It is hard for me to discuss osteoporosis without the image of Sally Field advocating the use of Boniva (the bisphosphonate Ibandronate, see figure) popping into my head. Advertising is very powerful. Bisphosphonates stop bone loss by killing osteoclasts, the cells that demineralize bone during bone remodeling.
Normally demineralization of bone by osteoclasts is followed by secretion of osteoid containing osteocalcin by osteoblasts. Osteocalcin initiates mineralization. Thus, a large fraction of bone is being rejuvenated by balanced osteoclast/osteoblast action at any given time. Cessation of this remodeling process in bone as in cartilage and other connective tissue, e.g. skin, gives the symptoms of aging.
Osteoporosis, loss of bone density, means that there is a net conversion of bone hydroxyapatite (calcium phosphate crystals) into blood calcium, followed by calcium loss in urine. This means that the continuing development and activity of osteoblasts and osteoclasts is out of control. Osteoblasts develop from stem cells that are also the origin of fat adipocytes. The transcription factor that controls the alternative destiny of these stem cells is PPARgamma. Omega-6 fatty acids are converted into molecules that stimulate PPARgamma and result in adipocyte production in bone marrow instead of osteoblasts. In general terms, vegetable oil (except olive oil) makes fat cells instead of bone cells. This is particularly true in postmenopausal women. It is no wonder that the emphasis on the use of vegetable oils to avoid saturated fats has resulted in a pandemic of osteoporosis.
Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) are anti-inflammatory and they do not stimulate the production of PPARgamma. As a consequence omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, enhance bone production and density, and are very important to maintain normal osteoblast production.
Osteoporosis treatments that block osteoclast development or activity can be expected to have long term side effects, because normal renewal of bone is being disrupted. Inhibiting bone demineralization can lead to a slowing of osteoporosis, but it does not get to the cause of the osteoporosis.
Because of the prevalence of diet-based chronic inflammation, one might expect that diet and lifestyle are also the foundation of most osteoporosis. With both inflammation and osteoporosis vegetable oils appear to be the major culprit. Aging is also associated with osteoporosis. Most of the symptoms of aging can be attributed to mismanagement of chronic inflammation. Now it turns out that osteoporosis is a dietary problem (vegetable oil) compounded by physical problems of inflammation that limit activity. Loss of muscle mass, i.e. sarcopenia, and replacement with fat around organs and in bone marrow can be explained by diet-based chronic inflammation and inadequate weight-bearing exercise.
A major risk factor for osteoporosis is omega-6-rich vegetable oils, e.g. corn, soy, etc. In simple terms, the first step that I would recommend for anyone concerned about osteoporosis is to shift to an anti-inflammatory diet. Eliminate all vegetable oils, except olive oil, from the diet and supplement with omega-3 fish oils (short-chain omega-3 oils in most vegetable sources are much less effective.)
The biomedical literature is very clear. Osteoporosis is not normal, is not a part of aging and can be avoided. There are some genetic predispositions to osteoporosis, but most can be overcome by meaningful diet and lifestyle changes. An anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle (sunlight for vitamin D and exercise) is the cheapest, safest and most effective way to prevent and treat osteoporosis.