Osteoporosis: Exploring the Alternatives

In the recent past, it wasn’t uncommon for most women to be placed on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for easing the symptoms of menopause, in addition to protecting them from osteoporosis. But that standard of care has since changed with the discovery that HRT may increase the risk of breast cancer and heart disease. Without the use of HRT, it has become increasingly challenging to treat and prevent osteoporosis. Many women have turned to other pharmacological options, like selective estrogen receptor modulators (raloxifene; Evista) and bisphosphonates (alendronate; Fosamax), but these medications aren’t without their side effects, either. Raloxifene can increase the risk of blood clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis) and the lungs (pulmonary embolism), while alendronate can cause severe damage to the esophagus and may increase the risk of thigh bone fracture.

With patients continuing to be discouraged about the treatment options that are being offered, they often turn to naturopathic physicians for alternatives they can rely upon, without the worry of side-effects and complications. Fortunately, there is sufficient evidence to support the benefit of these alternatives, and their use in the prevention of osteoporosis.

One of the more recent studies, conducted at the Osteoporosis Research Center at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, investigated the effects of a combination isoflavone/nutrient supplement on measures of bone density in 70 post-menopausal women. For six months, the women took an isoflavone supplement plus 500 mg of calcium per day, or placebo plus 500 mg of calcium. The isoflavone supplement supplied 30 mg of synthetic genistein (one of the most widely used soy isoflavones), 800 IU of vitamin D3, 150 mcg of vitamin K1, and 1 gram of the essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA.

After six months, women in the isoflavone group maintained the same bone density at the femoral neck (a common place for fractures to occur), whereas bone mineral density at that site decreased significantly in the placebo group. Bone density was also significantly greater in the isoflavone versus the placebo group at another measurement area in the hip (called Ward’s triangle).

Isoflavones have weak estrogen-like effects in the body, which may lend them their bone-building activity. They don’t appear to have the same negative effects on hormone-sensitive tissues in the body, though, making them good candidates for osteoporosis prevention. However, while I do believe the benefits of preventing osteoporosis outweigh the risks of any potential estrogen-related side-effects, I always take an individualized approach, often avoiding the use of isoflavones in any patient who has a history of breast or other hormone-sensitive cancers.

Another recent study, published in Calcified Tissue International, revealed favorable changes in bone metabolism and bone mass indices for subjects who received additional vitamin K through either diet or supplementation, making it another viable option for osteoporosis prevention. The form of vitamin K known as phylloquinone, or K1, is the most abundant form in plants and is believed to play the biggest role in blood clotting; K2 refers to a group of related types of vitamin K known as menaquinones that are thought to be more involved in the other effects of vitamin K.This study showed that a comprehensive osteoporosis-prevention program is more effective if it includes vitamin K. Increasing your intake of green leafy vegetables, eggs, yogurt, and kefir are all natural ways to boost vitamin K levels.

So as you can see, choosing not to use the typical conventional methods for treating osteoporosis does not mean you’re at a dead end. Consult with a practitioner who is knowledgeable about the alternative treatments that are available, and know you have the power to make choices that will keep your bones healthy for years to come!

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