Are you worried about the effect breast cancer treatment can have on your bones? Has your doctor recommended an aromatase inhibitor to manage your breast cancer? Or have you been diagnosed with osteoporosis or have been told you are at risk of bone loss?
Unfortunately, much of what your doctor may have told you about bone loss and bone-regrowth may not exactly be the truth—and well, you might have been led down the infamous ‘primrose path’ about aromatase inhibitors. However, you need to know that there are safe, effective ways to build strong healthy bones—without harmful drugs.
The Problem with Calcium Supplements
Common calcium supplements are not particularly beneficial. First of all, if calcium works so well for building bones, why do millions still suffer from osteoporosis and osteopenia? Clearly calcium is not the answer–at least not alone in the standard supplement form. Plus, calcium supplements are not risk-free.
Numerous studies have found calcium supplements to increase risk of heart attack and stroke. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that calcium supplements accelerate vascular calcification and increase mortality in patients with renal failure. They determined that calcium builds up in the arteries, inhibits blood flow, and increases the risk of heart attack.
A 2013 study done by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) found there is an increased risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases from taking calcium supplements. Other studies have found the same results.
Plus, you need to be careful with most calcium supplements as many have a high lead content. Believe, me, it is far better to get your calcium from food, or at the very least, plant-based supplements
Dietary calcium from grass-fed cheeses, leafy greens, and other plant sources are helpful because they are taken in small amounts that are absorbed throughout the day, whereas supplements tend to be taken all at once, causing blood calcium levels to spike above normal, which might not be a good thing.
The Problem with Aromatase Inhibitors and Bone Loss
Hormonal treatment for breast and prostate cancer can lead to bone loss and increase the risk for osteoporosis and fractures. Breast cancer patients treated with aromatase inhibitors are more likely to have bone loss and fractures. Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) are associated with significant risk of osteoporotic fractures and bone mineral loss. Similarly, men who receive androgen deprivation therapy to treat their prostate cancer face an increased risk of bone disorders.
Estrogen plays a major role in the growth and maturation of bone, which involves the remodeling of bone. Cells known as osteoclasts dissolve bone tissue, and then osteoblasts fill in the holes. This process is disturbed when there are low serum estrogen levels. A deficiency of estrogen causes bone loss and cancellous bone, otherwise known as spongy bone.
Bisphosphonates such as Fosamax, and others, aim to slow the rate of bone loss. Yet, they come with serious side effects (damage to the lining of the esophagus and stomach; damage to the jaw bone, which can mean jaw pain, loose teeth; nausea, indigestion, heartburn and host of other issues) and do not appear to be very effective. Studies have found that bisphosphonates actually cause your bones to become brittle and vulnerable to fractures.
A 2015 meta-analysis of 33 studies was published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal). The analysis concluded that bisphosphonates actually disrupt normal bone remodeling and do nothing to prevent fractures. Instead, they make bones more susceptible to fracture. There is a better way.
- Sunshine or Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. The amount needed will vary per individual, so it is important to have your vitamin D levels monitored by your doctor.
- Vitamin K2— it is critical to have sufficient Vitamin K2 in order to ensure that calcium is bound and held in bones and at the same time is removed from our arteries, joints or other tissues where it doesn’t belong. K2 also provides defense against fluoride calcification in soft tissue organs such as the arteries and brain. Vitamin K2 also inhibits cancer cell lines, such as colon, breast, leukemia, brain, and many more.
- Strontium — Strontium is a common metallic element that the body can absorb and use as if it were calcium. It is a naturally occurring mineral in the same mineral family as calcium and magnesium that has been shown to promote bone growth. Doctors have known for years that strontium builds bone. Numerous studies show that it works better than calcium. However, while strontium can be found in food sources, there’s not enough in food to have a significant effect if you already have osteoporosis or osteopenia. Therefore, you might want to take strontium in supplement form. If you don’t currently have osteoporosis, then eating plenty of food high in strontium may be enough to protect you. Foods high in strontium include spices, seafood, whole grains, root and leafy vegetables, and legumes. (If supplementing, consider 200-500 mg daily). Don’t take your strontium with calcium as they compete with each other for absorption.
- Orthosilicic acid: Research shows that orthosilicic acid promotes the formation of osteoblasts, the cells that build bone. The more osteoblasts you make, the denser your bones will be. Scientists have also discovered that orthosilicic acid may help promote bone formation by stimulating the production of collagen –a protein found in connective tissue, including bone– which helps to bind muscle and bone tissue together and increases bone mass. Orthosilicic acid is often called soluble silica, and is found in foods like oats, barley, seawater, and some drinking water. Beer has a high concentration of silicon (silica). Dark beer in particular, with its high hop content, contains significant silicon. While yes, drinking beer will support bone mineralization and the creation of collagen, bone broth or taking hops might be just a bit better for you. (See bone broth below).
- Bone broth is extremely high in mineral such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. Plus, the minerals in bone broth support the immune system and contain many healing compounds such as proline, glycine, glutamine, and collagen. Collagen plays an important role in the building of strong, flexible bones.
- Magnesium is necessary to convert vitamin D into its active form so that it can turn on calcium absorption. That can often mean that we might not need extraordinarily high doses of vitamin D, but rather a combination of vitamin D along with magnesium and other nutrients to make the vitamin D work efficiently. Like vitamin K2, magnesium helps to preserve bone structure by drawing calcium out of the blood and soft tissues back into the bones.
- Green leafy vegetables provide calcium, strontium, and other essential minerals necessary for bone health.
- Lysine builds collagen, which holds your bones together—sort of like glue. It also helps your body absorb calcium and decreases the amount you excrete in urine. (500-2000 daily)
- Manganese promotes bone growth; leafy vegetables and pumpkin seeds and teas are great sources. You may also find that you get manganese in your multi-vitamin.
- Copper –while copper slows bone loss and is essential in small amounts, it also supports cancer. So, while you need some, don’t take too much (supplements should not exceed 2mg), including through food choices.
- Boron increases bone strength, supports bone mass, and slows bone loss. Likely you will get boron in your multi.
- Zinc also builds bone and helps them from becoming brittle (30-50 mg daily)
So, with all these safe and healthful natural substances, why are doctors still prescribing calcium and harmful drugs that clearly are not working? At least now you are empowered to improve your bone health without harmful drugs.
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Elyn Jacobs is a breast cancer survivor and holistic cancer strategist who helps people make better, healthier, non-toxic choices. She emphasizes the critical nature of addressing the root cause of cancer and not just its presenting symptoms (such as the tumor). Elyn specializes in understanding the role of estrogen in breast cancer and debunks the myths associated. She is a Contributing Editor for The Truth About Cancer and was creator and host of the Survive and Live Well Radio Show on the Cancer Support Network. Elyn is on the Medical Advisory Board for BeatCancer.Org and is on the Advisory Board to the Radical Remission Project. Elyn was the former Executive Director of the Emerald Heart Cancer Foundation. Contact Elyn via her website. Elyn offers consults via Skype, phone or in person.