Osteoporosis didn't exist in the Stone Age

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

May 2013

Before the Agricultural Revolution of some 12,000 years ago not many of our Stone Age ancestors lived beyond the age of about 60. Of the roughly 10 percent who did, their fossilized bones show not a trace of osteoporosis. They were mostly vegetarians and after they were weaned they never got any calcium from milk, cheese, yogurt or any other dairy products.

There are a few hunter-gatherer societies on the planet who live pretty much the way that Stone-Agers did, with no access to calcium-rich foods. They get about half as much calcium in their diet as we Americans do but they almost never suffer from broken hips or other types of fractures.

A cross-section of a thigh bone from an elderly hunter-gatherer or from the fossil skeleton of a human that lived 50,000 years ago is very different from that of today's senior citizen. The former humans' thigh bones have thick, dense walls and are oval in shape, characteristics that make them resistant to breaking. Ours, on the other hand, are more likely to have thin walls and to be round rather than oval on cross-section. It doesn't take much of an impact to break such a bone.

So where did those dairy-deprived folks get their calcium? It came from plant foods, which also contained other nutrients that are vital for strong bones: vitamins A, C and K, magnesium, boron and omega-3 fats, all of which are absent from unfortified dairy products. They wore minimal clothing so they got maximal vitamin D.

There is one other characteristic of fossil bones from the Stone Age. Those places where muscles attach to bone are especially thick, which indicates the constant stress of muscular activity. Without such stress bone becomes less dense and unable to withstand even minor trauma. The human body, after all, is not wasteful. Nature sees no reason to lug around a heavy, dense skeleton that doesn't have much muscle to support.

The modern medical mantra is that we need about 1,000 milligrams a day of calcium in order to prevent osteoporosis. It's correct that calcium is an important nutrient but when calcium alone is added to the diet of research subjects there is no increase in bone density or any reduction in fractures.

Without moderately intense physical activity nearly every day as well as a diet rich in plant foods, osteoporosis is inevitable in middle and old age.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.