I have been intrigued by whole body vibration (WBV) for a few years now. If you’ve caught earlier posts, you’ll recall that whole body vibration was developed in India and then passed onto the Greeks to improve overall functioning. More recently, it was used by the Russians to rehabilitate astronauts who may have lost muscle and bone mass during space missions. Now, however, it’s embraced by many sports medicine clinics and fitness facilities and gaining widespread popularity as strategy for improving leg muscle strength (and by default, balance and mobility) among adults as they age.
Positive evidence continues to accumulate in favour of WBV and in fact, researchers have conducted an extensive review of existing studies to assess whether or not WBV training can decrease the risk of falls and fractures. This is important since women as young as 35 years start to lose bone density and strength and by the time they reach the age of 50, they have a 40% risk of suffering a fracture due to osteoporosis during the rest of their lifetime. Moreover, during the first five years after menopause, women can experience as much as a 30% loss of bone density.
A bit of detail….this specific analysis included 15 studies enrolling both men and women between the ages of 64 and 82. Half of them included women only. WBV was conducted between 1 and 5 times per week over a period of 6 weeks to 18 months, and vibration was delivered during the sessions from anywhere to 15 seconds to 3 min for up to 27 times. The techniques were either vertical vibration (in which one stands on the platform and the vibration is delivered upwards), or side-alternating (in which the vibration is delivered side to side; this strategy apparently mimics a see-saw and the natural human gait.
Overall, they found that WBV may help to improve basic balance ability (i.e. sitting and standing balance) and offer significant benefit in terms of overall functional ability, especially in frailer individuals. Less clear, however, is whether or not it is effective in ultimately preventing falls; in this case, one could argue that by improving balance, WBV lowers fall and fracture risk but it isn’t so clear cut. What may actually be the case is that WBV plus an exercise program can help to do both.
So clearly, the verdict is still out on the usefulness of WBV. What’s more? The exact regimen that offers the most benefit remains unknown. Still, it’s clear that some data suggest that as we age, there are strategies other than drugs that might help to keep us walking and balanced.
As always, there is no time like the present to get moving on exercise and bone health awareness. You may be in your mid-30s and believe that nothing is going to change, but the stats are stacked against you without some sort of self-intervention.
Positive vibration? You bet!
Bone health and osteoporosis. Yes, I know I keep writing about it. The reason is simple: you ARE at risk of losing your bone density and strength, especially if you are a woman over the age of 35. And if you are 50 or older? You have as much as a 40% risk of suffering a fracture due to osteoporosis during the rest of your lifetime. Moreover, during the first five years after menopause, women can experience as much as a 30% loss of bone density.
I can’t emphasize it enough. The risk is there. It is inevitable. However, you can reduce your risk a little bit by incorporating the following message into your life:
Use it. Or lose it.
In other words, you need to move.
The latest news out of the esteemed Cochrane Collaboration (an international organization that extensively reviews medical research) is that exercise specifically designed to promote bone growth and preserve existing bone mass, namely the type that places mechanical stress on the body, is necessary. The newly-published review of 43, scientifically sound (i.e. randomized, controlled studies) is an update of a review that appeared in 2000. Of the 4,320 postmenopausal women included in the reviewed trials:
- Those who engaged in any form of exercise had slightly less (0.85%) bone loss than women who did not.
- Those who performed combinations of exercise types, i.e. walking, jogging, dancing, progressive resistance training, vibration platform had, on average, as much as 3.2% less bone loss than those who did not exercise.
- Non-weight bearing exercise, such as progressive resistance strength training targeting the lower limbs, was shown to slightly preserve bone mineral density at the hip, while the combination of exercise, per above, was most beneficial for slightly preserving bone mineral density at the spine. (Did you know that spine and hip fractures are the most common among women with osteoporosis?)
The conclusions are pretty clear: long periods of inactivity lead to reduced bone mass.However, here is a simple way to mitigate some of this loss, albeit slightly, and even help reduce the costly effects of osteoporosis: Exercise.
The best exercises? Those that stress or mechanically load the bones, meaning the type that make the bones support body weight or resist movement, such as aerobic or strength training, walking, or Tai Chi.
Ultimately, your goal is prevent osteoporosis from occurring in the first place. While some amount of bone loss is part and parcel with aging, resistance training is critical.
Move it or lose it.Read More
For years, researchers have been exploring the potential of soy isoflavones — naturally-occurring plant estrogens — for alleviating menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, atrophy and bone loss. Thus far, certain components of soy, including genestein and S-equol have shown the most promise. However, are they safe? And, as the adoption of soy as a viable alternative to risk-ridden hormone replacement therapy continues to grow, and women turn to supplements rather than food-based soy, is there anything that they need to worry about in terms of side effects?
Researchers recently evaluated this question in a study of 403 postmenopausal women who took either 80 mg soy tablets, 120 mg soy tablets or placebo tablet daily for two years. The particular type of soy isoflavones used were hypocotyl isoflavones, which are a byproduct of soy protein and (very rich in daidzein – the second most plentiful isoflavone in soy. The effects of the supplements were measured at the study’s start, at one year and at the end via blood tests and a well-woman examination (i.e. mammogram, pap smear, x-rays to measure bone density). A smaller group of women also had ultrasounds done to determine any possible effects on the lining of the uterus or development of fibroids.
Although the primary goal of the study was to determine the effects of this type of soy supplement on osteoporosis and bone loss, the researchers discovered that taking soy supplements during this time period did not present any major risk to health and did not affect thyroid function. Although one participant developed breast cancer during the study and one, endometrial cancer, 1) utrasounds in the subgroup of women who received them did not show any uterine thickening and 2) the rate of cancer development in this study, only two women over a two year time period, was considerably lower than statistically likely in a general population of women. Both of these factors support the contention that soy isoflavones are not likely to promote either cancers.
So, is soy safe over the long-term? It appears that it is. HOWEVER, bear in mind that the type of soy used in this study is are very different that the type that is commonly sold over the counter, which commonly contain higher percentages of genistein, the most plentiful isoflavone component in soy.
And what about osteoporosis? This particular paper did not address those specific results, although others have. Thus far, the results have been mixed. However, this particular study, better known as OPUS (Osteoporosis Prevention Using Soy)is one of the largest and most comprehensive to date and those findings are likely to come to light soon.
In the interim, if you are going to be taking soy in supplement form, be mindful that your exposure is likely to be as one to four times that a typical Asian diet and as much as 100 times that of a typical Western diet. While these level do not appear to be harmful, herbal and plant medicines are not without risk so as always, the rule of thumb is be vigilant and speak to a health practitioner first.Read More
When it comes to aging and women, bone health is a big deal. As I’ve written time and again on Flashfree, women are at a particularly high risk for bone loss as they age because of declining estrogen levels, and in turn, a reduced ability to prevent an increase in net bone resorption (i.e. bone loss due to the activity of bone cells). And while we’ve been told that excess body fat actually protects against bone loss, novel research is putting that myth to rest. This news may affect the millions of women who are considered obese based on their body mass index (BMI > 30), who, although at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and joint disease, were at least believed to have a weapon against osteoporosis.
In a small study that was presented at this week’s Radiological Society of North America meeting, an assessment of the abdominal and total fat and bone mineral density of 50 premenopausal women of varying BMI showed surprising results. According to the lead researcher, Dr. Miriam Bredella, “the general consensus has been that increased body fat protects against bone loss and obese women are at decreased risk for developing osteoporosis. However, we found that visceral fat — the deep belly fat — makes bone weaker.” In fact, the researchers found that women with more belly fat had significant declines in their bone mineral density and increases in the degree of fat within their bone marrow, but that total body fat or fat existing right below the skin had little impact on bones.
An important challenge for women is not only that metabolism slows and the risk for obesity increases as we age, but also, a natural increased risk for redistribution of fat to the abdominal area. And unfortunately, it’s one of the most challenging areas to address, requiring significant increases in physical activity and decreases in caloric intake. Some data suggest that isoflavones might help reduce waist circumference as well, although they are hardly definitive at this point. Still, a word to the wise: that belly fat is not going to protect your bones. Time to start moving and eating correctly; your bones will thank you.Read More
Weight loss improves health, right? Well, yes, and no. Because it turns out that weight loss also increases the rate that the bone loses density, so in midlife and menopause, weight loss can be a double-edged sword.
In two recent studies published in the online edition of the Journal of Gerontology, researchers are reporting that women already at risk for osteoporosis due to their age and menopausal status may want to pay attention to what they eat when they try to lose weight. In fact, consuming large amounts of protein derived primarily from animal sources, e.g. lean meats like pork, beef and chicken, may negatively impact bone density and in turn, further increase osteoporosis risk.
Here’w what you need to know:
- In the first study, women between the ages of 43 and 80 reduced their daily caloric intake by 750 calories. Over three months, about half of the women ate meat-free diets that derived about 18% of their daily protein from vegetarian, dairy and egg sources and other half, ate diets comprised of about 30% protein derived from lean pork.
- In the second study, women between the same ages consumed about 1,250 calories a day in five meals over nine weeks. While the bulk of these calories were from a vegetarian diet, women were asked to eat either 250 calories of carbs daily (shortbread cookies, sugar coated chocolates), chicken (plus 10 grams of butter) or the equivalent in fat/saturated fat but as beef.
- Although women in the first study lost about the same amount of weight (~19 lbs), those eating animal protein has a 1.4% greater loss of bone mass. Likewise, in the second study, all the women lost weight but those women eating animal protein sources lost significantly more bone mass compared to women eating carbs.
- Women in both of these studies were considered overweight or obese based on their body-mass indices (BMI).
Importantly, many of the today’s popular diets for weight loss (e.g. South Beach, Atkins) emphasize increased intake of protein over carbohydrates (although the former also emphasizes good versus bad (i.e. glycemic index) carbs. What this means is that while you are cutting back, you may also be losing more bone mass than you normally would with weight loss.
Consequently, one of best approaches for women who are going through menopause and trying to keep the weight off may be to increase the daily amount of so-called “good fats,” which as my friend Mollie Katzen, suggests should include nuts, avocados and fatty fish like salmon. Many of these foods are also good sources of protein and while not necessarily working to build bone, may stave off bone mass loss while you are trying to lose a few pounds or maintain your current weight.
At the end of the day, it’s all about balancing the good, the bad and the ugly. Our skeleton is fragile and it’s critical that we do all we can to keep it in one piece.Read More