What is osteoporosis?

Ask a woman about osteoporosis and she’ll probably tell you it’s something that happens when you get older and your bones become brittle.  But that’s not something she needs to think about now is it?  In truth whether you walked to school or not has an impact on your chances of getting the disease.

There’s predicted to be a massive rise in the number of women with osteoporosies in future due to a number of lifestyle issues: including lack of exercise, too much dieting, poor nutrition, , smoking, contraceptive injections and fizzy drinks which strip the body of calcium.

Osteoporosis is when bones become porous and full of holes. Bones are changing and renewing throughout our lives but the problem arises when the rate of renewal doesn’t keep up with the rate of breakdown.  There is, however,  little warning of this until one of her bones is fractured        and she doesn’t even know how it happened.

The statistics*

  • One in two women and one in five men over 50 break a bone, mainly due to poor bone health.
  • Almost three million people in the UK have osteoporosis.
  • The numbers have risen by 17 per cent in 10 years in England.
  • Every year there are 230,000 osteopathic fractures in the UK.
  • More than 14,000 women die every year after breaking a bone as a result of osteoporosis (more than die of breast cancer).
  • One in five people who suffer a hip fracture die within three months.
  • 1,150 people die every month as a result of hip fractures.

Figures from The National Osteoporosis Society: www.nos.org.uk

Who gets it?

One in three women over 50 have osteoporosis as opposed to one in nine men. The risk factors include:

• A family history of osteoporosis
• Suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia
• Having irregular periods
• Some pharmaceutical drugs including steroids
• Lack of weight-bearing exercise and conversely too much exercise!
• Early menopause or hysterectomy
• Heavy alcohol, fizzy drinks and caffeine intake
• Smoking cigarettes

According to Dr Marilyn Glenville, women’s nutritional health expert and author of Osteoporosis – The Silent Epidemic,  ‘Oestrogen protects against the disease as does testosterone but around the time of the menopause women experience a dip in the hormone’s production.  The dip in testosterone for middle aged men is not as extreme but if a man takes steroids his chances of getting osteoporosis are just as high as a woman’s.’

Deficiency in calcium and Vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis. Vitamin D should be combined with calcium, and magnesium should be taken with calcium, so the following products are suitable.

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What to do if you have it

Most people who have osteoporosis need to take prescription drugs but they can also adopt lifestyle measures aimed at prevention to make sure that bone mass does not deteriorate further. Anyone who has a scan and finds that they are borderline can encourage bone growth by doing weight-bearing exercise, eating healthily and avoiding cigarettes, alcohol, fizzy drinks, caffeine and sugar.

Bone density scan

It’s not easy to get a bone density scan on the NHS unless you’ve already had fractures, but they are available at various private clinics, and Boots is running a pilot  service in Birmingham and Bournemouth stores – £95 for a 30 minute scan.

The advantage of having a scan is that you know whether your bone mass is healthy or if you are on the way to developing a problem.  Prevention is better than cure, so it’s important to exercise and eat healthily anyway to prevent osteoporosis and all other kinds of illness.

Young people at risk

‘We took a group of 69 people and gave them a bone density scan,’ said Maryon Stewart of the Natural Health Advisory Service and author of The Phyto Factor.  ‘It turned out that the women in their 20s and 30s were the ones with low readings. This is because they are drinking alcohol much earlier, have lots of fizzy drinks, eat junk food and have a diet low in calcium.

‘There is a consensus that bone marrow is reaching its peak when a woman is in her early 20s and then it goes downhill. Many women do not know how to meet their body’s needs, they don’t get enough nutrients and they become low in calcium, magnesium and essential fatty acids.’


Healthy Eating

High acid foods can remove calcium from the bone so it is important to eat more alkaline foods as well such as  fruit and vegetables. The most acidic foods are red meat, cheese, caffeine and sugar.

• It’s important to cut down on caffeine which decreases the absorption of calcium and increases its excretion through the urine, as do salt and sugar.
• Alcohol decreases the activity of bone-building cells.
• Fizzy drinks are so high in phosphorus which encourages the body to believe it needs more calcium which it takes from bones – they also contain caffeine and sugar.

Eating to beat osteoporosis:

• Fruit and vegetables – preferably organic, but not spinach or rhubarb that block calcium absorption
• Isoflavones – lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, garlic, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, linseeds,  and GM free soya
• Wholegrains – rice, oats, barley, wheat
• Sprouting vegetables like alfafa

Asian women do not tend to suffer from hot flushes in menopause nor do they have a high incidence of osteoporosis, and they eat loads of soya!

The British Association of Nutritional Therapists (BANT): www.bant.org.uk, 08706 061284
The Institute for Optimum Nutrition, www.ion.ac.uk, 020 8877 9993

What is weight bearing exercise?

Fairly obviously any exercise where you put weight on your limbs is weight-bearing – so swimming does not count.  However, the ones that do include:

• Walking
• Running
• Bouncing on a mini trampoline
• Skipping
• Playing tennis
• Dancing
Dr Marilyn Glenville explains, ‘Your skeleton is constantly fighting against gravity, and it is that fight that helps to maintain bone density. You need to load the skeleton and put it under stress for it to respond.’

Four or five sessions of weight bearing exercise a week will help to build up b one mass but it’s important to choose something you enjoy.


Known to benefit health in a variety of ways yoga is excellent for developing balance – if someone can stand on one leg they are far less likely to fall over!  It improves flexibility, keeps the body supple and encourages people to breathe properly. Most people breathe in a shallow way and do not get enough oxygen to the cells of the whole body.

T’ai chi and chi kung

Some NHS practices have put T’ai Chi and Chi Kung on prescription for pensioners because of its many benefits.  Both encourage balance, build up energy, improve posture and suppleness, helping with co-ordination and focusing the mind thereby improving memory and clarity!  You don’t need to be old to benefit!


Less gentle than T’ai Chi and Yoga it helps to tone and build up muscle and release strain on the back. The exercises can be quite tough but they are done from a standing, lying or sitting position and can certainly enhance confidence about balance and posture. 

Complementary therapies:

Alexander Technique

The Alexander Technique is all about learning where you are holding tension and how to release it. It improves posture, balance and breathing and as it is not exercise it can be undertaken by anyone, regardless of their mobility.

Ian O’Donnell, Alexander Technique teacher, claims, The Technique is helpful for encouraging people to sit, stand and perform activities in a more balanced and co-ordinated way putting less stress on the spine and the rest of the body.’


In a perfect world we would get all the nutrients we need from our food but many women get out of shape by the time they reach the menopause due to years of periods and pregnancy. 

It’s important to ensure a good intake of calcium, magnesium and essential fatty acids such as fish oils or flaxseed oil (linseed) on top of taking a multivitamin.  According to Maryon Stewart, ‘If you take Vitamin D, calcium and fish oils it will help your body’s uptake of calcium.’  She suggests recipes for delicious smoothies packed with nutrients in her book The Phyto Factor.


It combines lifestyle advice with herbal medicine and nutrition.  Rosalind Blackwell, herbalist and naturopath suggests Vitex Agnus Castus as a plant that regulates hormones and helps the body to produce progesterone which is needed to prevent osteoporosis.  ‘Nettle tea is rich in minerals because of its deep roots. Women who are at risk need to supplement with magnesium as so many are deficient in it, and boron which has an effect on the metabolisation of oestrogen.’

Homeopathy:  completely safe and holistic so will take into account all symptoms as well as the person’s own constitution and personality:
Acupuncture:  can relieve muscle tension and specific aches and pains by bringing energy to the area:
Cranial osteopathy:  practitioners can detect imbalances in the cranio-sacral fluid and correct them through very gentle manipulation improving general health of the body:
Reflexology:  the zones of the feet relate to parts of the body and the treatment offers an all round health benefit. Contact: The Association of Reflexologists, www.aor.org.uk
Counselling:  depression and anxiety have a knock-on effect on the body and it’s hard to stick to a healthy lifestyle when you’re feeling down. 
Dr Marilyn Glenville practises in London and Tunbridge Wells: 08705 329244, www.marilynglenville.com. Postal consultations available.  Her book Osteoporosis The Silent Epidemic is available at Amazon and Nutricentre – click on the ads on this page.

Maryon Stewart practises at The Natural Health Advisory Service, 01273 487366, www.naturalhealthas.com

Rosalind Blackwell practises at Crickham, Somerset, www.thebarnpractice.co.uk 01934 712848,

The Phyto Factor by Maryon Stewart costs £10.99, call 020 7631 4235

Ian O’Donnell MSTAT practises in Surrey,  www.releaseforlife.co.uk

STAT: (Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique): www.stat.org.uk 0776 4907 162

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