The Other I

October 25, 2015

Fab Fibs

Filed under: Just Stuff,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 5:19 pm

One of the more surprising – and hopeful – things I’ve noticed about my life is how often the best things and the worst things that happen to me are the same things.

Fifteen years ago, for instance, when test results showed that my bones were losing density at a dangerous rate, my doctor laid out before me the possibility of an agonizing end of life.  Frankly, this was unambiguously Bad News.

The recommendation was that I start immediately on a regime of biphosphonates.  As I’ve laid out in this blog under the topic of osteoporosis, I decided instead to radically alter my life style, changing my eating habits, started taking calcium supplements and engaging in 30 minutes of targeted exercise daily.

The Good News isn’t just that tests over the last 15 years show that I have increased my bone density and am no longer osteoporotic.

The seriously Good News is all of the other benefits that seem to be flowing from what I have called my FAB-FIBS.

I’m not talking about fabulous fibs I tell myself.  It’s my daily routine of Flexibility, Aerobic, and Balance exercises, followed by another series of Flexibility, Impact, Balance and Strength exercises.  The benefits are multiple.  My strength and energy levels have not degenerated as fast as they other-wise would.  I find that I get an amazing psychological boost from the increased serotonin generated by exercise, and just as surprising, I also find solutions to problems while I’m exercising that evade me when I think about them sitting at the computer screen.  Research suggests that I’m also reducing my chances of cardiac arrest and cancer.

Now seriously:  isn’t that really Bad News that is one of the best things that could have happened to me?

September 9, 2014

But I want!!!

Filed under: Diet,Illness and disease,Just Stuff,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 2:42 pm

There are several things I’ve known for many years, but have cleverly managed not to put together.  I’ve known, for instance that:

  • possibly as much as 90% of long-term joint pain and arthritis are due to allergies
  • these allergies differ drastically among people
  • the things we may be allergic to might be obviously not good for us, especially in excess – like alcohol, drugs (both legal and illegal), and fast food
  • allergies might also be less obviously evil – nuts, red meat, various grains, night-shade vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, paprika, tea and coffee

I’ve also known that those of us not physically prone to alcohol addition often instead are apt to be vulnerable to sweets, in other words, to develop a sugar addition.

I realized in my early forties that my evening pre-dinner glass of wine was making my joints sore.  I never became a teetotaler, but I rarely now have more than a single drink in a week, and when I do, I immediately pay the price in pain and sleepless nights.  I’d rather be able to drink a little more, but in truth, my restraint has been more than worth paying for the price of remaining pain-free.

But about three months ago I developed a pain in my left shoulder and arm that has made it impossible for me to engage in several yoga stretches I’ve been doing for more than four decades.  I thought I must have strained a muscle, possibly carrying a bag of garden soil, and expected the pain to disappear quite quickly.  Well, it hasn’t disappeared, and its high time for it to be gone.
And that is when the terrible possibility crossed my mind:  am I developing arthritis as a result of sugar intake?   In other words, can sugar in one’s diet cause arthritic pain?

If you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask Google.  The unfortunate answer is yes.  People with osteoporosis  are particularly vulnerable.

The standard medical advice is to eliminate a potential culprit for about four weeks.  If joint pain has disappeared or even significantly decreased, one may have found the culprit.  If the pain returns after a return to normal habits, that may be the trigger that has to be kept under control

WHAT!?? my two-year-old self is screaming.  No cookies with lunch?  no desserts with any sugar?  no apple pie?  no ice cream?  no chocolate?

I have watched myself occasionally play the same games that alcoholics and drug addicts play, that narrowing of consciousness that eventually reduces all reason to a total focus on the forbidden object, ultimately coming up with any reason whatsoever that results in surrender.  But I don’t have a weight problem, and I have never had to make a serious long-term effort to reduce my sugar intake.  I’ve never tried to go without processed sugar for as long as four weeks.

I don’t know if I can do it.

The avoidance of arthritic pain as I lope through my 70’s is a big enticement if it works.  But even to carry out the experiment to see if it does might be a challenge greater than I can win.

At the moment, I have 27 more days to go before I have the evidence one way or other.  If I never bring the subject up again, you’ll know it’s because I’m eating a chocolate bar.



November 15, 2011

Supplements are not substitutes

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 10:19 pm

Last week, a reader asked if I was familiar with the recent research report finding that calcium supplements seem to be associated with a higher incidence of heart attacks than were those who don’t take calcium supplements.  I promised to review the research if I could.  Which I have just done.

As I suspected, the results are far from conclusive.  They may even be an illusion, a statistical significance that occurred by chance as a result of amalgamating and re-analyzing a large number of different research studies into the effects of calcium supplements.

Although the results should be looked at seriously, there are several reasons why many doctors are not convinced.  The first is that it is strange indeed that the calcium-supplement group should suffer a greater number of heart attacks but show no greater mortality rates than the non-calcium group.  Heart attacks kill a significant percentage of people whom they strike.  Why, then, doesn’t this show up in more deaths among the calcium-supplement takers?

Equally perplexing is the fact that although the calcium group seems to show an increased incidence of heart attack they are not more prone to stroke or death from heart disease.

Another doubt arises from the fact that what we have at best is a correlation, not a demonstration of cause.  Even supposing that the calcium-takers do suffer higher rates of heart attacks, it is possible that a larger percentage of them were taking supplements on the recommendation of their doctors who had noted worrying bone density depletion.  So it is possible that reduced bone density and heart attacks were caused by many years of poor nutrition and/or little exercise, not that the calcium supplements caused the increased heart attacks.

Another possibility is that there are significant differences within the calcium-supplement group that explain the differences.  There is no analysis of the kinds of supplements people took or other life-style variables among them.

Calcium-rich foods are absorbed best because they are absorbed slowly. 

 Not all supplements are absorbed equally well.  Calcium absorption depends on the presence of other nutrients, so that supplements taken with vitamin D as well as vitamin K are absorbed better than calcium taken alone.  In any case, not more than 500 mg calcium can be absorbed at any given time by the body.  So the recommended doses of 1000 or 1200 mg/day must be spread out throughout the day to have any chance of being effective.  If they are not, the chances are indeed that they will be detrimental rather than helpful.

Not only does a correlation – if it exists – between calcium supplements of any kind and an increased incidence of heart attack not prove causation, supplements are not substitutes either.  But many people simply want to take a pill and forget about it.  They do not change their exercise or nutritional regimes.  They do not reduce caffeine, peanuts, or moderate alcohol intake.

There are no absolute answers.  We are all different, and scientific research does not offer us absolute answers.  In this case, above all, the research findings have suggested more questions than it has answered.

For myself, I’m continuing to take 250 mg calcium with vitamins D & K with each meal and before bed.  I also do 30 minutes serious exercise a day, and emphasize alkaline, calcium-rich foods.

We still have to live with uncertainty.   But I will say I’m grateful we don’t live in an age when doctors were convinced that leaching was the cure-all for almost everything that went wrong with us.




September 21, 2011

Cowabunga! Need to know

I woke up in the middle of the night last night wondering about the source of  the word “cowabunga.”  Where in heaven’s name did a word like that originate?

My hypothesis was that it began with Spanish cowboys.  It was an idea that I made up completely out of nothing, which a little research on the internet suggests is just about what it’s worth.

The best guess of modern linguists is that it derived from the Native American exclamation Kwa Bungu.   If I had been a television child, I might at least have been aware of its reincarnation by Howdy Doody’s Chief Thunderthud who (I am told) began each sentence with the nonsense syllable “kawa.”

Since then, “Cowabunga!” has led the life of a celebrity, being adopted by Hawaiian surfers, and no less personages than Snoopy, the Cookie Monster, and Bart Simpson.

Speaking of the need to know, I should have mentioned in my post yesterday that lemon juice is acidic, but becomes alkaline when it’s broken down.

Don’t ask, I don’t know.  I’ve also learned, however, that there is a modicum of confusion in this area.  Some foods are categorized as alkaline on some lists and as acidifying on others.

I am unable to be too obsessive about this, and have settled for printing out a list of alkaline foods which I have posted on my refrigerator.  I also have a list of acidic foods but I find that for myself, I do better by maximizing alkaline foods than minimizing the acidics.  So the acidic list is not posted in a very prominent spot but is there if I’m really driven to find out.

There’s a good list on  Or use Google for enough references to last a lifetime.



September 20, 2011

The acid test for alkaline foods

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 8:07 pm

I first read about the value of eating more alkaline foods more than ten years ago when I began to comb medical sources for the causes – and cures – for osteoporosis.

I’m glad I read it first in a medical book, because, as I’ve described in earlier posts on osteoporosis,  it has been one of the elements in a changed life style that stopped my bone deterioration in its tracks.  I have even experienced a small improvement in my bone density.

But if I’d first read about it in Style Magazine, where it has made its debut into the world of “must-do’s” and “must-have’s” I would have dismissed it along with the gushing enthusiasms for obscenely expensive clothes, cosmetics, and celebrity status.

Instead, I read the article and learned something.  The most interesting was the discovery that lemons and lemon juice are alkaline, not as one would expect, acidic.  So I am now using lemon juice instead of vinegar on my fish, and have been persuaded to exchange my midday cup of coffee for green tea and lemon.

I was also surprised and pleased to learn that alkaline foods aren’t just good for the bones.  There seems to be evidence that it can also help reverse Type 2 diabetes, and breast and prostate cancer.  It significantly reduces inflammation and apparently it helps people sleep better too.  Some people claim it has improved their skin and facial complexions significantly, and alkaline foods are the obvious treatment for acid reflux.

Well, let’s not get carried away here.

But diets with more fruit and vegetables and less sugar and red meat are associated with a wide range of health benefits – from reduced rates of cancer and heart disease to longer life expectancies and fitness.

I’m glad I stumbled on the idea ten years ago in a rather staid book on bones.  Otherwise I would have dismissed it along with the cabbage diet, the soup diet, the banana diet, and the teeth-brushing diet.

To see earlier posts on osteoporosis,  click on  “osteoporosis” in the “Select Category” window in the right column.



March 14, 2011

Osteoporosis update

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 3:48 pm

Well, it’s good news.  I got the results of the bone density scan I had last month and there has been no deterioration in my bone structure now for six years.  The advice from the osteoporosis consultant who has been monitoring the scans was not to change what I was doing.  Or to put it in more posh terms, he recommends “no change in current bone management.”

So I will keep on doing what I have been doing, the most important of which I suspect is 30 minutes of daily exercise and calcium and vitamin D supplements taken with each meal.  I’ll keep on with reduced caffeine (two cups of coffee max/day, soya instead of cows’ milk, and an emphasis on an alkaline rather than acidic diet.

Does this mean I think people who are willing to take on the unrelenting discipline of daily exercise and supplements don’t ever need to take bi-phosphonates to treat deficient bone density?

I don’t know.  I know that my own drop in density values occurred after the substantial life-style change that took place with our move from Spain to England and being shut out from hikes in the mountains as a result of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

As I keep ruefully concluding, the more we learn, the bigger our questions become.  Uncertainty and risk is the human condition.

In any case, my GP says I’m “fine.”  I would tend to use the word “fantastic.”   As I left his office this morning, I admit I was jumping for joy.

Well, inside anyway.


March 10, 2011

Changing the meaning of time

Filed under: Osteoporosis,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 3:22 pm

When I was about five years old, I remember trying to figure out how long a second was.  I didn’t begin to wonder until middle age, though, about how much time there was altogether since time started in the very beginning of the world.

When I retired from university teaching, I wrote The Big Bang to Now and am currently working on the second edition.  But right now I am less concerned about trying to understand how long thirteen and a half billions years is and where everything fits in that happened between then and now.

I am trying to turn waiting into something a little more positive than it currently feels like.  I have finally heard from the doctor’s office that the results of my bone density scan are in, and I have an appointment to discuss them with my GP next Monday morning.

At this moment, four days feels like what about four years usually feels like these days.  It’s more like what four days felt like when I was small and Mom would say that it’s only “four more days to Christmas.”  It sounded like about four centuries to me then.

Now my sense of time suggests that every moment is precious, we have so little of it even in a long life.

Which is why I’m trying to turn waiting into something positive, into actually doing something.  Waiting is a good time to prepare, of course, but I have thought about my decision to by-pass the advice of majority medical opinion until I have no more thoughts about it.  When I find out the results of the most recent scan and what my GP thinks, I’ll process my current situation then.

In the meantime, I will concentrate on living today.  Not just trying to skip the four days between now and next Monday.

January 31, 2011

The sunshine option

Filed under: Osteoporosis,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 9:40 pm

I have a bone density scan scheduled for the middle of next week.  Three years ago, the scan showed that I had managed through a change in life style alone to stop bone loss in its tracks and possibly even begun to reverse the process.  So I am now extremely eager to see if the process has continued.  Particularly since I declined in the first place to treat the problem by taking bi-phosphonates despite the strongest recommendation of several MD’s familiar with the problem.  I had two particular reasons:

The first was the fact that, although bi-phosphonates increased bone density, they often did not reduce the incidence of bone fracture, which is the main point of the treatment.

The second reason was that after doing a fair amount of reading on the subject, it occurred to me that I had come close to creating a perfect storm for the occurrence of bone density loss:

We had moved from Spain to the north of England.  Although we kept walking in the hills of the Lake District two or three times a week at first, often for as long as four hours at a time, foot-in-mouth disease closed the trails within a year after our arrival.  So I retreated to my computer and spent an average of six hours a day writing a book.  And when I did go out, I covered myself from head to foot to protect myself from feeling cold.  So both my daily exercise and sunshine quotients were dangerously low.

Then I read that peanut butter was a highly recommended low GI food that is an excellent way of keeping one’s blood sugar levels steady.  So I began to eat it every day, and even developed a craving for it.  What I didn’t know was that it was packed full of oxalic acid that interferes with calcium absorption.

Not that I was getting much calcium anyway, since I was not taking any vitamin or mineral supplements.

What more could I possibly have done to speed up my bone loss?  I wasn’t exercising, I wasn’t taking any supplements, I wasn’t making any vitamin D through exposure to the sun, I was eating foods that positively interfere with calcium absorption.  Oh, and I was probably drinking too much coffee.

So six years ago I started on a new regime.  If the bone density report, which I probably won’t get until March, continues the positive trend of three years ago, I will itemize what I think are the most important variables contributing to my bone health.

If the report shows a deterioration, I don’t know what I will do.  The Federal Drug Administration in the U.S. reported several months ago what I suspected years ago – that bi-phosphonates sometimes seem to increase rather than decrease bone brittleness and subsequent fractures.

In the meantime, I am continuing to take large enough doses of Vitamin D to scandalize my GP but which are not into the overdose quotients.

Apparently vitamin D not only helps maintain bone density, it also is implicated in reduced levels of many kinds of cancer, memory loss, and heart disease.

So along with my bottle of virgin olive oil and an apple a day, I might live forever.

Well, maybe for another decade or two.  If I’m seriously lucky.

Or not.

October 24, 2010

Osteoporosis update

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 7:31 pm

Five years ago, a bone density test showed that my bones had thinned rather alarmingly in the last five years.  The doctor recommended a regime of bi-phosphonates to stop the bone loss.

As I reported on this blog, here, I did some extensive research and decided  the data suggested that bi-phosphonates might lead to better bone-density test results but that it did not reduce fractures, which is the point of worrying about bone density.  In fact, it looked as if the treatment might even increase the brittleness of bones and therefore their tendency to break.

Despite strong medical advice to the contrary, I decided to embark on a regime of exercise, regular calcium supplements, and an effort to increase the alkaline foods in my diet.  I declined the bi-phosphonates.

In December, I am scheduled for another bone density test to find out the current state of my bones.  I’ve been wondering what I would do if they are even thinner than before.  Will I give up and start taking bi-phosphonates?

I didn’t think so, but now I know so.  The Federal Drug Administration is now recommending that a warning be attached to all bi-phosphonates stating that they might actually increase the incidence of the very problem they are supposed to be treating.  After treatment with bi-phosphonates, bones often become more dense but often more brittle.  And so break much more easily.

Fractures are often death-threatening for older people.  So playing with this possibility is not trivial.

But I’m going to stick with my current regime.  If my bones have deteriorated in the last three years, I’ll intensify it.  But I’m sticking with my original decision to avoid bi-phosphonates.

March 2, 2010

Old bones

Filed under: Osteoporosis,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 8:52 pm

Between the weather and the flu, my daily exercise regime came to almost a full stop for most of February.

Wow, does it make a difference!

We went to Wimpole Hall, Wimpole Hall

a National Trust property of 2500 acres and a magnificent home where Rudyard Kipling’s daughter once lived.  It is less than ten minutes from where we live and we simply walked for the sheer delight of feeling the sun light upon our faces.  But within 15 minutes I could feel the pull on my back.  I’m seriously out of condition.

I think regular exercise might be even more important than nutrition if I want to keep as fit as possible as the years pile up.  Especially for me on the edge of full-blown osteoporosis.  It’s amazing how fast one can deteriorate with so little effort.

Anyway, I think I’m well enough to return to my regular regime of 30 minutes serious mixed exercise a day.

Well, serious by my standards.  Probably not much more than a quick warm-up for most.       Wimpole Hall Estate

February 1, 2010

The aches of aging

Filed under: Illness and disease,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 9:00 pm

I was reminded again of something I discovered 20 years ago and have confirmed repeatedly ever since.

Stiff and painful joints that so often begin to appear in  middle age and generally get worse as we get older are often caused by allergies which become more virulent with age.

I have finally managed to give up drinking wine altogether by reminding myself before – instead of after – that if I start drinking wine, I am going to find walking and bending and even standing up comes at a painful price.

My husband has undergone a transformation in just a week by giving up wheat.  He’s known for years that he has a low tolerance of wheat, but the allergy has grown worse with age.  He went through a similar transformation in his mid-fifties when he stopped drinking Vichy water.

From what I have read, these kind of allergies are multiple and often unsuspected by the person being crippled by them.  In my experience, the negative effect can show up in just a day or two.

But in the good news department, the positive effects of staying away from culprits of ones personal nemeses show up in a week.  Ssometimes less.

March 28, 2009

Grapefruit and osteoporosis

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 3:42 pm

It’s a conundrum.  Research is now suggesting that grapefruit might increase bone health and so reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Grapefruit is also one of those delights of dieters that requires more calories to burn up than it actually contains.

But research also suggests that grapefruit might be implicated in a slightly increased risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women

I have osteoporosis and two sisters who have had breast cancer.  And will probably die still hoping to lose “just five pounds.”

So I’m going for two grapefruit a week.  More or less.

Life’s decisions are tough.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

February 15, 2009

Free treatment for memory loss

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 3:50 pm

Most people know that exercise has all sorts of benefits that can’t be achieved in any other way:

  • the chance of being afflicted by many kinds of cancer can be reduced by regular exercise.
  • exercise ups the level of resting metabolism, so it is the best possible way of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • cardiovascular health is increased by exercise.
  • exercise is one of the most effective ways of treating depression anyone has found, and unless it’s overdone, it doesn’t come with negative side-effects.
  • I know from both the research and my personal experience about the effectiveness of impact exercise on bone health.

I have now read Sue Halpern’s book Can’t Remember What I Forgot and learned that memory loss is not something to which one must passively submit with age.  In fact, doing something about is free, and comes with additional side benefits.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that the one incontrovertible means of keeping the brain functioning and producing workable memories is aerobic exercise.

I do wish it weren’t so boring.  On the other hand, it sure beats forgetting.

Not to mention cancer, heart attacks, broken bones, and depression.

Or being fat and tired.

So I guess it’s back to the tread mill.  Or Nordic Track.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and selection Osteoporosis.

July 1, 2008

Switching off cancer genes

Filed under: Osteoporosis,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 7:37 pm

The research I referred to in my post yesterday finding that a healthy lifestyle can switch off cancer genes was reported by Dr. Dean Ornish.  He’s the same doctor who presented convincing scientific support for the view that a low-fat vegetarian diet, a half hour daily exercise and no smoking can reverse coronary heart disease.  It’s also basically the same diet that both reverses heart disease and seems to stop the growth of cancer.

Ornish studied 30 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and who decided to try the Ornish approach instead of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery for a year.  At the end of the year they were compared to a control group who had a similar diagnosis who had decided simply to delay treatment without changing their eating or exercise patterns.  Before the end of the year, xix of the control group had dropped out and opted for immediate treatment because the tumours had grown to sufficiently to make any further delay seem dangerous.  The cancer markers in the group who had changed their life styles had decreased.

Prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women often respond to the same variables.  So there is every reason to hope that research will now show that a low-fat mainly vegetarian diet and regular exercise will also reverse breast cancer.

It’s too late for my sister Mary who died from breast cancer twelve years ago.  But not too late for my other sisters.  Or me.  Or all the sisters in the world.

I’ve just found a recipe for kale, sultanas, and crushed almonds.  Sounds like a recipe for a multiple attack on cancer, osteoporosis, and heart disease.  Hope I like it.  Just as important in real life, I hope my husband likes it.  I haven’t reached the point yet where I’m prepared to cook different meals for the two of us.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

June 26, 2008

Eating my way out of osteoporosis

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 8:59 pm

I feel like a member of a small group of older women – and some men – who are highly sceptical about taking a biphosphonate like Fosamax to deal with ostopenia, or the more severe form of bone-density loss called osteoporosis.  I find it encouraging to read your comments, and, since this is such an important part of what I consider my duty to try to grow old responsibly, am doing a bi-annual review of my current state of affairs.

I went on a hunt for alkaline foods, because I often find it difficult to maintain the recommended 4-1 ratio of alkaline to acid foods.  I was delighted to discover that figs, soy beans, lima beans, apricots, and turnip & beet tops all are even more alkaline than raisins.  So I’ve added dried figs and apricots to my permanent kitchen supplies, and have switched to soya milk.  Almonds and brazil nuts are alkaline so I have them instead of most other nuts which are acidifying.  There are lots of lists of alkaline/acid foods on the internet, so I google a site occasionally to keep my motivation up.

I will also confess that I find the discipline of exercising every day takes some effort.  For which read:  there are probably an average two days a week when I don’t do anything more serious than take a 15 minute walk.  I feel so very much better when I exercise though.  It gives me more energy, and I feel about ten years younger.

I still have to concentrate to stand up straight when I’m walking around.  I look in the mirror to make sure my shoulders are back and my butt in, but if I’m not actually looking in a mirror, I feel almost as if I’m bent backward by about 90 degrees when I’m actually only just upright.

I don’t find taking calcium and other supplements three times a day particularly difficult.  But I think there are an awful lot of people who aren’t as organized as I am.  I rarely miss more than one scheduled supplement a week.

Although I’d give myself a B+, all in all, I find keeping up the regime isn’t always easy.  My own preferences, and the needs and preferences of family and friends sometimes get in the way.  And since osteoporosis is painless until one fractures a bone, I am sometimes tempted simply to ignore the problem altogether and convince myself it isn’t there anymore.

But then I think of my GP looking at me after I’ve fractured a bone and saying “I told you you should be taking Fosamax.”  And I head for the raisins on my way to an exercise session.  Whatever else, I’m going to be able to say “I did it my way.”

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

June 14, 2008

Selling exercise

Filed under: Osteoporosis,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 4:21 pm
Tags: , , ,

Compared to traditional societies, we in the developed world often suffer from insufficient exercise.  Which is a great loss to those of us who think we live in an “advanced” society, because exercise reduces the incidence of heart disease, many kinds of cancer, obesity, and osteoporosis, so not getting enough exercise is not very advancing.  Exercise is also the very first elixir I would recommend to anybody suffering from depression or anxiety because it produces “feel good” endorphins.  In fact, although it is not always sufficient to deal with ongoing and severe depression, I would never leave it out even with a treatment regime including therapy and medication.

In my post two days ago (“Not the usual anniversary”) I wrote about an exercise program for improving vision and I said that I thought it might offer some positive possibilities.  It still might, but yesterday I received an email using the exact same words as the original request asking if I would review the Vision Kit.  This request, however, was to review a set of exercises to help children deal with facial and verbal ticks like Turettes Syndrome (the inability to repress one’s inappropriate thoughts and so to blurt them out loud – a seriously embarrassing Syndrome, as anyone who has ever been grateful they did not say what they were thinking would agree).

I’m not reviewing the site since I have absolutely no way of knowing whether exercise can effect the kind of problems the site claims.  It does illustrate, though, what most people should know – the internet is as lethal a mix of truth and untruth, the sincere and the shyster, as any place else.  Personally, it strikes me that selling an exercise routine has immense money-making potential.  The “product” is produced at rock-bottom cost, and the chances that one will be sued because the “product” had deleterious side effects is minimal.  One can even generate free publicity by asking people to post a free “unbiased” review with links to the site on their blogs.

Sometimes, it is a virtue not to trust too much.

On the other hand, do you think I should compile a manual for exercises to combat osteoporosis and depression in one go and sell it here?  Okay, here is my advice for a mere $10:  walk as briskly as you can for 20-30 minutes a day.  Every day.  Send your payment to the charity of your choice.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

June 10, 2008

The bones and the bees

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 1:42 pm

There is more than one reason why the extinction of so many species that is occurring as a result of human activity around the world is serious.  One simply feels like a moral imperative not to destroy life so wantonly in pursuit of our own pleasures.  For many this is encapsulated in the Biblical imperative to Adam and Eve to take care of the world put into our care.

Another reason is sheer self-preservation.  We depend on other life forms to maintain our own.  Without plant life, without pollinating insects like bees, without a whole range of bacteria, we cannot sustain our own lives for more than weeks.  Many of the most effective medical treatments are also essentially derived from plant life.  We benefit hugely from a great diversity of life forms.

Still, when we are popping an aspirin I suspect few of us feel particularly virtuous with the thought that aspirin was originally derived from a tree.  Being treated for cancer with one of the effective plant-derived drugs probably doesn’t feel much like a contribution to the health of the environment either.

However, I do feel rather virtuous about honey.  It’s a healthy substitute for sugar, which in its granulated form has almost no healthy contribution to make.  Honey is different.  For people like me with osteoporosis concerned with eating a more alkaline diet, honey is a positive blessing.  And buying honey is a contribution to our threatened honey bees.

So osteoporosis sufferers, let us united!  Let us eat more honey, and maybe help save our bones and our bees at the same time.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

June 5, 2008

Fosamax: “but it might not prevent bone fractures”

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 3:58 pm

When my doctor viewed the surprising drop in my bone density three years ago, she recommended as strongly as she possibly could that I start taking Fosamax or one of the other bi-phosphates.  If she had been my mother instead of my doctor, and had I been six instead of sixty-five, taking Fosamax would have been on par with eating my vegetables, with similar consequences if I didn’t.  Not being six, I put up significant resistance to the advice.  I didn’t budge my doctor’s advice one bit, but as I left her office, she did say:  “You should start taking it immediately.  Your spine is weak and that is the worst place to get a fracture because it is very painful and difficult to treat.  Fosamax will increase your bone density.  Although we don’t know if it reduces the incidence of fractures.”

What!?  I thought:  what’s the point if it isn’t going to reduce the chances of my fracturing a bone?

And that is what began the journey which ended up with my entertaining the serious possibility that Fosamax might very well do more harm than good.  Several days ago, I clicked onto a link feeding into my blog, and was reminded of one of the reasons that influences my assessment.’/

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

May 30, 2008

Addendums about osteoporosis

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 7:27 pm

A number of people mostly interested in alternatives to the standard bi-phosphate treatments like Fosamax have touched base with my postings on osteoporsis.  I am happy at this point with the regime of diet, supplements, and exercise I’ve worked out for myself, but there are few things I’d like to add to what I’ve already said.

  • First, not everybody’s osteoporsis is caused by the same thing.  So what works for one person might not be the solution for everybody.
  • Nor is everybody’s osteoporisis exactly the same.  I’ve heard the term applied to very mild loss of bone density without any qualifications or explanations.  And it doesn’t necessarily strike in all the bones in the body equally.  The spine is the most dangerous, because a fracture there is the most painful, the most debilitating, and often the most difficult to heal.  I’ve reached the conclusion that bone density isn’t even necessarily the problem, and that bone flexibility is much more significant, which is why Oriental women typically have less bone density but also fewer fractures than western women in the developed world.
  • Not everybody wants to take the same kinds of risks.  Every approach has some risk involved, whether it be the accepted medical treatment or changes in life style, or some mix. For myself, I don’t usually choose the “natural” as opposed to the “medical” approach.  I would chose surgery in relation to cancer, for instance, not coffee enemas or mega doses of vitamin C.  But for my osteoporosis in particular, I think a life style change is my best bet.  It isn’t necessarily for everybody.
  • Not everybody wants or is able to maintain the discipline involved in the life-style changes required to adopt a non-medical approach to osteoporosis.  If I were a doctor, I would consider whether my patient was apt to follow a regime requiring her to take calcium and other supplements three times a day, to change her diet perhaps drastically, and to exercise 20-30 minutes every day.  Some patients don’t even want to be offered this alternative but prefer to take medication, and leave the decisions to their doctor.
  • For myself, I see my doctor as my consultant who gives me the information I need to make an informed decision, not someone who takes that responsibility for me.  However, my doctor is not an expert on osteoporosis, and largely accepts the research results suggesting that bi-phosphates increase bone density and so solve the problem.  I am not a medical doctor, but I do have a Ph.D. and can understand research reports.  So I have read a lot to learn what I want to know, and I’ve simply reached a different conclusion than most – but not all – doctors today.
  • The best medical source I can recommend is, a website maintained by a Ph.D. woman nutritionist in England.   It presents a balanced overview of the causes and possible treatments for osteoporosis that can be understood by the general public.  I also find Glenville’s book Osteoporosis: the silent epidemic an excellent guide.  I read it through once, and keep it handy to reread various sections as they become relevant.
  • Lastly, I find keeping up the discipline day after day after most days to return my bones to a healthier state takes effort.  I am grateful to all of you who read this blog, and/or add your own thoughts, questions, and challenges.

I hope it helps you as much as it does me.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

March 24, 2008

Caffeine and osteoporosis

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 5:17 pm

I’ve known for some time that if I’m going to have a shot at maintaining a reasonable level of energy and continuing to live primarily in an upright position for most of my remaining days that a certain discipline is required.  I know that some people grow very old drinking, smoking, and sitting, but I know I don’t have the genes for that kind of life style.  I need daily exercise, limited alcohol and sugar, and eight hours of sleep.

I did hope I could sneak in a fairly luxurious amount of caffeine, as in chocolate, coffee, green tea, and occasional soft drinks.  And so I have been not only sneaking, but quite publicly luxuriating.

Unfortunately, I have now read that caffeine decreases calcium absorption in the gut and then proceeds to cause what may have snuck through the gut to be excreted through the urine for hours afterwards.  Even more draconian, the problem gets worse the older we get.  Women in my age group who drink more than the equivalent of about 3 cups of coffee a day have significantly higher rates of bone loss at the spine, the worst possible place to lose it.

I’ve even read that if one is diagnosed with osteoporosis, one should cut out caffeine altogether.

Oh drats. 

January 31, 2008

Osteoporosis: Personally I think…

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 2:03 pm

The Bone Health Revolution, the book I talked about in my post yesterday arrived late last night as an e-book.  It’s 54 pages long so it is something of an exaggeration to call it a “book” and rather dear at more than $.50 per page.

However, in terms of the research findings, I could have written it myself.  I have reached the same conclusions after researching the field, and like Goldschmidt, have found that a change in lifestyle has brought about a change in my bone health without the help of medically prescribed medication.

Since I reached these conclusions independently, I do not think it is unfair to summarize the main points on which we heartily agree:

1.  The relationship between bone density and bone fracture, contrary to popular opinion, is not strong.  Many women, especially in Asian cultures, have far fewer fractures than we do in the West, even though our bone density in the West is much greater.

2.  Bones get thinner with age.  Period.  It’s not a disease anymore than wrinkles and grey hair are a disease.  So what is causing the fearful increase in fractures among older women especially in the West?  The problem is not thinning bones but brittle bones.  A thin stalk of bamboo might survive much greater assault because it can bend than a dense but brittle branch.  It’s the same with bones.  The question is not what is making our bones less dense but what is making them so brittle.

3.  More than anything it’s probably due to the food we eat, with a strong secondary push from our reduced exercise.  Fundamentally the problem is that we generally eat too many acidic foods and not enough alkaline foods.  Because our blood needs to be kept at neutral in order for us to stay alive, the body leaches calcium from the bones to restore the balance if we’ve eaten too many acidifying foods.

4.  So what should we be eating to get more alkaline foods and less acidifying foods?  Broadly translated into ordinary English, it means more fruit and vegetables, and fewer grain products, animal  and dairy products.  If this sounds to you a lot like the same nutritional regime that reduces cancer and heart disease, it is.  Which is encouraging.  A healthy diet is a healthy diet is a healthy diet.

To be a little more specific, healthy alkaline foods are almost all fruit and vegetables, wine, draft beer,  mineral water, buckwheat, millet, sprouted beans and seeds,  most spices and herbs, and some nuts.  The mother of all alkaline foods are raisins and figs.  A handful of raisins or a few dried figs once or twice a day have multiple health benefits.

Acidifying foods are essential for human health, but we need no more than one acid food for about each four alkaline foods we eat.  Acid foods include almost all grains (or things made from grains like bread and pasta), legumes and beans, dairy products (including milk, which may be a surprise because it contains a lot of calcium), all meat and fish.  Hard cheeses and egg yolks are highly acidifying – the opposite of raisins and figs.

Personally, I can’t get into compulsively counting the number of acid and alkaline foods I am having every time I prepare a meal.  But I do look at the menus I serve most often and have made a few alkaline additions to meals that are high on the the acidic side.

Foods to be drastically reduced (or eliminated altogether if your will power is greater than mine) include fizzy drinks, spinach, rhubarb, peanuts & peanut butter, milk and dairy products.  Caffeine can be a killer for bones, so if you are a coffee, tea, or soda fiend, an addiction to any of these can be worth fighting.

5.  Do we need supplements?  Yes.  1400 mg calcium (calcium citrate tends to be absorbed the best) with half that much magnesium.  It’s a bother, but calcium has to be taken several times a day, because we can only absorb 500 mg at a time.  So it’s a waste of money to take more than that.  (I take mine with breakfast, dinner, and just before I go to bed.)  Also take either separately or in a multi-vitamin daily amounts of vitamins D, C and K, along with silicon, boron, selenium, copper, manganese, and zinc.

6.  Don’t skip the exercise.  20 minutes a day is best, but 3 x a week will help a lot.  I turn on music and do a circuit by rotating every two minutes from stretching, strength training, and aerobics.  It is the only way I have found to keep deadly boredom from turning my good resolutions into promises for what I’ll do tomorrow instead.

7.  Fosamax and the other biphosphonates that are routinely perscribed to women with low bone density might, in the long term, be extraordinarily dangerous to bone health.  It increases “density” by stopping natural bone loss.  Unfortunately, it also stops normal bone replacement.  So it may be fostering dense but very brittle bones.  It hasn’t been around long enough to know for sure.  We do know for sure that Fosamax also has some other draconian side effects for some people that make a fracture look like the preferred option.  In my opinion, Fosamax is a very high risk option in light of the alternatives.

If you want to read more but don’t want to do all the research yourself, The Bone Health Revolution is a good summary.  It’s available at   Osteoporosis:  the silent epidemic by Marilyn Glenville, PhD is excellent and so is her website  Her book is available on and   She favours changing one’s food patterns as the first strategy, but is not as horrified by the possibility of biphosphonates as Goldschmidt is – or I am.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

January 30, 2008

Osteoporosis comment: wisdom or spam?

Filed under: Osteoporosis,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 2:12 pm

Someone has just added a comment to my November 6th post about osteoporisis suggesting that I check out her website which I did, and which turned out to be an advertisement for her book, The Bone Health Revolution.  It’s not available on Amazon or any other bookstore I can find, and the publisher is not identified.

Ordinarily I look at this kind of thing with weary cynicism, but this woman sounded so much like me that I ordered her book.

It is by Vivian Goldschmidt, a New York woman with an M.A. in nutrition and whose doctor urged her to start taking Fosamax.  Like meshe  started to do some research on the subject rather than plunge forward unheeded to follow the advice.  Much like me, she uncovered a lot of information that gave her pause, and, also like me, set out to find a natural cure for her thinning bones.

She says she’s found it and has written a book which she is selling for a few cents less than $30 (U.S.  currency).  I’ve ordered it.  Since it has to come to me here in England it may take some time to arrive, but when it’s here, I will read it and give you my assessment.

It will be interesting to compare her claimed route to success with mine.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

January 12, 2008

Predicting the past

Filed under: Life as a Nun,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 5:25 pm

Yogi Berra once said that prediction was difficult, especially when you are talking about the future.  I’ve often thought that, although we think predictions are more uncertain the further into the future we go, it is often events about two seconds in the future that hold the most unexpected surprise.

Today Peter and I were walking in London on our way back to Kings Cross to catch the train to Cambridge.  Without any warning whatsoever, I tripped.  I tripped over absolutely nothing visible for no identifiable reason, but went careening across the sidewalk, dizzily trying to avoid running into pedestrians coming in the opposite direction and pushing them into the traffic.  I almost caught myself, but failed and the first part of me to hit the concrete was – my cheekbone.

Two men got to me before Peter, and helped me up with great solicitations.  I was mostly embarrassed, but it must have looked absolutely awful, and it was difficult to assure either my husband or the two strangers that apart from what was rapidly becoming a black eye, I was fine.  During the five seconds or so in which I was crashing to the ground, Peter thought I was having a stroke or heart attack, and it must have felt like one of those moments when the future changes totally in a two second segment.  We are now home, and he is still in shock, I think.  I myself am no longer in shock, but I am concerned that I did not catch myself with my hands instead of falling on my face.  With my osteoporosis, a fall like that could indeed short-circuit my future quite substantially.

Predicting the past, on the other hand, is somewhat easier.  Someone has just sent me a story about a play three of us put on as young professed sisters at Maryknoll, and as Yogi Berra also said, it’s like deja vu all over again.

The author, G, describes herself as a dreamer, supremely confident that we could carry it off with aplomb.  T was a doer – she procured copies of the play, the props, and somehow a huge selection of costumes from which we fashioned our stage outfits.  “Bernadette Mary,” G says, “was the most practical.”  I was also the most sceptical, and a perfectionist.  Most of all I realized the danger in the serious possibility that we could all make fools of ourselves.  Yes, that would have been me.  More concerned to avoid ridicule than to produce a flawed but creative entertainment.  I asked how I looked in my selection of costumes and managed apparently to look quite fetching.  Yes, I would have been sure to manage that.  (I didn’t get over an almost obsessional concern about how I looked until I met Peter, who paradoxically convinced me that I was indeed quite physically attractive, and that he would love me even if I weren’t.)

We three were young and energetic with a lot of good will.  We complemented each other more than we knew then, each contributing our strengths and talents, and doing for the other what we could not do for ourselves.

How good the play actually was, though, I can’t remember.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

December 11, 2007

Osteoporosis update

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 3:57 pm

I saw the consultant this morning about my bone density scan and the t-scores that two years ago listed me as somewhere between osteopenic (potentially worrisome) and osteopathic (full-blown worrisome).  I told him I had been reluctant to start taking a biphosphonate like Fosamax then because I hadn’t yet been convinced that the relatively sudden thinning of my bones that showed up in my scan then wasn’t due to a life style change that occurred when we moved from Spain to England.  Shortly after our move, the trails were closed in the Lake District where we lived.  So I spent up to eight hours a days writing my book instead of hiking,  getting both less exercise and less vitamin D through exposure to sunshine than I did for ten years in Spain.  I probably compounded the problem by adopting a diet heavy in peanuts and peanut butter which I now know is high in oxalic acid that interferes with calcium absorption.

Against the optimistic hypothesis that my bone thinning was due to life style, I have a sister and several first cousins who are suffering from osteoporosis, and since it runs in families, this is not encouraging.  On the other hand, I also have two sisters whose bones seem to resemble steel.  In the hopes that it is something over which I have control, I radically changed my life style two years ago, taking calcium and vitamin D supplements and getting at least 30 minutes serious exercise on most days.

So I was eager to see the results of my most recent bone scan last month and to compare them to the readings I got two years ago.  Alas the readings are not exactly comparable because they are done on two different machines and with two slightly different measurements.  But the good news is that the consultant was clear that the bottom line is that my bones have not degraded further, and there is a possibility that I have even begun to reverse the process.

Hallelujah!  I’m thrilled.  It does mean, of course, that I’ve got to keep up this regime for probably the rest of my natural life.  Once I’m into the un-natural stage, I presume I can relinquish the discipline but for the time being, it’s calcium supplements with each meal and before I go to bed, along with – and this is the real demand – circuit training for half hour on most days.  Unfortunately, the consultant was quite clear that the exercise bit was a critical part of the regime.  Of course, exercise usually has a lot of other benefits as well, though it’s hard to keep them upper most in my mind during what I usually find to be a fairly boring 30 minutes.

But it could be so much worse that I dare not suggest I do anything but celebrate.  That truly is easy.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

November 7, 2007

About bones and taxes

Filed under: Osteoporosis,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 8:54 pm

I don’t usually indulge in a double gin and tonic.  I don’t usually indulge in more than one single gin and tonic a week.  But I did tonight.  Not sure about the delays of rush hour traffic I might run into, I arrived this morning at the doctor’s office (known as “surgery” here in the UK) at 8:30 for my 9:00 appointment.  Unfortunately, the receptionist had re-booked me for 4:30 but forgotten to tell me.  There was nothing to do but return eight hours later, which I did.  By then the doctor was running late, and I saw him at 5:30.

But I finally did find out the results of my latest bone density scan.  Basically they are inconclusive.  Things probably – probably – haven’t gotten worse, but there is a built-in error rate when different machines are used, a problem compounded by the fact that different measurements were also taken.  So I’m seeing a bone specialist after a blood test next week to find out if any more light can be shed on what is happening.  Possibly my bones are thinning at a normal rate which, unfortunately, started with my menopause which began 4-5 years earlier than average.

But the shock was to come home to the email from my tax accountant here who estimates that I probably owe several thousand dollars in back taxes, interest, and penalties for the last five years.  This will not drive us into the poor house.  It will not force us, even, to choose between heat and hunger.  But it will cost.  And I am not someone who doesn’t deliberately pay the tax I owe when it is due, so it is somewhat shattering.  I’m looking forward to receiving the forms tomorrow or Friday to see what went so drastically wrong in my calculations.

My survival strategy is not very profound, but it usually works.  Basically, it’s a version of “well, things could be worse.”  This doesn’t work for Peter at all, but I take consolation in telling myself that if I could choose between learning today that my back tax bill is much greater than I expected or that my bones had continued to deteriorate at a dangerous rate, I’d take what in fact I got.  So things could be worse.

On the other hand, I do have to agree with Peter that they could be better.  Well, who knows?  maybe they are.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

November 6, 2007

Osteoporosis and the Cambridge night climbers

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 3:27 pm

Two years ago a bone density scan revealed that I was developing a dangerously fragile spine.  The doctor said she could not explain my relatively rapid bone loss so many years after my menopause, but strongly advised that I start taking Fosamax or one of the other biphosphonates.  I looked at the scan results, learned what all the numbers in all the columns meant, read everything I could about osteoporosis, and the side-effects of biphosphonates, and decided to try a different strategy.

For two years I have been following a schedule of circuit training exercises and supplements chosen specifically to increase my calcium absorption.  Six weeks ago I went for another bone density scan and asked at the laboratory if I could have a copy of the test results.  I was told that “We don’t give patients their test results because they usually can’t understand them.”  “What if the patient is able to understand them?” I asked.  This entailed consultation with someone in a position of higher authority, who needed in turn to consult her superior.  In the end, the conclusion was that I could not be given a look at my results but that I was, of course, free to ask my doctor who, given his greater wisdom, could judge whether I could be trusted with such personal knowledge about myself.

So tomorrow I have an appointment with Dr. Gee, my GP whom I’ve only met once before now but whom I think I am going to like.  I don’t know at this point where he studied, but in trying to describe him to my husband, I said I thought he was the kind of student who could have been a night climber.

Here in Cambridge, there are students who become “night-climbers.”  Night climbing is severely frowned upon by university authorities, but has been going on for centuries.  At night, students try to scale one of the ancient buildings, often leaving behind some marker that they have been there.  Bones have been broken, students have been expelled (or “sent down,” as the term is used here) but it continues.  While they are at university, for obvious reasons they keep their identity secret, but in later life, some of the most amazing people are revealed as retired night climbers.  One is today a member of parliament.

I personally think that Dr. Gee has just a streak of the night climbers’ independent risk-taking capacity, and that he will let me have a copy of my scan results tomorrow.   The next challenge will be to decide what I am going to do if, despite my efforts, the scan shows my bones have continued to deteriorate.

By this time tomorrow, I should have some idea what I’m facing.  Assuming I am not yet flat on my back with a fractured spine, I will write about what happens in my post tomorrow.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

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