Article #1: Osteoporosis: The Key To Aging by Robin HurRobin Hur is the author of "Food Reform, Our Desperate Need"
Osteoporosis, which means "porous bones," is the foundation of the entire so-called "aging" process; it produces the decrepitness of old age and it leaves in its wake a maelstrom of age-related degenerative conditions. Osteoporosis results from an insidious process of bone demineralization, which, over a period of many years, robs the bones of up to half of their original calcium content. The bones are left frail and weak, and to make matters worse, much of the lost bone calcium ends up in the walls of the blood vessels, the skin, the eyes, the joints and various internal organs.
The calcium that finds its way to the blood vessels causes hardening of the arteries; that which ends up in the skin causes wrinkling. In the joints the errant bone calcium takes the form of arthritic deposits, in the eyes it takes the form of cataracts and in the kidneys and bladder it becomes what we know as stones. Thus, osteporosis is (literally) the source of a broad range of degenerative processes.
The development of osteoporosis has now been linked to cancer, but even before the discovery of the cancer ties, gerontologists had concluded the "aging" process centers on the transfer of calcium from the hard tissues (bones) to the soft tissues (skin, arteries, joints, retina, etc.) It follows that keeping the bones intact, that is, prevent osteoporosis, is tantamount to preventing the degeneration of aging itself.
It is doubtful the bones of Westerners ever reach full maturity. It is beyond doubt, however, that at some stage of adulthood, their bone calcium begins to ebb and be carried away in the bloodstream. In time, the entire skeletal structure becomes porous, frail and weak. As members of that weakened structure, the vertebrae tend to yield to the load of the torso, so the back is wont to become crooked, compressed and painful. Such are the earmarks of osteoporosis, and with its onset, the individual tends to become stooped and normally loses inches off of his or her height. Spontaneous fractures of the vertebrae are common, as are fractures of the hips, arms, and legs. All of the bones are left vulnerable to breaks, which, when they do occur, are slow to heal.
A study at the University of Tennessee indicates that women usually develop osteoporosis following menopause but that men normally do not contract the disease until their early sixties. Other research indicates both sexes experience serious bone losses at much earlier ages.
Grim reports concerning the attrition of bone calcium in America should not be taken to mean that osteoporosis, nor for that matter what we call "aging," is unavoidable. Poor posture is the hallmark of osteoporosis, and Sula Benet describes the Abkhasians posture as "unusually erect, even unto advanced ages." Elderly Abkhasians are unbothered by spontaneous fractures, but as horsemen and mountain climbers, they do sometimes break bones and when such breaks do occur, they are wont to heal rapidly and completely, which would not be the case if they were suffering from osteoporosis.
Vilcabamba centenarians are, in Grace Halsell's words, "known to have healthy bones." Hundred-year-old Vilcabambans still work in the fields, bending the whole day, and show no ill effects. Ms. Halsell reports never having heard of an elderly Vilcabamban's having fallen and broken an arm, leg or hip. She adds that she saw not one Vilcabamban who limped or was disabled.
Other groups that manage to avoid osteoporosis include the Hunzas and Yucatan Maya. Like the Abkhasians and Vilcabambas, these groups live in traditional ways and take low-protein, primarily vegetarian diets. And from the way groups taking flesh-based diets decline with age, there is little doubt it is the diet of the Hunza, Abkhasians, et al. rather than their lifestyles, that enables them to circumvent osteoporosis.
The heavy meat eating Masai males, Eskimos, and Greenlanders apparently develop osteoporosis at very early ages. The Eskimos normally become bent, shrunken and disabled in their late 20s while Greenlanders become decrepit in their 30s. The most interesting case, however, is that of the Masai. The tribe's males spend their formative years roaming with their herds, drinking the animals' blood and milk, and eating only small amounts of plant foods. Then, at the age of 20 or so, they take off to do a two-year stint as warriors, during which time they try to live on flesh alone. Following the warrior stint, and while still in their early 20s, they migrate to the tribes' villages, arriving at the villages with bent backs, diminished heights and debilitated bodies, whereupon they are cared for by the villages' women until they die. Now here's the rub: the tribe's females, who remain in the villages while the males are out subsisting on flesh and making war, raise and eat plant foods, and remain remarkably free of osteoporosis.
Research linking osteoporosis and high-protein diets is upending the foundations of modern nutrition. In the words of Drs. Ammon Wachman and Daniel Bernstein of Harvard, "the association (of meat-based diets) with the increasing incidents of bone mass loss with age is inescapable." They go as far as to say "it might be worthwhile to consider" a diet emphasizing fruits and vegetables and only a moderate amount of milk. The head endocrinologist at the Jewish Hospital in St. Louis acknowledges that "vegetarians suffer less osteoporosis than people who eat lots of meat and have high-protein intake." The relationship between high-protein intake and loss of bone calcium was the subject of a major address before the nation's nutritionists in April. The speaker was Dr. Helen Linkswiler who, as head of the Nutrition Department at the University of Wisconsin, pioneered in protein-calcium research. Dr. Linkswiler and her colleagues are firmly convinced high-protein intake causes the bones to ebb.
Sharing that opinion are a growing number of nutritionists including two of the world's leading authorities on protein and calcium, Doris Calloway of Cal-Berkeley and Mark Hegsted of Harvard.
In the first protein-calcium studies (now just eight years old) it was found that a protein intake of 140 grams per day caused young men to lose their bone calcium at a rate of 3% of total bone mass per year. The subjects evidenced no capacity to adapt to the high protein intake, and at the rate they were losing calcium, they would have had no bones at all by their mid-fifties.
Subsequent studies showed young men experienced no bone losses when they were put on diets containing less than 50 grams of protein per day; but when their protein intake was raised to 95 grams per day, their ability to keep their bones intact depended on the amounts of calcium and phosphorus, the 95 grams of protein per day resulted in relatively small losses of bone calcium. But when the diet contained more realistic (albeit still favorable) levels of calcium and phosphorus, the 95 grams of protein per day resulted in calcium losses amounting to 2% of total body calcium per year. At that rate it would take the young men about 15 years to develop severe osteoporosis. It should be pointed out that the average protein intake of young American males exceeds 95 grams per day.
Studies with young women began only recently, and their peak protein intake was scaled down to 100 grams per day. It had been predicated that the presence of female sex hormones would protect the young women from serious bone losses, but this proved not to be the case. The young women responded to 100 grams of protein daily in essentially the same way the young men had responded to much higher intakes.
It is noteworthy that every single individual involved in one of these protein-calcium studies has responded to increased protein intake with decreased calcium retention. And, so far, all such studies have been conducted with young adults, who by virtue of their age, should be relatively resistent to bone deterioration. What is more, the reported losses were, in all cases, understated, for they took no account of sweat losses, nor did they make any allowances for any calcium that may have been deposited in soft tissues (measurements focused on what was excreted rather than what ebbed from the bones.) And with one exception, the experimental diets were fortified against loss of bone calcium through the presence of abnormally low amounts of phosphorus. Thus, the results of these studies actually tend to understate the effects of protein on the bones.
Phosphorus vs. Calcium
There is, of course, more to "protein foods" than just protein. Animal products are all high in phosphorus, and with the exception of dairy products, they all have very low calcium-to-phosphorus ratios. All animal products are high in chlorine and sulfur, low in manganese and magnesium, and with notable exceptions, they are high in fat and low in Vitamin C. Surprisingly, everyone of these characteristics tends to impair bone development and/or retention.
The relationship of phosphorus intake vis-a-vis calcium intake to bone development and retention has been the subject of extensive research. It has been found that when the phosphorus content of the diet is not excessive, a high calcium-to-phosphorus ratio promotes strong bones.
When, on the other hand, the phosphorus content of the diet is very high, bone deterioration is unavoidable.
High-phosphorus diets effect substantial rises in the level of phosphorus in the blood; and in what amounts to an effort to control the ratio of calcium-to-phosphorus in the blood, the body responds to a rise in blood phosphorus by removing calcium from the bones and releasing it into the bloodstream. Boosting intake of conventional calcium sources (dairy products) does nothing to alleviate the situation. Calcium absorption drops sharply when intake is elevated, so little of the added calcium actually reaches the bloodstream. Moreover, dairy products are high in phosphorus as well as calcium, and almost all of the phosphorus does get into the bloodstream. Thus the addition of dairy products to a diet already high in phosphorus may actually speed up the rate of bone deterioration.
Studies indicate the phosphorus content of typical diets is 20 to 100 percent above safe levels; moreover, calcium-to-phosphorus ratios are less than half what they should be. Meat and dairy products account for two thirds of the total phosphorus in typical diets. Eliminating just the meat would reduce total phosphorus intake to acceptable levels—it would also bring a dramatic increase in calcium-to-phosphorus ratio.
Phosphorus tends to acidify the blood. Chlorine and sulfur have the same effect, so when intake of one or more of these three minerals is excessive, the body goes in search of a buffering agent. Without some means of buffering the blood, a single overload of one or more of these minerals could cause severe acidosis, and even death. The body contains four minerals that can act as buffering agents, but only two of these, namely potassium and calcium, are available in quantity. Unfortunately, excesses of the acid-forming minerals are almost always accompanied by a rise in blood potassium levels, and since further increases in serum potassium could have dire consequences, the body tends to call upon its calcium bank (i.e., the bones) for a buffering agent.
The mechanism that initiates the removal of calcium from the bones also puts a halt on the excretion of calcium by the kidneys. The result is a rapid rise in blood calcium, which tends to bring about the deposit of calcium in the soft tissues in the form of kidney and bladder stones, arthritic deposits, etc. Thus, the acid-forming minerals are capable of triggering the entire "aging" (i.e., calcium transfer) process.
Foods that contain an excess of the acid-forming minerals (phosphorus, chlorine and sulfur) over and above the alkaline-forming minerals (calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium) are said to have an "acid ash." Foods that are on balance, alkaline in nature are said to have an "alkaline ash." Protein itself forms an acid ash and this may explain why high-protein intake causes the bones to give up calcium.
All so-called "protein foods," including milk, tend to acidify the blood. Without exception, they are rich in the three acid-forming minerals; moreover, all of their chlorine, and a major segment of their phosphorus, lies external to their protein. Thus, they have an acid-forming capacity which is independent of their protein. It follows that protein foods, such as beef and eggs, would be expected to cause even greater bone losses than isolated protein extracts, which served as the principle sources of protein in all but one of the aforementioned protein-calcium studies. And in the one study in which meat did serve as the protein source, calcium losses were indeed accelerated.
The addition of fruits and vegetables to the diets of young men taking 140 grams per day cut their bone calcium losses by 25 percent. Fruits and vegetables have an alkaline ash, so their addition to an acid-forming high-protein diet would tend to cut the need for bone calcium as a buffering agent.
Typical diets have a strong acid ash. The first step to alleviating this situation is to eliminate from the diet those items with really high acid ashes, namely meat, eggs, fish and poultry products. Without these, normal diets would be tolerably close to neutral and the individual would be in a position to work towards a truly good diet—which means, among other things, an alkaline ash diet.
Inactivity is still another, and possibly important, cause of skeletal erosion. Extended bed rest led to calcium losses at a rate of 6% of total bone mass per year in young men. On the other hand, exercise tends to enhance calcium retention and it has been shown that low-protein, low-fat diets boost endurance and engender spontaneous activity. High-fat, high-protein diets cut endurance and promote inactivity. It's just not a good day for the meat group.
The integrity of the bones depends on the supply of a number of minerals, including manganese and magnesium. An adequate supply of manganese enhances the strength and density of developing bones, while an adequate supply of magnesium tends to prevent bone calcium from ending up in the kidneys and bladder as stones.
Ironically, cow's milk is used to induce both manganese and magnesium deficiencies in animals.
Manganese-deficient milk left young rabbits with bowing front legs and a bone structure that was weak and porous. Magnesium-deficient low-fat milk induced kidney stones in 97 percent of a group of rats; it can offer no solace to milk drinkers that researchers believe the protein in milk played a role in the stone formation. In all fairness, though, it should be pointed out that milk is not the only dietary item that is low in manganese and magnesium: all animal products are markedly low in both minerals; in fact, the entire American diet is dreadfully low in both.
High-fat intake tends to inhibit calcium absorption through the formation of insoluble calcium compounds of the gut. Calcium absorption is aided by the presence of Vitamin C which tends to keep calcium in an absorbable state. It hardly needs pointing out that animal products are grossly high in fat and scurvy-low in Vitamin C.
The ties between animal products and the entire "aging" process (i.e., the transfer of calcium from the bones to the soft tissues), and osteoporosis in particular, make the cornerstone of the "four basic food groups" look like a tombstone. To recoup, normal diets contain enough protein to produce rapid bone losses, even among young adults. They also contain enough phosphorus to cause debilitating bone deterioration; and they have a calcium-to-phosphorus ratio that would be expected to both thwart bone development and speed deterioration. Normal diets have an acid ash capable of producing both bone deterioration arid the accumulation of calcium in the soft tissues:
Animal products are the principle source of the protein, the phosphorus, the low calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, and the acid ash in normal diets. What is more, animal products tend to effect bone-degenerating inactivity and deficiencies of bone formation-dependent manganese and stone-preventing magnesium. On top of this, animal products are very low in Vitamin C, which aids calcium absorption, and overloaded with fat, which inhibits calcium absorption. It's a one-sided picture, but it's a one-sided scene—and it bears a message of hope.
We don't have to face advanced age as less than skeletons of our former selves. It is clear, though, that walking tall and, painlessly into the years ahead requires our abstaining from meat, eggs, poultry and fish. Little is to be gained by switches to meat substitutes, synthetic eggs, etc.—we need to get away from the protein, the fat, the phosphorus and the acid ash, not simply take them in "vegetable" form.
We do need a good source of calcium in the diet, but we don't need milk. Milk is, after all, merely a substitute, and a poor one, for dark green leafy vegetables. Collards, parsley, turnip greens, watercress, kale, mustard, spinach, etc. provide twice as much calcium as milk and yet they contain considerably less phosphorus. They have calcium-to-phosphorus ratios three to four times that to milk. And unlike milk, greens have a strong alkaline ash; what is more, they are excellent sources of manganese, magnesium, and Vitamin C. They are also free of the troublesome protein, fat and cholesterol of milk. As for the problem of excess protein, replacing the milk and cheese with a few ounces of greens (which is all that is necessary) would cut protein intake by 10-15 grams per day.
A few greens, including spinach, are high in oxalic acid, which may reduce the availability of their calcium. It is advisable to include at least one oxalate-free green (see earlier lessons on oxalic acid and which vegetables contain it and/or other irritant properties) in the diet, but there is no reason to avoid these vegetables completely. Vegetables are best taken raw, of course. Take them in salads, or enjoy their company and taste right in the garden.
We are going to hear a good deal more about osteoporosis during the next few years. The protein-calcium studies have upended the foundations of modern nutrition. Critics simply can't find any loopholes in the results. No exceptions. No extenuating circumstances. No inconsistencies. In the words of one of the nation's best known nutritionists: "I now realize we know almost nothing...." She went on to extol dark green leafy vegetables, leaving the impression they were a new thing to her.
It's happening. Meanwhile don't be fooled by claims you need a "protein source." Stick with the juices, fruits, greens and sprouts; they'll keep your bones intact, your soft tissues soft and your years without worry.
Home > Lesson 32 - Why We Should Not Eat Meat
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