My Health Journey: Osteoporosis & What I've Learned So Far
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It's a bit ironic. I started Team Valentine Project to help empower my family and others to reject the status quo of simply surviving day-to-day life, and instead find realistic and enjoyable ways to maximize well-being. Unfortunately, I'm now adding onto that mission to save my health in ways I never saw coming.
Long story short, a DEXA scan recently revealed I have significantly progressed osteoporosis. While next steps are to review other concerning labs and explore genetic predispositions, I now find myself with a 4-month wait to see my first specialist and a medication I'm told I'll have to be on for the rest of my life. Well, that's simply unacceptable to me. As a healthcare professional, I have a network of amazing, intelligent colleagues who I am calling on to help answer my questions. As a health researcher, I'm empowering myself with knowledge and am researching various plans of attack. With an upfront understanding this will be a very long journey, I want to share what I learn along the way.
I know there are others who may find this information helpful, so here are some lessons learned so far.
LESSON 1. I will work to determine underlying cause first.
It's not normal to have osteoporosis at age 33, especially given the wellness lifestyle I live. A lifetime's worth of medication will only put a Band-Aid on the osteoporosis, never addressing how I got here in the first place. I could review my health history a million times over. However, I will not know this answer right now. What I do know is that I need further insight before committing my body to medication with significant side effects and a limited ability to help.
My solution, thus far, is to pay out-of-pocket to seek care with a Functional Medicine Physician. The wait to get in is just a few weeks time. It's a great place to start and gives me hope that I can better answer, “Why?”
LESSON 2. Fosamax may not be the answer.
Many experts, including those at Harvard Medical School, are questioning long term use. I have come across a laundry list of reasons why I should consider alternative solutions. In reaching out to my Pharmacist friends to determine Fosamax's mechanism of action, I've learned it kills osteoclasts, cells essential to the bone rebuilding process. Given I plan to take many proactive, holistic steps to reverse osteoporosis, it is possible this medication could directly counteract my efforts. It’s important to note I will to work with specialists to determine root cause and ensure that my body has the ability to rebuild bone density. Perhaps Fosamax will ultimately be the right solution, but I will wait to be fully informed before putting it into my body.
LESSON 3. Stress can be a significant contributor to osteoporosis.
In CEMOR's "The ABC's to Osteoporosis Prevention", E is for "Easy Going." Yeah, that I am not. As my mom says, I came out of the womb taking life waaaay too seriously. Since I know I need to work hard to reduce the physical and emotional stress in my life, here’s what I am doing:
Incorporating many simple ways to fight stress and fatigue.
Working to eliminate the use of caffeine, as it only further raises cortisol levels and inhibits the bone rebuilding process.
Reducing cardio workouts, with the exception of a few short runs per week to get in some light impact and connect with nature. In its place I've enjoyed using Kino's YouTube channel to practice in-home yoga.
Perhaps one day we'll meet again, marathon!
Using Progressive Muscle Relaxation a few times per week as a guided way to chill.
LESSON 4. Being in a calorie deficit can contribute to bone density loss.
As a Physiologist and athlete, I've enjoyed experimenting with nutrient timing and dietary modification to meet body composition and athletic goals.
So long for now!
Given this diagnosis, I will NOT be in anything that comes close to resembling a calorie deficit until I'm certain all my body processes are performing optimally. See references below to explore related studies.
LESSON 5. It's worth looking into my gut health.
Being I eat a robust plant-based diet and supplement with high quality vitamins, it was shocking to my Doctor and I to see such progressed osteoporosis. It is possible my body may have underlying gut issues or food intolerances that limit my body's ability to absorb vital nutrients. My Functional Medicine Physician will hopefully help assess this important aspect of my health.
LESSON 6. Important nutrition considerations.
Collagen protein can help support the rebuilding process. I've enjoyed adding Vital Proteins tasteless powder into my beverages and shakes. As a lovely added bonus I now have more vibrant hair, skin, and nails!
Magnesium is essential to bone health and supports over 300 body processes. I've been using Ease Magnesium spray every evening and am now able to fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep - woohoo!
Dairy and gluten have both been linked to poor absorption of bone building nutrients. Since I want nothing working against my efforts to create a healthy bone building environment, until a Physician says otherwise I'll be saying goodbye to both.
The Save Our Bones program endorses a specific ratio of alkaline to acidic foods to naturally reverse and improve osteoporosis. I plan follow this approach and share it with my Physician.
LESSON 7. Acidic beverages, such as coffee and diet pop, rob our bodies of essential bone building minerals.
Admittedly, my use of coffee was a bit much. I now enjoy an occasional cup every few days, stirring in a little coconut oil or using a special blend to reduce the acidity.
LESSON 8. Important exercise considerations.
There are some simple ways I can maximize benefits from any strength training session, which includes making sure I lift heavy enough to load my bones.
Weighted vest walking has been shown to help patients with osteoporosis. I've started just a few times per week with the JBM weighted vest, but when I'm ready to take it up a notch I plan to purchase the Hyperwear vest.
Plyometrics are some of the best exercises for building bone density. I decided to purchase the Rep 3 in 1 box so our entire family can leap and bound together!
KettleBell work has been a great way to load my musculoskeletal system through a variety of angles and functional movement patterns.
LESSON 9. A strong support system brings comfort.
At this time, I recognize I need friends who provide a safe space to vent, but at the same time remind me of my strength and commitment to thrive. Identifying those special people in my life who can serve this role is important now more so than ever.
LESSON 10. Small shifts in perspective help tremendously!
Recognizing that I associate much of identity with fitness and health, I am working to judge myself based on the number of times my children smile, the presence of peace throughout my day, and my connection to God and those that I love.
I admit when I feel a bit lost, keeping in mind it’s from my darkest moments of self-doubt that I will build strength and resiliency. I believe good can come from any challenge, no matter how trying it may seem. Perhaps sharing the lessons I learn along my journey can bring someone else some much needed information or comfort.
And so Team Valentine drives on! This article is not meant to be medical advice, but after writing it all out I feel a little better about my initial game plan. If you are struggling with your health, I encourage you to empower yourself with knowledge, seek care from multiple healthcare providers, and take the necessary actions to support your body.
June 2020 Update: Using much of the approach above and using my background in health, research and physiology, I was able to shock my doctors and successfully reverse my osteoporosis to osteopenia within one year without medication! It's still a journey that I have to work at each day, but I continue to thrive as a competitive runner, mom and healthy woman. I truly believe, now more than ever, in the amazing healing power of our body and mind!
If you are looking for comprehensive wellness coaching to improve your bone health or reverse your osteoporosis, you can read more about my army of credentials & coaching services here to empower you to do less & not more, taking a simple & focused approach to achieve your goals, too!
If you are looking for a simple and to-the-point mindset approach for taking on your challenges with confidence and ease you'll love my best-selling book, The Art of Breaking Through: Five Simple Steps to Take on Any Challenge & Tackle Self-Doubt. Check it out here!
It can be a beautiful journey, as we slow down, love our bodies, and trust our ability to heal and thrive. WE GOT THIS!
Team Valentine Project's mission is to empower you with simple, realistic, and science-based ways to live a vibrant, healthy life. Make sure to see all of my health, fitness & wellness content by following @BreakingThroughWellness on Facebook and Instagram & subscribing to my biweekly wellness newsletter below!
Center for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research. (CEMOR). (2014). The ABCs of Osteoporosis Prevention for Teenage Women. Retrieved from http://www.cemcor.ubc.ca/resources/abcs-osteoporosis-prevention-teenage-women.
Goldschmidt, Vivian. (2017). Save Our Bones Program. Available at https://amzn.to/2KTiHSm
Gomez-Bruton, A., Matute-Llorente, A., Gonzalez-Aguero, A., Casajus, J.A., & Vicente-Rodriguez, G. (2017). Plyometric exercise and bone health in children and adolescents: a systematic review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28101776
Harvard Health Publishing. (2008). What's the story with Fosamax? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/whats_the_story_with_fosamax
McLendon, A. N. & Woodis, C. B. (2014). A Review of Osteoporosis Management in Younger, Premenopausal Women. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.2217/WHE.13.73
National Institute of Health. (NIH). (2018). Magnesium: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
NIH. Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. (2016). What People with Celiac Disease Need to Know About Osteoporosis. Retrieved from https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/conditions-behaviors/celiac#b
Root Causes Medical Clinic. (2011). Is Gluten Intolerance Causing Your Osteoporosis? Retrieved from https://rootcausemedicalclinic.com/blog/is-gluten-intolerance-causing-your-osteoporosis/
Shapses, S. A. & Riedlt, C. S. (2006). Bone, Body Weight, and Weight Reduction: What Are the Concern? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16702302.
Takedam S., Park, J., Kawashima, E., Ezawa, I. & Omi, N. (2013). Hydrolyzed collagen intake increases bone mass of growing rats trained with running exercise. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3750261rt0261/