Osteoporosis and the Alkaline Diet

by: Cassandra Stirling

Osteoporosis is often referred to as a "silent disease" because it usually appears without warning. It has no symptoms during the early stages until fractures actually start happening.  Osteoporosis literally means porous bones and estimates from the National Institutes of Health indicate that 10 million Americans suffer from the disease and it can strike anyone at any age.  It is more common in women however more than two million American men also suffer from the disease.  It can be very debilitating causing bone pain, tenderness, significant loss of height and sporadic fractures from doing relatively nothing.

Over the years we have been told to consume lots of calcium rich milk, and other dairy products.   But if preventing osteoporosis was as simple as just consuming more calcium rich dairy foods, why is it that the Countries that consume the highest amount of calcium have the highest rate of hip fractures?   One of the connections that researchers are unveiling is the link between osteoporosis and excess acidity.

According to the book Building Bone Vitality by Amy Joy Lanou, Ph.D and Michael Castleman, osteoporosis prevention begins in the bloodstream and the blood must maintain a pH within a very narrow range.   People who eat a high-protein Western diet (lots of meats, poultry, fish, milk, and dairy foods) have blood that’s too acidic for the body to function properly.  The result is that the excess acid must be neutralized quickly to avoid life-threatening problems.

So if eating more calcium rich dairy is not the answer, then how do we help prevent osteoporosis?  It seems keeping the body in a slightly alkaline state is the key and a big part of that means eating more plant foods as opposed to animal products.  Eating more calcium will not protect you from osteoporosis if your body is already in a very acidic state and you continue to eat high protein, acidic foods.  Dozens of studies show that as protein in the diet increases, so does the amount of calcium in urine.  According to Lanou and Castleman, “a high-protein Western diet draws so much calcium from bone that a diet high in milk, dairy foods, and calcium supplements can't replace it. In other words, a high-protein diet—a typical American diet—sucks calcium from bone and eventually causes osteoporosis.”

The USDA Agricultural Research Service, Boning Up on Osteoporosis sheds further light on this topic by stating, “When we eat beef, pork, lamb, chicken, or other foods from animals, our bodies take in proteins that may be rich in sulfur. That's unlike the proteins in plant foods—fruits, veggies, nuts, grains, or legumes like peas or dry beans.  As we digest animal proteins, the sulfur in them forms acid. A slight, temporary acid overload—called acidosis—may result.  To regain our natural balance of acidity to alkalinity, or pH, in the bloodstream, our bodies must buffer the influx of acid.  One possible buffer is calcium phosphate, which the body can borrow from our bones—the body's main storage depot for this essential mineral.  Though calcium phosphate is an effective buffer and neutralizer, taking it from bones might increase our risk of osteoporosis.

The obvious concern for many people is how can I get my daily requirements for calcium on a plant-based diet?The recommended dietary allowance of 1200 milligrams per day could easily be obtained by eating a plant-based diet. Many Asian cultures use no milk and dairy yet they have little osteoporotic fracture rates compared to the Western world.   Some good plant sources of calcium include dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, turnips, cabbage and collard greens as well as artichokes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, carrots, lima beans, snap peas, sesame seeds, tahini, tofu, seaweeds and almonds.

No one is saying you can never eat animal products or that you have to become a vegan.  The important thing is to eat them less often in much smaller quantities and to increase the plant portion of your diet significantly.  Try not to eat more than one serving a day of high-protein foods such as meat, fish, poultry and dairy and try to eat at least eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day.  Cutting out other acidic culprits in your diet such as processed foods, alcohol, coffee and refined sugar will also remove a lot of the acidic burden from your body allowing you to have animal products in moderation. 

You need to keep your body one step ahead of acidity. Keep it alkaline so when you do consume that acidic food or drink, you body has enough alkaline salts to buffer it.   Alkaline super foods can also help give you an alkaline edge.  Basically anything naturally green such as chlorophyll is alkalizing.  Wheatgrass, barley grass, super green powders, chlorella, spirulina, and blue green algae are excellent super foods to add to your diet.  Just add them to shakes or take in tablet form.  Other wonderful alkaline sources are Dulse and Nori Seaweed

Beyond diet, weight-bearing exercises (using body weight) or resistance training are highly recommended for those prone to fractures as are balancing exercises like yoga or Tai chi.  Meditation is also a wonderful way to relax and unwind since stress also contributes to acidity. Check out the co-op store for some great exercise equipment kits such as the Yoga Ball Body Therapy Kit.   

Remember, osteoporosis can affect anyone at any time so the next time you reach for that glass of cow’s milk, you might want to reconsider and have some alkalizing almond milk instead.  Cutting out processed food, reducing your intake of animal products, increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, and regular exercise may not only keep your bones healthy, but the rest of your body as well.

Web Sources:

Boning Up on Osteoporosis

Building Bone Vitality

Building Bone Vitality Page 3


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