Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rethinking Bone Health - Calcium vs. Silica

If you grew up in America, chances are you were told (and probably believe) that you need to drink a lot of milk to build healthy, strong bones.  As Americans we certainly take that advice to heart and are one of the top consumers of dairy products in the world.

********As a side note:  When consuming massive amounts of protein and calcium fail us our health systems steers use directly to a pharmaceutical.  Back in my days as a pharmaceutical rep, I launched and sold a widely used bisphosphanate. Ironically, while the company data shows that this drug class can help prevent hip fracture, after wide spread use it was found that it also caused bone death (specifically in the jaw)!! YIKES!

Consider these facts:
  • The average daily calcium intake for South African blacks is 196 mg whereas the daily calcium intake for African-Americans is more than 1,000 mg. Yet the hip fracture rate for African-Americans compared to South African blacks is NINE TIMES GREATER
  • US and in northern Europe have high levels of osteoporotic fracture despite high intakes of dietary calcium (Hegsted 2000)
  • The African Bantu consumes an average of 350 mg of calcium per day (current recommendations for Americans is about 1000 mg per day) yet do not have calcium deficiency, seldom break a bone, and rarely lose a tooth.
  • Native Eskimos have the highest dietary calcium intake of any other people in the world-- above 2000 mg per day from fish bones - and the highest rate of osteoporosis world wide.
  • A 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women, those who got the most calcium from dairy products actually broke more bones than women who rarely drank milk
  • A 1994 study in the AMERICAN JOURNAL OF EPIDEMIOLOGY found that elderly women with the highest dairy consumption had double the risk of hip fracture of those with the lowest consumption.
Study after study supports the fact the countries with the highest CALCIUM consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis.  So what's the deal?  There are a number of potential reasons:

The Protein Argument: Excessive amounts of protein cause calcium wasting.  Dairy adds to our already overinflated protein intake.  Studies show that when protein consumption is increased (while other minerals stay the same), the amount of calcium in urine increases by 50%.  More protein = more calcium loss (Heany RP. 1993)

The pH Argument: Diary is highly acid and there is evidence that a when the body is out of balance (dipping below a 7 pH) it begins to leach minerals, including calcium, to neutralize blood pH levels.  Just about everything we eat on the western diet is acidic.  Alkalizing foods (which keeps our pH in balance) include fresh, whole living fruits and vegetables.

So how do vegans and vegetarians stack up?  Studies are somewhat inconclusive.  The latest studies show that vegans have a lower bone mineral density but not necessarily a high rate of fracture.  Lacto-ovo vegetarians take in similar amounts of calcium but lower amounts of overall protein and some studies have shown a stronger bone mineral density with a lower amount of fractures.

BUT, no matter if your a vegan or carnivore it's clear that calcium is not the answer.  The solution may be a never talked about mineral called silica.  Silica exists in bones, hair, skin, as well as kidneys, blood brain and other areas.  Silica is vital to providing strength and support to these structures.  In fact, In 1939, the Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, Prof. Adolf Butenandt, proved that life cannot exist without silica.

Silica helps re-deposit minerals (such as calcium) into our bones and stop the leaching of minerals. Amazingly, silica also has the ability to "morph" itself into calcium so if a calcium deficiency exists silica can step in and assume that role. 

I recently read a very interesting comparison of concrete and bone.  Concrete contains calcium but does not get hard and STRONG without the inclusion of silica!  Concrete that was devoid of silica did harden but was brittle and weak.   Can this be the same with our bones?  YES! Dr. Edith Carlisle, a research scientist at the UCLA School of Public Health, studied silica extensively in the 1970’s. Her research was conclusive that silica played an essential role in bone formation and health. She found that without silica it was impossible to grow healthy, strong bone.

The next logical question (other than why our government ignores that value of silica) is where can you get this stuff????  Good sources are Horsetail and Bamboo Silica Extract.  David Wolfe recommends a tea of horsetail, nettle, comfrey and boneset for bone health.  Other sources include leafy greens, root vegetables, and oats.