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Instep Dance Magazine Articles

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

December 1996

Dancing into a Ripe Old Age -- Preventing Osteoporosis, Part 1

By Rick Allen, DC

Osteoporosis is a concern for us all as we age, especially women. (Ever wonder how "little old ladies" -- and men, too -- become hunched over?) Combined with a fall, the effect can be a fracture that can be devastating, and, worst of all, stop you from dancing. What's the cause? What can you do about it? How can you maintain better bone strength, stay standing tall and keep dancing into ripe old age?

The Challenge

Osteoporosis "silently eats away at the living honeycomb of plates that give bones their strength, eventually making the skeleton porous and brittle." (reference #1) Women are more at risk because (1) their bones are less dense and smaller than those of men and (2) women stop producing the bone-protecting hormone estrogen during menopause. Women who don't take estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) lose bone mass rapidly in the first three to five years after menopause, and they can lose a total of 10 percent to 30 percent of their bone mass in 10 years. Elderly men, on the other hand, lose steadily at 1 percent per year.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation's statistics say the more than 25 million Americans, including 5 million men, have osteoporosis. Half of all women and one of every five men age 65 or older suffer broken bones -- 1.3 million fractures a year. Many women with fractured hips can't live independently again, let alone dance. Fifteen percent of women with hip fractures suffer complications and die within a year.

The First Key - Calcium

Osteoporosis is the result of a negative balance between bone loss and new bone formation. In the last 10 years, women have gone calcium crazy in an effort to prevent this disease of brittle bones. Calcium supplement sales have surged from $18 million to over $200 million in six years (#2). Foods galore are fortified with calcium, even soda pop!

Calcium supplementation alone is a simplistic solution to a complex situation. Calcium is just one element in a delicate balance of minerals in our body. Preventing osteoporosis is not simply a matter of not getting enough calcium, but of not absorbing calcium and maintaining the balance.

Calcium Robbers

"Our addictive dietary habits and lifestyle choices, including the consumption of sugar, soft drinks and coffee, severely impede our body's ability to properly absorb and utilize calcium (#2)." Let's briefly review the effects of these three calcium robbers. I suggest you take a look at the references listed below for more complete information.

Sugar: Sugar depletes the body of phosphorus, and without adequate phosphorus for transport, bone marrow doesn't get the calcium it needs, so the body pulls calcium from bone.

Soft Drinks: "Sodas are the nation's number one drink; more soda is consumed than even water (#2)." Most sodas no only contain sugar, but also large amounts of phosphorus in the form of phosphoric acid, without the necessary balance of calcium which is critical for our bodies.

Caffeine: Caffeine's diuretic properties doubles the rate of calcium excretion in the urine. Excessive consumption of coffee, tea, regular soft drinks triggers calcium being pulled from the bone and flushed out of your body.

In addition, diets high in meat protein, such as many Americans eat, cause loss of calcium in the urine (#3) and with excess whole grain fiber (as in some vegetarian diets) can interfere with calcium absorption. Some physicians believe these are significant contributing factors for osteoporosis.

Calcium Sources

In round numbers, you need 1000 to 1500 milligrams of calcium each day. Many people get only about 400 milligrams (mg) (#1). A cup of milk or yogurt contains about 300 mg. Non-dairy sources include green leafy vegetables, with typical servings of 100 grams - 3.5 ounces containing the following amounts of calcium: broccoli 103 mg, spinach 93 mg, collard leaves, 250 g, kelp 1093 mg. Two tablespoons of old-fashioned blackstrap molasses has almost the same amount of calcium as a cup of milk. Since many people don't take in enough calcium, I suggest they take a calcium supplement with each meal.


(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.

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