Gwyneth Paltrow, the famous and beautiful actress, was diagnosed with early osteopenia at the age of 38 and created a media furor last week.
The media loves a scary story and the Gwyneth Paltrow story appears to be scary at first glance indeed. The outcome of the story is not an improvement in the general knowledge about bone health, but rather more fearful people swept away by another celebrity calamity.
With little knowledge about what osteopenia is, we find ourselves under attack to diagnose it early and treat it promptly. Or so the media would have us do.
Gwyneth is smart however. She enlisted her holistic, integrative doctor to address the true facts about the sun and vitamin D and how to protect ourselves from thinning bones and other dangers caused by avoidance of sunlight right on her blog.
Unfortunately not everybody read the good doctor’s blog and most people are easily intimidated by the mainstream media fear mongering.
Scared people are sitting ducks and easy to take advantage of. Drugs like Fosamax with serious side effects, that initially were prescribed for osteoporosis with dubious success is now being pushed onto the unsuspecting public as measures to be undertaken when osteopenia is diagnosed. And the earlier the better and not likely for the patient’s benefit.
Before you even consider reacting to the confusion let me give you my take on the situation:
What is Osteopenia?
Osteopenia is a label for thinning bones. It’s not thin bones or bones that may become thin and possibly lead to fractures, it’s just a label for stage in bone life that may or may not precede osteoporosis.
Is this just a term created by Big Pharma in order for them to push their drugs? i.e. Fosamax
Most likely yes. While the drug companies are having problems coming up with new blockbuster drugs, the pharmaceutical industry is well renowned for repurposing already existing drugs, marketing them for new uses or just plain developing new diseases or conditions to be treated with said drugs.
What is the difference between Osteopenia and Osteoporosis?
Osteopenia is a label for just plain thinning of the bones which occurs in most of us naturally with aging, vitamin D deficiency caused by avoiding the sun, covering ourselves with suntan lotion while in the sun. Another cause is lack of calcium which occurs when people eat foods low in protein and calcium. Genetics and hormone imbalance are other causes.
Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones are so thin those affected may be at higher risk of fractures. Having said that, there a many diagnosed with osteoporosis that never break a bone. When I was in medical school, osteoporosis was a post mortem diagnosis, meaning it was noted as a finding at autopsy. That was many years before drugs were invented to treat it. At this point in my career I’m not so sure the treatment and diagnosis of osteopenia or osteoporosis is a sign of progress in medicine.
Lack of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is more a hormone than a vitamin. While vitamin D is essential to our wellbeing, it isn’t made in our bodies. It’s made and activated in the skin under the influence of the sun’s rays. When we slather suntan lotion with SPF on our skin, the beneficial effects of the sun disappear. There are many scientists who believe that much of the present increase in certain cancers along with the thinning bones situation are caused by our overzealousness in protecting ourselves from the sun. Vitamin D deficiency is rampant in the US and it has only escalated after we have increased our vigilance against skin cancer. Are we trading one cancer for a few dozen others? Many of us believe so.
While lack of Vitamin D is being presented as the main reason behind Gwyneth's osteopenia, how come nobody mentioned about checking her hormone levels?
Because there aren’t enough doctors trained to look at hormones as a primary source of most problems we encounter. Gwyneth has had two children and may very well need a little progesterone and estradiol, which would surely help her bones as well as her overall wellbeing.
Gwyneth is 38 yrs old, how come she has bone disease at a very young age?
Osteopenia is not a bone disease. It’s just that her bones may be too thin for her age. But in Gwyneth’s case it may not be surprising.
From reading about her lifestyle we all know she rarely sports a tan so her sun exposure is minimal. She also is known to follow macrobiotic or other special cleansing and often extreme diets that may not provide enough calcium and other nutrients necessary to keep her bones strong. Finally, she is known to love yoga but I don’t know if she does any weight bearing exercises that would be very helpful to increase her bone density. Of course, she is quite young so she can correct the problem with just a little sun 15-20 minutes, three four times a week without sun-screen, balance her diet and add supplements with calcium, magnesium and zinc as well as a little strontium and add some strength building exercises. Her genetics may be another variable to take into consideration. She is very fair and thin and her mother is as well. Her genetics make her possibly prone to thinning bones.
Aside from Vitamin D supplementation, can progesterone, estradiol, testosterone hormones help as well?
Of course. The balance between estrogen, progesterone and testosterone is key in a well functioning and balanced body. Both estradiol and testosterone increase bone density while progesterone also supports their beneficial effects. Calcium and magnesium are crucial as well when trying to find the proper balance to maintain healthy strong bones. Of course do not forget that the only type of hormones to use are bioidenticals since they are safe and effective.
- Balance your hormones with bioidentical hormones under the care of a hormone expert doctor.
Vitamin D supplementation
- 3000 u vitamin D 3 a day during the winter and when you are not in the sun. When you are in the sun, 15-20 minutes, three four times a week without sunscreen less supplemental vitamin D 1000U will do. Some people cannot absorb tablet form of vitamin D so use either prescription from your doctor or liquid form.
- As we get older we become intolerant of dairy and milk and are best advised to avoid them (China Study) so adding supplemental calcium is helpful. The preparation of calcium is important, calcium citrate maleate is best absorbed and varying formulations is always best but 1000 mg a day is more than enough if your diet is balanced and your overall lifestyle cooperative. Magnesium helps the calcium to get absorbed into the bones and so does strontium. Use them under the supervision of a knowledgeable practitioner, it’s best to have good advice and not make decisions about supplements based on marketing and health food store sales people recommendations alone.
- Medium protein, fats (non-animal) complex carbohydrates. While detoxifying diets are very important and my patients are encouraged to follow them, they are only part of the picture and life is about moderation and a good balanced diet is the Hormone Friendly Diet.
- Weight bearing exercises, strength building and flexibility no sedentary lifestyles, cardio and aerobics- interval training and running.
- Finally, don’t forget your genetics. They should not be used as a source of fear or reason to give up, but rather as a valuable resource. If you have a family history of thinning bones, the earlier you start following the recommendations above, the more likely you are to protect yourself and keep healthy. Don’t wait to balance your life until there is a problem. Start today!