“Grandma fell and broke her hip,” is the story we’re told. She goes into the hospital and has surgery, but it’s just the beginning of the end. It’s all downhill from there. We then go to the doctor who does a test and tells us that it’s going to happen to us if we don’t take some medication. Then, we see famous actresses on television advising us how crucial it is to take osteoporosis medication.
There is a whole culture of fear surrounding the aging process, fear that it’s going to strike us – and we never know where it will strike next. Out of fear we take calcium and bisphosphonates (prescription drugs) to ward it off. But, everything you heard about osteoporosis is wrong!
Osteoporosis History: Rickets
The reality of osteoporosis is very different. It is a disease of the Industrial Revolution, hardly appearing on the scene before then. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, people lived, worked and traveled outdoors in the sunshine. But since that time, several changes have happened.
- Work moved indoors under artificial lighting.
- Cities also became polluted with soot that prevented the ultraviolet light that makes vitamin D from reaching the people.
- People started bathing more often.
- Children among the wealthy class were kept indoors without exercise since cities were dangerous places and, as a result, became more susceptible to rickets because they didn’t have enough calcium.
Many may remember the storybook (and movie) of Heidi. Her friend, Klara, lived in the city and was in a wheelchair, becoming weaker and weaker. But when Klara went to visit Heidi in the mountains, she gained strength and was miraculously able to walk again. Her recovery was attributed in the story to the clean mountain air. Really, however, Klara had a disease called “rickets.” The “clear mountain air” was the sunshine she was getting for the first time in her life that made vitamin D. By the middle of the 20th Century, everyone knew what Rickets was and how to prevent it. My mom even lined her kids up for a dose of Cod Liver Oil specifically for that purpose.
Modern Day Osteoporosis
Ideally, get 15 minutes of sunshine a day with most of the body exposed. However, indoor tanning beds may be uses when it comes to therapeutic vitamin D exposure. It is important that one not over expose yourself to both the natural sunlight and the rays of an indoor tanning bed. You should never let the skin get anything more than the slightest pink tint.
In our modern society things have only gotten worse! We forgot about rickets and stopped thinking about getting enough sunshine. Not only do we work indoors all day, the dermatologists are now telling us to avoid the sun at all costs. We use sunscreen; we wear hats and clothing, we stay indoors or stay shaded from the “cancer-causing sunshine.” (This is the topic of another discussion.) Moreover, we bathe every day. I had a beach volleyball player who was out on the beach without a shirt or sunscreen every day and he was still in the “osteopenia” range of vitamin D. It turns out that every time he finished playing he would go take a shower, washing all his vitamin D down the drain. Did you know it takes over 24 hours to absorb vitamin D through the skin?
Vitamin D helps us to absorb and use calcium. Without a constant supply, the calcium is taken out of our bones to make our muscles and nerves work. Osteoporosis is just a mild form of Rickets. Osteopenia is a little milder, and so forth. The scale looks like this:
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