Have your youthful indiscretions left you at risk?

  • A shocking health revelation for an old friend.
  • How could being overweight protect you?
  • Natural ways of combating bone weakness & helping you stop the bad habit that can lead to it.

None of us are perfect… certainly not me!

Few of us have led blameless lives without the odd indulgence into something that places our bodies under pressure or at risk.

However, I was sad to hear from one of my University friends about how her smoking back then placed her at risk now.

During those heady bohemian days we thought we would live forever and health advice was for old folk; we all had a pretty wild time.

The University bar was busy every night, the local chip shop did a brisk trade and it seems like everywhere we went a heavy cloud of cigarette smoke hung over everything.

There were a few half hearted anti-smoking campaigns running, but we were too cool to listen.

Ceris was a tall, willowy woman, who never seemed to gain weight despite an appetite like a horse and she was a mainstay of my group of friends that shared a house together.  Looking back I guess she smoked maybe ten to fifteen cigarettes a day, but so did loads of the others.

I lost contact with her over the years, but thanks to the internet we began corresponding again recently. That was how I heard about her recent problem.

She described how she had suffered a fall off a chair, nothing outrageous just lent over too far, and ended up breaking her hip.

The resulting X-rays and further tests revealed that she was suffering from Osteoporosis, a condition which was predisposed by her age and previous smoking habit – even though she had completely given up 10 years before.

Why eating more chips might have been a good thing

The discussion she had had with the nutritionist actually made her feel worse as she was told that she would have been less likely to have developed the condition if she had been overweight.

It seems that the more weight the body has to carry the more strength develops in the bones, and the less likely you are to succumb to osteoporosis.

That just seems so unfair.

I know you might consider that Ceris has only herself to blame because of the smoking and that there was enough information out there to get her to quit – but it was her only vice. It seems the health punishment is disproportionate to the crime.

Osteoporosis is the deterioration of the structure of the bones, turning the normally strong but light lattice in them into a weakened honeycomb which is susceptible to fracture.

It should not be confused with osteopenia, where the calcium and phosphorous salts in the bony matrix are depleted. Although those suffering from osteopenia are more at risk of developing osteoporosis, its effects can be reversed through nutrition and exercise.

Osteoporosis is more likely to affect women after the menopause as the lack of oestrogen in the body reduces the uptake of copper and calcium, which weakens the bones – in fact it is estimated that unchecked women can loose 3 per cent of their bone mass every year following the cessation of their periods.

Taking extra calcium alone is not an effective way to counter the loss in bone density as the problem is the body’s inability to metabolise calcium.

Bizarrely osteoporosis sufferers are more likely to have an EXCESS of calcium in their blood; they just can’t use it.  They are then more likely to develop kidney or gall stones and even arthritis.

What can Ceris do to help limit the effect of this condition?

You can you help yourself

Of all the preventative measures known, a good balanced diet and avoiding smoking seem to figure large in most advice.

Interestingly I read a recent report from The Royal Osteoporosis Society that recommends we should be consuming 700mg of calcium per day (and up to 100mg if you are already being treated for osteoporosis).

There was also a link to an Edinburgh University calcium calculator that lets you see how much calcium you are getting from your diet – it’s really easy to use and after I had plugged in the numbers it showed I was just over the 700mg, mostly because I eat lots of cheese, yoghurts and drink plenty of tea with milk.

Apple cider vinegar has cropped up again in my research.  It helps the body absorb calcium.  Naturally there has to be calcium present in your diet, but if you’re not absorbing it, it’s not doing you any good and could even make things worse.

In addition we need to avoid the compounds that PREVENT the body using the calcium. The chief dietary culprit for this is phosphorous, and that is found in huge quantities in cola. Which is another good reason to avoid the over sweet sickly stuff.

Maintaining levels of vitamin D through diet and exposure to sunlight are also important.

Whatever you do don’t take antacids in the belief that they contain the right sort of calcium, they don’t and in some cases contain talcum powder which can be toxic in high levels!

Finally, there are a few herbs which can prove effective:

  • Comfrey, traditionally known as ‘Knit Bone’, can help fractures heal and also promotes the uptake of calcium, magnesium and phosphate to build bone matrix.
  • Marshmallow, Skullcap & White Oak Bark are rich in calcium in a readily absorbed form.
  • Queen of the Meadow is rich in vitamin D

And if you smoke?

You don’t need me to tell you to quit.  You already know that.

Instead here are a few natural ways to curb cravings and protect your body from the perils of nicotine.

  • Gotu Kola has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years in India.  It is said to control the imbalance in your body’s chemical makeup that occurs when you have an addiction.
  • Avena Sativa is another traditional Indian herb which was used for centuries to treat opium addiction. Recent studies suggest it could help numb nicotine cravings.
  • Ashwagandha is yet another herb to look into. Considered to be one of the most powerful and useful Ayurvedic remedies it improves immunity and helps your body cope with chemical stresses – which is exactly what it’s going through when you give up smoking.

(The above previously appeared in the chapter on quitting smoking in my book The Spice Healer.)

So, I was able to provide ways for Ceris to help herself, however, she did check with her GP before embarking on these treatments and I would advise you to do the same.