Natural Ways to Prevent and Treat Bone Loss

By W. Gifford-Jones, M.D
Created: September 14, 2012 Last Updated: September 22, 2012
Related articles: Health » Western Medicine
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Actress Sally Field speaks at a Capitol Hill briefing about her fight against osteoporosis. (Mike Theiler/National Osteoporosis Foundation via Getty Images)

Actress Sally Field speaks at a Capitol Hill briefing about her fight against osteoporosis. (Mike Theiler/National Osteoporosis Foundation via Getty Images)

A reader asks, “Is it necessary to take drugs to prevent broken bones, or are there natural ways to treat this problem? A test shows I have osteopenia and I’m afraid this will lead to osteoporosis [brittle bones].”

Today, with doctors ordering more tests to determine bone mineral density (BMD), it’s prudent to know what it means when a doctor says you have osteopenia.

A sage remarked, “Getting older is invariably fatal.” But before this happens, you also get gray hair, wrinkles, fatigue, varicose veins, difficulty reading fine print, and just as night follows day, some bone loss.

But there’s no need to go into a major funk if a BMD test shows this diagnosis. This X-ray procedure measures the amount of calcium and other mineral in bones. The result is known as the “T-score,” which compares the patient’s score with that of a healthy 30-year-old. The lower the T-score, the less dense the bones.

The big question is whether this aging bone needs prescription medication such as Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva, and Reclast, drugs known as bisphosphonates. Or is it more prudent to try natural measures first to strengthen bone?

Today doctors are so focused on BMD numbers that even if they’re only a bit low, many patients are given prescription drugs. But these drugs come with a price. One rarely gets anything for nothing.

For instance, bisphosphonates have been associated with irritation and ulceration of the lower end of the esophagus, muscle pain, eye inflammation, irregular heart rhythm, and on rare occasions, osteonecrosis of the jaw, a serious, debilitating, and irreversible problem.

Dr. John Abramson, author of the book “Overdosed America,” reports that these drugs increase the density of the hard outer cortical bone, but do little to strengthen the internal trabecular bone of the spine, hips, and wrist. So I believe it makes good sense to first try natural remedies to treat osteopenia.

The English historian G.M. Trevelyan said, “I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” Walking is one of the best and safest forms of exercise, putting pressure on bones and increasing their strength. Proof that it works is the fact that anyone who loses an arm develops larger, stronger bones in the other arm.

It’s important to obtain a sufficient amount of calcium in the diet. Vitamin D is also required for the efficient absorption of calcium and its penetration into bones. Most people receive 600 international units (IU) of D daily when they need 3,000 IU daily.

Vitamin K2 has been linked to osteoblasts, which produce a protein called osteocalcin, a protein like glue that incorporates calcium into bone, decreasing the risk of osteopenia.

Since osteoporosis affects so many people, I don’t propose that they toss prescription drugs that treat this disease into the garbage can. Rather, I emphasize that doctors may be reaching for medication too often when natural means might suffice just as well and without side effects.

Dr. Gifford-Jones is a medical journalist with a private medical practice in Toronto. His website is He may be contacted at

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