Osteoporosis Is Scurvy of the Bone, Not Calcium Deficiency
EditorialOctober 12, 2016
go-to nutrient for the prevention and treatment of
osteoporosis has historically been calcium.
Bone health requires
calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus to maintain strength and
promote new cell growth. As people age, one of the
unfortunate results is often loss of bone density—especially
The Real Cause Of
The cause of
osteoporosis, however, might not be a calcium deficiency but
something you might not have considered: scurvy.
The human body
doesn’t create vitamin C, which is why it’s referred to as
an “essential” vitamin. This one nutrient is vitally
important for proper functioning of the immune system
and—you guessed it—maintenance of healthy bones.
With a diagnosis of
osteoporosis comes calcium supplementation and often a
prescription of a bisphosphonate like Actonel, Fosamax, or
Reclast. As with all pharmaceuticals, this type of drug can
have serious adverse side effects: kidney dysfunction, eye
inflammation, esophageal cancer, and chronic pain (1).
effective in preventing further loss of bone mass by
inhibiting the re-absorption of bone cells by binding to
calcium. They therefore affect the usability and
availability of calcium by bones, serving only a temporary
solution against bone fracture. Long-term use of these
medications is under review and the accumulated evidence
suggests use should be limited, if prescribed at all.
The prescription of
calcium supplements for people with osteoporosis can do more
harm than good, especially when taken with a bisphosphonate.
Too much calcium in the body will clump together, lining
arteries and organs. We know the result when that happens:
heart attack, stroke, and kidney and gallstones.
Another culprit for
often treated with a thiazide diuretic to reduce fluids in
the body and dilate blood vessels. A side effect of this
type of drug is the retention of calcium and loss of
magnesium and potassium. Without nutritional balance, bones
suffer and calcification elsewhere can occur.
for Strong Bones
Vitamin C prevents
and treats osteoporosis by promoting collagen production,
healing fractures, and making bones denser through the
creation of new bone cells called osteoblasts (2). With
inadequate levels of vitamin C, bone cells degrade. There
have been studies that show a correlation of low levels of
vitamin C in people who suffer bone fractures (3). Vitamin C
is a formidable antioxidant; it’s oxidation that causes
cells to age. Find a list of foods rich in vitamin C here.
Vitamin K is also
critical for bone health. Found in leafy greens and
cruciferous vegetables, fermented dairy, egg yolks, and
meat, this vitamin is responsible for building bone
proteins. Vitamin D3 is necessary for cells to absorb
calcium, which is why it’s added
to processed foods. When there is enough calcium in the
bones, vitamin D helps bone cells to absorb the other
necessary minerals (magnesium and phosphorus) to maintain
exercises are good not only for your muscles but the bones
under them. Regular lifting of weights and/or resistance
training will exercise your bones and inhibit density loss.
It’s easier to
swallow a pill than to plan your meals around a variety of
foods to gain proper nutrition. If the cause of osteoporosis
is a vitamin deficiency, then taking a supplement may seem
the best thing to do if you are at risk.
But be wary of
don’t metabolize like nutrients from food (5)
Other ingredients in
supplements can cause adverse reactions
contain non-medicinal ingredients like aspartame,
genetically-modified organisms, sorbitol, sugars, and other
hazardous substances—read the label (6)
depend on other nutrients to work inside the body
properly—you don’t want to create an imbalance by
supplementing one particular nutrient without knowing the
Some supplements are
contraindicated with certain medications; if you are taking
anything, consult your healthcare provider or nutritionist
aren’t regulated in the United States. Do your research so
you know exactly what you’re taking.
Emergen-C is a
popular vitamin C supplement. Don’t use it. Ascorbic acid is
one component of what is referred to as “vitamin C” and is
the active ingredient in this supplement. Other harmful
ingredients in Emergen-C include fructose [sugar],
maltodextrin [sugar], silicon dioxide, and “natural
flavors”.) Without the other phytochemicals that occur
naturally to form the complex of the nutrient, there is the
potential to overdose on ascorbic acid and cause damage.
While it’s true that you can’t overdose on vitamin C (your
body will eliminate any excess), ascorbic acid isn’t the
same thing. If you like the convenience of a powder, you can
peel some oranges, allow them to dry, and grind them up.
If you opt for a
supplement, choose one that is made from whole foods.
As we age, our
nutritional needs become even more important, as caloric
intake may decrease and the body takes longer to heal. If
you have osteoporosis or are at risk to develop it, a simple
vitamin deficiency may be the cause.
Check your diet and
incorporate more foods with the nutrients you require. You
can find a list of vitamin C foods here, along with a
discussion on this essential nutrient.