It was on January 24, 1987, while visiting my parents at their winter home in Ft. Myers, Florida, that I picked up the NEWS-PRESS and was immediately drawn to an article featuring Rosemary Fisher. "Disease-stricken woman outwits 'bone robbers'" by Barbara L. Compton.
How could this woman really have reversed the ongoing bone change of osteoporosis in her own body? Osteoporosis, or loss of bone mass, is primarily a result of the aging process, about which the medical community has had little to offer regarding prevention, improvement, containment, or reversal (apart from medications which may be expensive, subject to side-effects, or, as in the case of estrogen, be unavailable to those who may be cancer prone). What therapy is available to those who have already been diagnosed with this condition, which is not detected on standard x-rays until there is a 30% loss of bone mass. Even then, it is not considered much of a problem until there is a fracture, or bone density studies equate loss at "high" or extreme."
Treatment is generally reserved for the acute situation which is evidenced by pain, fracture, or severe curvature of the cervical and thoracic spines. At this point, one seeks relief by estrogen replacement, calcitonin injection, sodium fluoride and other therapies which may include phosphates. Along with these medications, supplements of calcium, Vitamin D, and exercise are always advised as supportive therapy. Even though we have long known that dietary calcium is the foremost deterrent for this national epidemic, we have been able to offer little direction to our patients. On many occasions, when a diet rich in calcium is recommended, the patient makes the statement, "I can't eat those foods because they will raise my cholesterol!" Even the calcium tablets which many are taking (with the blind hope that they are doing themselves a good service) will not pass the test of dissolving in a glass of water, or even vinegar, within one-half hour! The very idea that diet may be a major contributing factor in defeating the trend of this silent disease, which accounts for an estimated 250,000 hip fractures a year, rapidly gained my inquisitive attention!
My work as a Rheumatology Nurse Practitioner has focused on prevention and amelioration of disease as I deal with the many forms of incurable arthritis. I am all too familiar with a principal side-effect of prednisone - which confronts countless patients when this steroid has to be taken over an extended period of time in a fairly high dose - osteoporosis. I am all too aware of fragile bones and steroid- induced fractures, especially of the hip and thoracic spine, with resultant muscle spasm and pain. Prednisone is a life-saving, disease-restraining drug, a blessing in so many ways for the patient with rheumatic disease or severe asthma. Yet, it provides the probability for a different type of pain and suffering in later years after long-term usage. Many patients require treatment for the muscle spasm, in addition to the bone pain, which accompanies osteoporotic change, and medications used to treat such spasm may have their own bevy of side effects.
Of equal concern are those millions of light-skinned women who may anticipate osteoporosis to one degree or another due to menopause. Menopause is a period of time in the life cycle which most women are happy to encounter, as it means the cessation of the menstrual cycle. However, too few think of the consequences of this cessation. Estrogen is a retardant to osteoporosis, but when the ovaries shut down this needed hormone is no longer produced. Many women, especially those with a history of breast cancer, either personally or within their family, are not good prospects for hormone replacement. For these women osteoporosis becomes an even greater threat. Surgical menopause sets a course for the younger woman who may not have had to deal with this problem until much later in life.
All of these things flowed through my mind as I became anxious to meet this extraordinary woman who made such an outstanding claim. Therefore, one month later the privilege was mine and I spent a totally engrossing four hours listening, observing, reviewing her research files and tasting the evidence!
As I was welcomed into her home, I was immediately struck by the glow of her complexion. At first, I felt a bit skeptical about accepting the fact that this was a woman at the brink of seventy who had been faced with a verdict of unrelenting pain only two years before.
Additionally, there was her husband, Al, obviously kind and gentle, who sat quietly and listened to her story as she shared her history with me. A story he had heard over and over, yet, he too listened with uncompromising devotion and a continued sparkle in his eyes! It was not until the end of her sharing of the accident, the pathway to finding an answer, and the calcium-enriched recipes that Al added another claim. Her diet had also accounted for the healing of his heart disease and blocked arteries! The end result is the fact that he is no longer taking any of the many medications that he had previously taken to sustain his life. He had been at such risk that bypass surgery was unable to be performed due to arteries too full of plaque. Here was one obviously energetic, adoring man who silently stated, "Her diet works," by not other means than his healthful appearance and smiling nods.
Rosemary shared her personal research, the many medical journals to which she subscribed, and a large filing cabinet loaded down with clippings from newspapers and every periodical imaginable. I was impressed. This research was done out of sheer determination to change a process and she was undaunted! Having a background in academic research, I was very familiar with well-controlled scientific studies which are designed for the removal of as much bias as possible. Here I saw research of a different kind. Driven. Anecdotal. No controls. And, a definite bias...calcium-enriched foods, with proper nutrients, along with the elimination of 'bone robbers', will reverse the course of osteoporosis! The facts were there as the words came from scientific authors. My time spent with Rosemary and Al was very impressive. Yet my former work in clinical research with the Division of Rheumatic Diseases at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine cautioned me with skepticism and held forth the idea that I must learn more about Rosemary, her diet, her husband, and the responses of others. And this I have done.
In severe cases of osteoporosis, the medications mentioned above as well as those on the horizon have been and will be of great benefit for countless persons. Expensive though they might be, they do provide hope in an acute situation. However, here is opportunity for an alternative, natural means of maintaining sturdy bone structure without the usual dietary risk of calcium-enriched foods increasing cholesterol levels.
Rosemary's personal response, via increased quality of life and improved bone density studies warranted exposure to the medical community. In early December, 1988, in Tampa, Florida, Rosemary spoke for the first time to those in the Southeast region of the country who deal on a daily basis with the problems of osteoporosis. She participated, along with Dr. Dale Braman, Radiologist, Director of the Osteoporosis/Imaging Center of Palm Harbor, Florida, and myself, in a presentation to the Arthritis Health Professions Association of the Arthritis Foundation entitled, 'Osteoporosis - Diagnosis, Treatment, and an Outstanding Case Study.' Response was exceptional. Those in attendance knew that they had been with an unusual woman, a real professional. A woman who lives the words she speaks.
May Rosemary's work provide the catalyst for in-depth nutritional research into osteoporosis with the hypothesis that we will control this national tragedy if we change dietary habits. Let us speak to our youth, especially our girls, with renewed vigor on the weakening effects of caffeine and soda on strong bones. May we impress upon women that by the age 35, the Osteoporotic years are not so far away as to allow them to be unconcerned with the prevention of the consequences.
HEALTHY EATING SITE INDEX
This index provides a list of further research summaries and recipes on some of the many ways foods can help prevent or reverse specific conditions. Just click on the ones that are of interest to you.
Rosemary C. Fisher.
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