11/16/2011

Mass confusion on Bone Density

Its winter again, and probably a good time to mention a problem that relates to winter.  I’ve never encountered another person who understands bone health. Since I am into all things space, I happen to know an astounding amount about bone health.  Everyone understands that calcium has something to do with it, but that’s the extent. For a surprisingly simple set of mechanisms, there’s a vast lack of understanding on the subject. So much that few would even understand how winter could affect your bone strength negatively.
 
Astronauts know very well that a lack of use of your bones causes deterioration. Since they go into space and hang around in an environment without gravity, the bones do not get any heavy use. Without use bones do not strengthen. It’s so true that the only ground based analog for our bones in space is to have somebody lay in a bed, it causes similar deterioration in bones.
 
When you use a bone you put a load on it, this load causes the bone to bend or compress very slightly. This load results in the very tiny locations on your bones that have weakness to put out a very small voltage. This voltage attracts nearby calcium and phosphorous. The calcium and phosphorous bind to the weak location and strengthen it.
 
This means that you can take all the calcium you want, if you don’t use your bones they will not use the calcium. Furthermore, if you take calcium, and somehow don’t have any phosphorous, then your bones cannot use said calcium.
 
What does this have to do with winter? Well it turns out that Vitamin D is loosely related to the amount of calcium (and possibly phosphorous) that your blood can absorb. In those cold winter months when we all get less sun, our bodies have a harder time absorbing the calcium we consume… Didn’t you ever wonder why the put vitamin D in milk?
 
Never mind that the calcium in milk deteriorates fast, or that the fluoride ion in tap water replaces some calcium. The very lack of knowing this simple mechanism is probably the root cause of osteoporosis. I’ve heard that having excess vitamin D in your system, and no calcium, can cause the calcium to be leeched from your bones, but that’s just a rumor.
 
Step 1: Get a tan, keep a tan
 
Step 2: Consume Vitamin D (if you can’t get a tan)
 
Step 3: Take Phosphorous with your Calcium
 
Step 4: Use it or lose it… no couches, beds, or chairs.
 
Step 5: Don’t drink tap water, and don’t swallow toothpaste.
 
I could probably go into a diatribe on gravity on the moon and mars, but that’ll be another day.

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