in Instep Dance Magazine.

January 1997

Dancing into a Ripe Old Age -- Preventing Osteoporosis, Part 2

By Rick Allen, DC

Last issue we looked into the widespread problem of osteoporosis and "calcium robbers" related to lifestyle, especially diet. Considering how many folks continue dancing into their 60's and beyond, this is an important consideration. I'd hate to see someone unable to enjoy life, including dancing, because of a stooped over posture due to compression fractures of the spine as a result of osteoporosis.

More on the First Key - Calcium

I believe that calcium supplementation is necessary because the average adult takes in only about 400-550 mg of calcium daily from food (#1 & 7), when the recommended intake should be 1000-1500 mg. (I personally recommend hitting the 1500 mg mark.) A natural supplement with a 2:1 ratio of calcium-magnesium and trace minerals (zinc, copper, manganese and boron) is fine. Calcium citrate is thought to be the form most readily absorbed and utilized by the body, but costs more. Osteoporosis expert Robert Heaney, MD of Creighton University, advises women taking daily supplements to go without them for a week every three months. These short breaks create dips in calcium levels which stimulate the body to break down old bone and replace it with new. (#8)

Be careful about using antacids, such as Tums, as calcium supplements. As we age, most people lose the ability to produce adequate stomach acid, which is crucial for calcium absorption. If we further neutralize it with antacids, absorption becomes even more difficult.

Remember that supplementation does not replace the need for a good diet with foods high in calcium such as dark green vegetables like spinach, kale and broccoli; beans and bean products, such as tofu and miso; fish; and low fat dairy products. Dairy products, however, can cause such problems as allergies, sinusitis, acne and menstrual irregularities and may need to be avoided (#8).

The Second Key - Exercise

Weight bearing or resistance exercise that produces an overload, more than routine daily activities, benefits the skeleton and reduces osteoporosis and fracture risk. The foundation for bone health begins early in life. Physical activity that places a load on the bones is essential throughout childhood and the adolescent years. and (2) reduces or slows the rate of age-related loss during middle and older age (#4). In my opinion, dancing is great!

Surprisingly, overdoing exercise can be bad news for women's bones. "It is not unusual for female athletes to have irregular, or no, menstrual periods. When a woman's body begins to run short of energy it tries to adjust by eliminating non-essential functions, and that's why menstrual cycles become irregular or quit completely. But amenorrhea goes along with low estrogen level, and this slows calcium metabolism. That's why active women who do not menstruate regularly are at significantly increased risk of low bone mineral density, leading to osteoporosis and increased risk of stress and regular fractures." (#6) Dancing alone probably won't lead to amenorrhea, but a combination of over-exercise and over-exhaustion might.

The Third Key - Estrogen Replacement Therapy

While estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) is advocated by many medical doctors, the long term effects of synthetic ERT are not known. In the natural health community, ERT remains controversial. Safe herbal alternatives in conjunction with constructive dietary and lifestyle choices may reduce the discomfort and health risks associated with menopause (#7).

Estrogens from plants ("phytoestrogens") have been identified in wild yams, soybeans and other plants which benefit from synergies when left combined in natural form (#9). This debate goes beyond the scope of this column. If this is an area of concern, I suggest you contact a doctor well versed in women's natural health.

The Best Overall Defense - Prevention

In summary, the beneficial choices both men and women can make to prevent osteoporosis include:

  • avoiding the calcium robbers: sugar, soft drinks and caffeine;
  • low intakes of meat and other animal protein, fat, and alcohol;
  • a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables (including beans and soybean products such as tofu);
  • if tolerated, low fat dairy products in moderation;
  • nutritional supplementation with calcium and bone-building co-factors;
  • regular weight-bearing exercise, including dancing;
  • for post-menopausal women, traditional women's herbs rich in phytoestrogens and, possibly with the advice of your doctor, ERT;
  • support from friends -- a little help is always in order.

Let's all keep dancing to a ripe old age!

References for both Parts 1 and 2:

(1) Merle Alexander, "Osteoporosis - The Crippler", Oregonian Food Day, 9/28/93.

(2) Ann Louise Gittleman, "The Issue of Calcium Absorption", Total Health, 6/96.

(3) John Robbins, Diet for a New America, book and video available from EarthSave at 1-800-362-3648. This group has a wealth of practical information on diet, health and the environment. Their "Healthy School Lunch Action Guide" is excellent.

(4) Osteoporosis and Physical Activity, The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, 9/95. This publication contains a short 13-question self-assessment of your risk for osteoporosis.

(5) Ruth Jacobowitz, 150 Most-Asked Questions About Osteoporosis: What Women Really Want to Know.

(6) Running and Fitnews by the American Running and Fitness Association, 11/96, p.3, referrencing the Journal of the American Medical Association, 1996: 276(3), pp. 238-240.

(7) Karuna Nutrition Newsletter, "Menopause: A Natural Approach"

(8) Internet: Wellness Web, The Patient's Network, "Osteoporosis and Calcium" (http://www.wellweb.com).

(9) Internet: Wellness Web, The Patient's Network, "Progesterone -- Natural or Synthetic?" (http://www.wellweb.com).

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