For many years osteoporosis has been a mystery disease, striking most
frequently in old age, often crippling and always bringing pain. When it
strikes, bones gradually lose density and become more porous. They break
easier, and are proportionately harder to mend. Osteoporosis attacks 20
to 30 percent of post-menopausal women, and between 5 to 10 percent of
men more than 50 years old.

For a long time nothing was known of its cause. It was considered an
unavoidable part of aging. Researchers now know that the bones of the
body are continually "shedding" cells and being rebuilt. Osteoporosis
results when the shedding or breaking down and resorbing of the bone
occurs faster than the building-up process.

Here are several theories for-why this takes place. One is that the
building blocks of the bone-calcium, vitamin D, etc.-are lacking.
Sometimes, dietary supplements of these elements can reestablish a
normal balance so that the bone is replaced as quickly as it is

Studies have also shown that prolonged lack of exercise can cause
deterioration of the bone. In these cases, a simple exercise program
along with adequate dietary therapy can block the disease's progress.

A more recent finding is that osteoporosis can be caused by
overproduction of adrenal steroids and large doses of corticosteroids.
At the same time, certain other hormones (estrogens) appear to combat

All of the facts have been jangling around in the files of medical
researchers for months and years- making no sense to many of them, and
leaving osteoporosis as much a mystery disease as ever. Now Dr. Lewis B.
Barnett, a retired orthopedic (bone) surgeon living in Center, Colorado,
whose work we have cited in previous chapters, has advanced a theory
that takes into account and explains all these random facts. What's
more, Barnett has successfully tested his theory.

In a personal interview at his Colorado home, Meadow Ranch, Dr. Barnett
told us, "One of the most important aspects of the disease osteoporosis
has been almost totally overlooked. That aspect is the role played by

Health from Minerals in Water

Dr. Barnett first became interested in the role of magnesium in bones
and osteoporosis in 1950. At that time he began a series of
investigations in Hereford and Dallas, Texas. One purpose of the study
was to find out why people in later years frequently have fractures of
the cervical neck of the femur, and why in certain areas these heal with
great difficulty. These fractures rarely occurred in the Hereford area
but were common in Dallas.

When the fractures did occur in the Hereford area, at an average age of
82.5, the healing time was eight weeks. In Dallas, the fractures
occurred at the average of age 63, and, if they healed at all, took in
the vicinity of 6.3 months.

Barnett analyzed the soil and water content of the two areas, and
concluded the major factor in bone health was the mineral content of the
water supply. Analysis of the water showed that calcium alone could not
be the element responsible for combating osteoporosis. The Hereford
water contained only four parts per million of calcium while the Dallas
water contained 23 p.p.m. There were only slight differences in the
fluorine, iodine, and phosphorus content of the water. Barnett
considered these differences statistically insignificant.

The one really outstanding difference was in the magnesium content of
the two water supplies. The Dallas supply contained eight p.p.m. of the
mineral, while the Hereford water contained 16 p.p.m.

Although the medical literature then contained very little on the
virtues of magnesium, Barnett did locate some reports on the subject. In
the publication, Vital Facts About Foods, by Otto Carque (1933) is the
statement. "Bones average about 1 per cent phosphate of magnesium and.
teeth about 1% per cent phosphate of magnesium. Elephant tusks contain 2
per cent of phosphate of magnesium and billiard balls made from these
are almost indestructible. The teeth of carnivorous animals contain
nearly 5 per cent phosphate of magnesium and thus they are able to crush
and grind the bones of their prey without difficulty."

Barnett decided to analyze the bone content of people in Dallas and
Hereford. He chose for his study 500 women, average age 55. All were his
patients, undergoing lumbar and cervical vertebrae surgery. Except for
slipped disks and related problems, they considered themselves healthy

More Magnesium, Stronger Bone

The findings bore out the results of the previous studies: the major
difference was in the magnesium content of the bone. In the Dallas area
where bone weakness was evident because of the high number of cases of
osteoporosis, the magnesium content of bone was .05 percent; in
Hereford, 1.76 percent.

Still Barnett was not satisfied. He decided on another study. He
examined the bone content of healthy people and compared it with the
content of people suffering from severe osteoporosis. Again he found
there was little difference among the calcium, phosphorus, and fluoride
content of the bones of the individuals. The magnesium content of the
healthy people, however, was 1.26 percent. That of the osteoporosis
victims was .62 percent.

'The mechanism whereby magnesium functions to strengthen bone and combat
osteoporosis is, like many functions of the body, quite complex," Dr.
Barnett explained. "Our studies, however, have convinced us that the
mineral is important-perhaps the most important single element-in bone

The theory behind it is that magnesium is needed, by the pituitary
gland. This gland regulates all the other glands of the body, and to do
this regulating it uses magnesium. This mineral acts as a sedative,
counteracting the stimulant effect of the adrenal glands. These glands
must be restrained in their production, or else their secretions will
speed up the breaking down and resorption of bone tissue.

Another function of magnesium is to act as an enzyme or catalyst. In
effect, it acts as the glue that binds calcium and fluorine to build
bone. Thus, even though calcium and fluorine may be abundant in the
diet, they cannot be used and are flushed out of the system unless the
binding element, magnesium, is also present.

Deficiency Widespread

"A test we conducted on 5,000 people found about 60 percent of them
deficient in magnesium," Barnett told us.

"Perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea, since they are adding things to the
water supply anyway, if they considered magnesium." At any rate, Barnett
does not consider osteoporosis a necessary accompaniment of old age. A
diet high in magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and fluorine is definitely
an important preventive measure.

There is no official recommendation on how much magnesium one should get
in his daily diet. Not only is magnesium the mystery mineral, but it is
also, to a large degree, the ignored one. However, Dr. Barnett advocates
that 600 mg. a day will provide a safety margin and will not be wasted.