I’ll admit it: when it comes to my job and the patients I care for, I’m a bit of a geek.
I read ALL of the recent studies that make national headlines. MOST of them are boring, Big Pharma-sponsored marketing schemes to promote some new drug.
But, every once in a while, a gem will show up in scientific literature.
And that’s what happened this past May, when a conventional medical journal published a study that, at first glance, might seem a bit ‘ho-hum’.
Studies like this one sometimes don’t get much media attention because their results are common sense. But, as someone who’s in the trenches all day treating patients, it really caught my attention.
The study showed that supplementing with testosterone was linked to a significant increase in men’s bone density.1,2 On its own, that’s pretty impressive.
But it’s downright miraculous when you consider one of the dirty secrets of modern medicine: it is extremely rare for someone treated with the gold-standard medications for osteoporosis to make ANY improvement AT ALL in their bone density!
These new findings aren’t just another feather in the testosterone cap. This study shines light on a huge flaw in the conventional treatment of osteoporosis and diagnosis for both women and men.
Of course, this topic is a ‘no-brainer’ for integrative medical practitioners like me. We already know that a lack of hormones is the main reason why people suffer with osteoporosis.
Here’s what you can do about it.
From frailty to fatality
Osteoporosis is a disease that affects over 200 million men and women worldwide. Approximately 30 per cent of all postmenopausal women have osteoporosis in the United States and in Europe.3
And the damage of this is something you not only FEEL… but also SEE. In fact, its visible effects on the human body can be pretty obvious.
We all know someone on the older side who seems to have ‘shrunken’ over the years. Whether they’re hunched over or just somehow shorter, you can blame their thinning bones.
When the bones in your back – known as vertebrae – get thin and brittle enough, they tend to collapse or even crumble.
And that does more than make you ‘vertically challenged’. It can turn even a short walk into a major struggle… and it can make standing up straight downright impossible.
Not to mention the pain and suffering it can cause.
Most shocking, however, is the link between bone breaks and life expectancy. A 2011 study showed that women 65 years and older who’ve fractured a hip are FIVE TIMES more likely to die within one year.4
And the bone that older patients are most likely to break? The hip.
Stop bone loss in its tracks
If you’ve been reading my Nutrition & Healing newsletters for a while now, you know that I’m a big fan of testosterone therapy for both men and women.
So, this latest research on testosterone’s benefit for bone density – which was ‘significantly increased’ in the study’s participants – comes as no surprise to me. Nevertheless, it was great to see these results published in JAMA, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world.
And this study is both timely and critically important because of the controversy that erupted when it was discovered that conventional medical treatment of osteoporosis can cause more HARM than good!
You see, there’s one class of drug that’s been the most widely prescribed for osteoporosis over the last 20 years, called bisphosphonates. And it turns out that these drugs (like Fosamax) weren’t improving brittle bones. They were actually making it WORSE!
But it wasn’t a group of intrepid family practitioners who set out to solve the nagging problem of their deteriorating, ageing patients. It wasn’t even a team of orthopaedic specialists tasked with saving our skeletons.
No, it was dentists who, some 10 years ago, quite accidentally found that long-term use of these medications has been linked to severe jaw infection. And women – whose bones are more likely to become brittle – are particularly at risk.
They also revealed the severity of the problem, since that jaw damage could happen even after relatively routine dental work, like drilling and other manipulation of the teeth.5
In fact, the problem with jaw infections got so bad that some dentists refused to touch ANY patient that had been on a bisphosphonate medication for more than five years.
An oxymoron for the ages
It’s a paradox, isn’t it?
I mean, how could a drug that’s supposed to STRENGTHEN bones lead to an increased risk of poor bone health in your jaw?
Conventional doctors were baffled by this.
And its explanations were downright ridiculous.
Editorials at the time hypothesized that these drugs may have some kind of selective effect on the bones of your body – that they perhaps caused bones in the hip and spine to get stronger but the jawbone to get weaker.
But the mainstream medical community just didn’t want to admit the truth – that it screwed up and its ‘cure’ had been hurting people all along.
But if you ask me, they were duped by the DEXA scan.
You see, the DEXA scan is basically an X-ray that shows how porous certain bones are – and the theory was that a bone that’s more porous is therefore weaker and more prone to breaking.
So, drug companies would show how bone density had improved after taking bisphosphonate drugs, leading conventional doctors to believe that those drugs would actually strengthen their ageing patients’ bones.
But here’s what they didn’t realise: a bone that LOOKS less porous on a DEXA scan isn’t necessarily at a greater risk of breaking.
In fact, the testing for thinning bones is as FLAWED as the drugs used to treat them!
The ONLY way to determine how likely a bone is to break is to try to break it. Those dentists, however, were apparently applying enough force to injure jaw bones weakened by bisphosphonate… without even trying.
Drugs can’t do what your T levels can
Here’s where Big Pharma’s plan really went wrong – because, all testing aside, some patients truly do have thin and brittle bones that are likely to break.
And it’s important to do SOMETHING to try to stop or even reverse bone loss.
But the drug companies thought that a brilliant answer to the problem of thinning bones was to sabotage the natural process of breaking down bone, which is managed by bone marrow cells called osteoclasts.
Big Pharma hoped that by stopping (or at least slowing down) the osteoclasts, the body would just make new bone tissue – and that by tipping the scale toward regeneration and away from degeneration, the bones wouldn’t be brittle anymore.
There’s a big flaw to that theory: the osteoclasts are actually only one half of the bone-building machine.
That degradation is an essential component of maintaining the health of your bones, which are in a constant state of remodelling. The process of breaking down old bone tissue (via osteoclasts) works in constant concert along with the process of making new bone tissue (via cells called osteoblasts).
By shutting the osteoclasts down, you stop this entire mechanism from working properly.
When it comes down to it, bisphosphonates are just another example of the drug companies trying to Band-Aid a problem with a synthetic drug instead of treating the root cause of the issue.
And when you mess with the basic functions of the human body by using a synthetic chemical, you’re bound to cause some kind of issue.
The mechanism of testosterone, on the other hand, turns out to be the ‘holy grail’ when it comes to fighting osteoporosis: it works on the bone-building osteoblasts.
Brittle bones, be gone!
I hope that this, along with the other information about bio-identical hormone replacement that I’ve shared with you in the past, will give you even MORE incentive to optimize your hormone levels.
And when I say ‘hormones’, I don’t just mean testosterone. All THREE major hormones – oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone – are responsible for making the machinery of the osteoblasts and osteoclasts work in concert.
Integrative medicine practitioners improve MANY aspects of their patients’ lives with either a combination of oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone (all bio-identical, of course) in women or just bio-identical testosterone in men. And while they see their bone health improve, they may also see the health of their brains, their hearts, and even their sex lives soar!
And, in my experience, there’s nothing better to boost your mood or banish depression.
I prefer to boost my patients’ hormone levels directly with bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (or BHRT, for short). According to this latest study, it took just one year to see significant results.
Unfortunately, most mainstream doctors actually warn against testosterone replacement therapy (which you need a prescription for), since it’s been blamed for all sorts of health problems, including prostate cancer.
But, as I shared in previous issues of Nutrition & Healing, it’s actually safe for most people.
This latest JAMA study focused on how testosterone helps improve the bones of men – but that doesn’t mean that the hormone DOESN’T help women.
Despite what you might have heard, it works on both men AND women!
If you have a difficult time finding a doctor who will give you BHRT – and who will use bio-identical instead of synthetic hormones – there are lots of natural therapies that do a pretty good job at raising testosterone levels, like supplements of Tribulus terrestris extract, boron, and Panax ginseng (200mg daily of a product standardised to 5 per cent ginsenosides).
Ginseng is commonly taken in the form of tea, root powder, capsule, or tablet, but since it acts as a stimulant, don’t combine it with other stimulants or caffeinated beverages. And it works so well at producing testosterone that it’s not recommended for women to use long term.
If a woman has low testosterone, supplementing with the hormone DHEA may improve her levels, since women’s bodies convert DHEA into testosterone. This, however, should only be done under the supervision of a doctor (ideally one who’s well-versed in integrative medicine).Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.