Tag Archive | bone mineral density

Low Density History

My grandmother probably never heard of osteoporosis. For most of her life the disease was rare and largely unknown.  But in 1982, right around her 90th birthday (and by then she was too old to care) the word osteoporosis was suddenly thrust into the common vocabulary. A massive public information campaign began, warning post-menopausal women by every means possible of imminent danger and disfigurement from weakened bones. The pharmaceutical companies, pushing their lucrative hormone replacement therapy (HRT), sponsored the campaign that sent a generation of fearful women scurrying to their doctors for prescriptions. No one seemed concerned about the absence of studies that proved HRT could prevent or reverse osteoporosis. Soon, though, a problem did emerge: there was no easy way to test the strength of bones in living people. So the Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) machine was developed in 1988, and finally our bones could all be compared on the basis of density.

Subsequently, the World Health Organization established a large database of DEXA readings, and in 1994 they announced international standards for osteoporosis. They also changed its definition. It went from being a disease characterized by fragility fractures to a condition marked by low bone mineral density, no fracture needed. Suddenly half of all post-menopausal women – and quite a few other people – were painted with the ominous diagnosis.

But the 1994 definition has some obvious shortcomings. It doesn’t take into account the fact that bone mineral density alone can not adequately predict the quality of our bones or their tensile strength which are most significant predictors of fractures. Also, the standards compare my bones with those of young women on a normal curve, not considering what might be normal and healthy and perfectly suitable for me. Furthermore, the DEXA machine that set the standards has some serious limitations, typically rating larger bones higher than smaller bones of the identical density. (There are more details here.) In other words, being diagnosed based solely on a DEXA score should not be nearly as scary as our doctors tell us.
Of course, fragility fractures truly are a serious problem, and I don’t want any. So I’m taking charge of all the factors that are within my control. I’m optimizing my nutrition and exercise, and minimizing the risk of falling. To reduce stress I’m turning back the clock on history, and living like my grandmother did, letting my bones do their work.

Take your silicon, or give up now.

That’s my conclusion after reading about this essential element. The collagen matrix of our bones – the framework to which calcium and other minerals attach – is largely made up of silicon. Its strength and flexibility depend on silicon. Silicon is also the catalyst for the production of collagen, which is then used throughout the body.

A recent study of 35,000 middle aged and older women concluded that supplementing with calcium alone provided no protection from bone fractures. Of course if you’ve read all of my blog posts this is no surprise to you. Plainly, it’s unrealistic and outright erroneous to think bones need just one component to thrive. And silicon is another vital contributor.

Here’s the puzzle: one quarter of the earth’s crust is made of silicon, so how can our bones possibly be deficient? It seems that while silica (a form of silicon) is widespread in the soil, the plants that take it up don’t form a large enough part of the standard diet. This is because it concentrates in the outside husks of grains, and the husks are removed from most of our foods. If all the grains you eat are unrefined, you may get enough silicon, but a lot of white flour and white rice slip into the diets of most people in my culture; those foods are devoid of silicon. And in my case I don’t consume any wheat because of my gluten intolerance, so my diet surely falls short.

Dr. Gifford Jones describes a study that showed significant improvement to bone mineral density in subjects who took a silicon supplement called BioSil. Their results were convincing enough for me, so I’m taking BioSil. You’ll have to wait until September to find out what my bones think of it, but for now, here is my tip: If you’re inclined to take this supplement DON’T buy the drops! They have an absolutely ghastly flavour. (My husband, who likes strong flavours including natto and durian, got curious about BioSil after watching my facial contortions. So he had to taste it for himself, and agreed it’s outstandingly bad.) Mercifully, BioSil also comes in capsules, so if I ever finish my first bottle I’ll switch to that format. Of course there are also other brands of similar products; I just bought the first one I read about.

There’s more good news about silicon: it improves our nails, hair, and skin. After just three months on it I notice that my nails are stronger. I can’t say my wrinkles have gone away, but here’s hoping. And another piece of good news – although we’ll have to wait longer to see how this works out – silicon supplementation lowers the risk of dementia.