Today, on Veteran’s Day, we honor the men and women who have served our country in the armed forces. And many actually continue serving our country, even long after they leave active duty, by participating in important medical research studies.
In fact, one of the best studies I’ve seen recently about the hidden causes of falls involved more 13,000 veterans. But before we get into the details of that interesting study, let’s back up to talk about another cause of falls that’s more commonly studied…
Many falls among older people caused by osteoporosis
We’ve known for a long time that osteoporosis is a major cause of falls among older people. This situation occurs when a weakened bone suddenly breaks, often during normal activity around the house. Then, as a result of the broken bone, the person falls.
I studied the science of osteoporosis quite a bit in the 1980s, when the problem in the U.S. had really just started to reach epidemic proportions, especially among women. In fact, fractures had become the third-leading cause of disability and death in women.
Of course, calcium and dairy foods were at the center of concerns about weak bones in U.S. women. But it turns out, there’s much more to the story…
At the time, I was studying the link between diet and disease in China. And I found it particularly notable that osteoporosis essentially didn’t exist there. Yet people in China consumed very little dairy—which is still the case today. (People in China commonly suffer from an intolerance to lactose, making it very difficult to digest milk and most dairy products.)
In fact, I remember a Chinese research scientist joined us for dinner one night in Bethesda, Maryland, while attending meetings at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). We were served butter at the table…and he asked what it was. His colleague could only translate it as an “animal secretion,” as there is no equivalent for “butter” in Chinese.
I began to wonder why people here in the U.S. have higher rates of osteoporosis, despite eating so much more milk and dairy. Clearly, I thought, there has to be more to osteoporosis than just a calcium deficiency…
That’s when I knew I was onto something. But the “enlightened” political science leadership at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) pulled the rug out from under my research. And I eventually left the organization.
Fortunately, I was recruited to another post as an Associate Medical Director at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where I rapidly resumed my research in China. It didn’t include research into women’s health, as the army wasn’t really able to focus on that topic (until about 10 years later).
But I had done enough research to know with certainty that osteoporosis and weak bones are not just a calcium deficiency in women and men. And subsequent research by others has shown I was right on track…
Osteoporosis caused by complex nutritional deficiencies
We now know osteoporosis also relates to inadequate levels of vitamin D, vitamin C, and other minerals like magnesium. We also know that calcium supplements are not the answer to weak bones. In fact, studies show calcium supplements actually raise your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and dementia. (Though some doctors still haven’t gotten the memo, apparently.)
That’s why I always advise you to get your calcium exclusively from adopting a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of full-fat, organic dairy, fish, and meat. These foods provide calcium as well as protein, vitamins, and other minerals—which are critical for bone and muscle health.
So now, let’s look at the study about falls among veterans…
Polypharmacy a huge, new risk factor for falls
For this study, researchers looked at data on 13,000 falls among veterans and compared it to data on veterans who did not suffer falls.
It turns out, use of multiple prescription medications—also known as polypharmacy—was a high risk factor for falls. It even increased fall risk among middle-aged veterans!
Of course, some drugs caused more problems than others, including:
- Benzodiazepines, which are prescribed to treat anxiety and insomnia
- Muscle relaxants
- Prescription opioids
Unfortunately, researchers didn’t mention the fact that other prescription drugs, such as those used to treat high blood sugar and blood pressure, also commonly cause falls—especially among older people.
These falls commonly happen because doctors fail to lower drug dosages as their patients improve or grow older, which can lead to episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hypotension (low blood pressure)…as well as light-headedness and falls.
This scenario is actually quite common among older people, as the liver and kidneys don’t process and “detox” the drugs as quickly as they once did. In addition, some science suggests we simply don’t need to control blood sugar and blood pressure as tightly as patients get older. (Of course, as I told you last month in my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures [“Here’s why I no longer recommend any blood pressure medication”], I no longer use prescription medication to control my blood pressure.)
In the end, my advice to prevent falls is pretty simple…
1. Stay off prescription drugs
Get off the drugs associated with falls, including those mentioned in this study. And if you currently take a prescription drug for high blood sugar or high blood pressure, make sure to have your doctor review your dosage regularly (at least once or twice a year). Especially if you’re over 60.
2. Follow a healthy, balanced diet
As always, follow a Mediterranean-type diet with plenty of beans, full-fat dairy (including milk, eggs, yogurt, and cheeses), fruits, heart-healthy fats from wild-caught fish and olive oil, grass-fed and free-range meat, nuts, and vegetables. This sensible, enjoyable diet will naturally provide your body with plenty of calcium (which you should only get from diet alone) and other important vitamins and minerals. It will also give you plenty of protein, which your body needs to build muscle mass.
3. Stay active at any age
It’s important to stay active to prevent falls no matter what your age! And, as always, I recommend engaging in moderate activity for about 2.5 hours per week. So, go for walks outside in Nature. It’s a great way to stay fit and work on your balance. Or try taking a yoga or Tai Chi class, as these gentle exercises will help you improve your core strength and balance, which are major indicators of increased longevity. No matter what type of activity you decide to do, just do it—consistently!
4. Make some safety modifications to your home
There are also some very simple modifications you can make to your home to help avoid falls—like installing handrails, avoiding furniture that sits too low to the floor, improving lighting, and placing skid-free mats under throw rugs.
You can learn about many more simple, natural strategies to stay vibrant, youthful, and healthy well into your 70s, 80s, 90s—and beyond—in my new online learning protocol, The Insider’s Ultimate Guide to Outsmarting “Old Age.” To learn more, or to enroll today, simply click here now.
P.S. Tune back in tomorrow for my full report on another common problem associated with prescription drugs—impaired cognitive function!
“Polypharmacy, Hazardous Alcohol and Illicit Substance Use, and Serious Falls Among PLWH and Uninfected Comparators.” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome 2019; 82(3): 305–313. doi.org/10.1097/QAI.0000000000002130