This article has taken me months to write because the topic makes me angry. And anger is not useful except as a way to blow off steam, shift the energy, and notice that change is needed. So I’ve done my best to shift the energy. It’s up to all of us to make the changes that will lead to fewer diagnoses of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
The first thing that upsets me is that osteopenia is a disease created by drug companies. If you don’t have osteoporosis, but might be heading in that direction, then they label it osteopenia and prescribe a “preventative” drug. Any preventative that requires regular blood tests to check for liver damage comes at a pretty high cost in my book. Especially since the best ways to stop bone thinning do not require the use of drugs.
The one consistency I’ve found with osteopenia and osteoporosis is that women diagnosed with it freak out.
And who can blame them? We live in a fear-based society and practice fear-based medicine. And I don’t think it’s healthy.
I understand why women worry about their bones. Thinner bones break more easily in falls. We’ve all heard of elderly women falling, breaking a hip, ending up in a nursing home, and rapidly deteriorating. It’s not a scenario I would wish on anyone.
However, drugs are not the solution. The drugs I’ve seen prescribed for bone density (including Fosamax) stop your body from breaking down old bone cells. Bones are made of cells that are continually broken down and replaced with newer healthier cells (as are all organs in your body). Drugs like Fosamax interfere with that process, so your bones become full of dead cells. On a bone scan this looks like more density. For your body, however, it’s a serious disturbance. And let’s not go into the side effects of these drugs. No, instead let us look at ways to keep our bones strong and healthy our whole life, without drugs.
It is normal as the body starts to make less estrogen after menopause for the bones to become less dense. How much less dense depends on a number of factors including nutrition, exercise and stress.
First, weight-bearing exercise pushes calcium into your bones. It can be weights, yoga, gardening, pilates, stair climbing. Even walking is weight bearing. Do half an hour a day, every day.
There was an article in the LA Times recently about grannies in Africa taking up the game of soccer as exercise. This is no small feat in a country where grannies are supposed to stay quietly at home, not rush about kicking a ball. The women interviewed said their health was improving, they had fewer aches and pains, and they were having fun. What are you doing for fun and exercise? If soccer’s not your thing, how about dancing, swimming, tai chi, or just walking around your neighborhood with a friend? Whatever you do, keep moving!
Second, eat foods naturally high in calcium like dried beans and leafy greens. Calcium-fortified foods do not necessarily contain forms of calcium your body can absorb. Greens are the most readily absorbed form of calcium you can eat, and also contain other vitamins and minerals to help your body use the calcium. See my blog, Joy’s Organic Kitchen, for recipes and nutritional information on greens and beans. Eat beans daily—chickpeas, black beans, hummus. Use Beano if you need help digesting them. Nuts and seeds are also good absorbable sources of calcium if you chew them well.
Third, avoid sodas. Soft drinks (whether diet or regular) are high in phosphorous which pulls calcium out of your bones. (Catch a soda company telling you that!)
Finally (and you’re going to laugh at this one), avoid stress.
We focus so much on calcium being necessary for bone strength, but your body’s first use for calcium is the nervous system. A close second is the heart. At the bottom of the list are your bones. They are where the extra calcium is stored.
So to get calcium into your bones, you need to first take care of your nervous system.
All that worrying you’re doing about osteopenia is taking calcium out of your bones.
The way to strong bones is to relax.
The cruel irony is that at the time that women need to stop worrying in order to protect their bones is the time when society starts to ignore them and it can get harder for them to make ends meet.
I wish I could change society so it honored older women. I wish we cared enough to create a social safety net so older women could live comfortably in their homes until they die. I wish female elders were regarded with respect and compassion, and given a role in society and family as they have been in cultures older than ours. I think we can all work to change the current social stereotypes around the aging female.
But that’s long-term change. In the meantime, I encourage you to support and honor yourself.
Reclaim your power from the drug companies, who are only out to drain your wallet.
Instead, use your power to create health within you. Take the physical steps listed above, and most importantly take control of your mind—your most potent ally against stress.
Start by committing not to worry. About your bones. About yourself. About your family. Worry does not serve anyone, but it does pull calcium from your bones into your nervous system.
Instead of worrying, focus on the positive. Think of what you can do to help you, to make you happy, to make you feel good. If you find yourself worrying about the future, guide your mind to thinking about ways the future can be positive. If you’re worrying about a family member, think instead about that person’s strengths
Practice feeling supported. Chances are you’ve spent your whole life taking care of others and neglecting yourself. You might have forgotten what it feels like to allow yourself to feel fully supported. Here is an exercise to help you with that: Lie down on your bed. Feel your body touching the bed. Allow yourself to sink into it. Feel how the bed fully supports your body. You can completely let go, knowing that the bed will support you. Let all your muscles, bones, joints and ligaments relax into that support. Tell yourself “I am completely supported, and it feels good.” Not only does this exercise feel good, but it calms your nervous system, and lets all the cells of your body embrace the energy of support and feeling good.
Meditation is a great practice for gaining control of the mind. Look around for books or classes that appeal to you.
The Radiance Technique® is an excellent stress buster. Come in for a session with me, or learn to do it yourself (of course, then you actually have to do it—all techniques only work if you use them).
You could also practice creative visualization. See the good in your life right now, and visualize how it can get better. The book Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain is my favorite.
Two great books on menopause and postmenopause (the times to be most concerned with bone loss) are The Wisdom of Menopause by Christiane Northrup, M.D. and Menopausal Years by herbalist and wise woman Susun Weed. Energy Medicine for Women by Donna Eden contains many simple exercises for women of all ages to help balance their hormones—something which helps with bone retention.
Laugh often. Enjoy good friends. (Want more good friends? Use the daily affirmation “I am wanting to attract into my life friends with whom I can laugh and feel connected in a healthy mutually-supporting way.” Notice the good things in people around you and focus on attracting more of that into your experience.)
Finally, remember and recover your inner strength. Draw on it. Live it. You are woman, you are strong. I look forward to hearing you roar.