(Hint: It’s not calcium!)
There’s an epidemic of osteoporosis in older women in the U.S. Each year, it leads to 1.5 million dangerous—and even fatal—bone fractures.
But I have always been curious why osteoporosis is virtually unknown in East and Southeast Asian women.
That’s why two recent Asian studies caught my eye.
Problems with low bone-mineral density have been surfacing in South Korean women as they become more westernized in their diet and lifestyle. So Korean researchers decided to investigate what’s really going on.
It turns out, by adopting a more Westernized diet—heavy in processed, packaged products and lacking in fresh, whole foods—these women are becoming increasingly deficient in a nutrient that is essential for strong bones. But it’s not the nutrient you might expect.
These researchers discovered a significant increase in instances of vitamin C deficiency among women with low bone-mineral density.
What they found would not have been surprising to past generations of British sailors and doctors. In fact, British navy surgeon James Lind essentially discovered way back in the 1700s that weak bones are a result of scurvy.
And he also learned that scurvy could be prevented and treated by giving sailors limes and citrus fruits, which are high in vitamin C (thus earning the nickname “limeys” for British sailors, who suddenly had a big advantage over their enemies).
But by the 20th century, Dr. Lind’s bone-health discovery was all but forgotten—at least in the U.S. Now, the mainstream approach to preventing osteoporosis is to push calcium supplements (which are dangerous—more about that later) and bisphosphonate drugs (which are even more dangerous). In fact, as I reported in the January 2015 issue of Insiders’ Cures, research shows that popular bisphosphonate osteoporosis drugs like Fosamax, Boniva, and Actonel can actually cause bones to break spontaneously.
No one’s discounting that calcium is important for strong bones (along with vitamin D and magnesium). But the Asian researchers discovered that vitamin C is equally as important as calcium for bone health…and may be even more key when it comes to osteoporosis.
I’ll delve into the details of these studies in a moment, but first, let’s examine what I like to call the “Calcium Conundrum” for osteoporosis.
How can Asian women avoid dairy, meat…and osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is related to aging and sex hormones, including estrogen, which has a very strong effect on bones. In postmenopausal women, estrogen levels drop precipitously, which can lead to osteoporosis. But nutritional, lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors are also involved.
And yet, as I mentioned earlier, U.S. mainstream medicine puts heavy emphasis on only one of those nutritional factors: calcium.
Of course, everyone needs dietary calcium, which is abundant in dairy foods, meat, and seafood.
But what makes the women of Asia particularly interesting is that they rarely eat dairy foods, perhaps because of the high rate of lactose (milk sugar) intolerance in the population. Nor do they eat much meat. Instead, their main sources of protein are soy, pork, poultry, and seafood—which do not lend themselves to milk or dairy food production.
(Researchers have found that traditional dairy cows, sheep, and goats originated in the Middle East about 10,000 years ago.1 And, of course, these animals were widespread in the area 2,000 years ago—which is why they’re depicted in traditional Nativity scenes in communities that have not yet been overcome by political correctness. These livestock eventually made their way into China, Manchuria, and India, where cattle are treated, literally, as “sacred cows.” Lamb was introduced into Mandarin cuisine, but dairy never took hold anywhere in China.)
So if more dietary calcium, calcium supplements, and drugs are supposedly the answers to osteoporosis, how does that account for the relative rarity of osteoporosis in the more than 2 billion people in East and Southeast Asia?
That’s where the studies come in.
High doses of C can cut your osteoporosis risk by more than half
The Korean researchers looked at vitamin C intake, physical activity, and bone-mineral density in 3,047 Koreans age 50 and older.2
The participants were divided into four groups ranked by their level of vitamin C intake. Compared to the lowest vitamin C group, those with somewhat higher C intake had a one-third lower risk of osteoporosis after adjusting for age and gender. Those with moderately higher C levels had their risk cut nearly in half, and the group with the highest C levels saw their risk decrease by more than half.
Interestingly, the researchers found that in people with high physical activity levels, there was no association between vitamin C intake and osteoporosis risk.
Of course, weight-bearing exercise is important to maintain healthy bones. So if you don’t get much physical activity, it’s even more important to get adequate amounts of vitamin C to help prevent osteoporosis.
The Korean findings were reinforced by an earlier Chinese study. The researchers found that postmenopausal mice that were given vitamin C supplements had less bone loss than mice not given the vitamin.3
Think of osteoporosis as scurvy of the bones…and stock up on vitamin C
Of course, these studies would not be so captivating if we hadn’t forgotten the vitamin C-bone connection unearthed many years ago by Dr. James Lind. Which raises the question: Why did 18th century British sailors get better care for their bones than 21st century American women are getting today?
Because mainstream medicine currently refuses to recognize that osteoporosis is scurvy of the bones—and not calcium deficiency. And that means that unfortunately for American women, the mainstream osteoporosis medical treatments remain “lost at sea.”
Don’t be left to drown by your doctor. Help strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis with the following checklist:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes calcium-rich dairy, meat, and seafood, along with plenty of fruit, cruciferous vegetables, and leafy greens—which are all rich in vitamin C.
- Take 250 mg of vitamin C twice daily with meals.
- Take 10,000 IU of vitamin D daily, especially during this time of year, when it’s difficult for most people to get enough sun to make adequate amounts of D in their bodies.
- Take 200-400 mg a day of magnesium, which is also important for strong bones. Look for formulations that contain bone-healthy boron as well.
- And finally, avoid calcium supplements.
I can’t say this often enough. Calcium supplements can create high levels of calcium in your blood, which can settle in the blood vessels, the heart valves, and even the heart muscle. And that can lead to heart disease.
If you get enough vitamins C and D, your body will send the calcium you ingest from food to your bones. And that will improve your bone health and lower your risk of osteoporosis—without dangerous drugs or calcium supplements.
1“Worldwide Patterns of Ancestry, Divergence, and Admixture in Domesticated Cattle.” PLoS Genetics, 2014; 10 (3): e1004254.
2“Osteoporosis, vitamin C intake, and physical activity in Korean adults aged 50 years and over.” J Phys Ther Sci. 2016 Mar;28(3):725-30.
3“Vitamin C prevents hypogonadal bone loss.” PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47058.