International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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34th World Vegetarian Congress 2000
Toronto, Canada

Reports originally from by Tiffany Refior
July 17, 2000

Ruth Heidrich, Ph.D.

Ruth Heidrich, Ph.D., is an Ironman triathlete, an author, and a certified fitness trainer. She spoke at the 34th World Vegetarian Congress in Toronto on the subject of Osteoporosis: The Calcium Deficiency Myth.

When she first made the change to a vegan diet in her late 40s, Dr. Heidrich was concerned about osteoporosis, which had been a problem in her family. To alleviate her concerns, she had a bone density test done, and has repeated the test over the years. She shared her amazing bone density test results with us. They're illustrated in the table below:

Bone Density
Average woman
Ruth Heidrich
Ruth Heidrich
Ruth Heidrich

As you can see, her bone density has actually increased -- something that, until recently, doctors did not believe possible.

Dr. Heidrich attributes the increase primarily to exercise, which she says is "crucial... Bone is just like muscle. If you put a leg or an arm in a cast, what happens? Atrophy. What brings strength is use."

Any excerise where muscle pulls on bone helps to increase bone density. "Impact is the name of the game," according to Dr. Heidrich. High-impact exercise, like running, increases bone density more significantly because the impact actually creates an electric current from the heels all the way to the neck -- and this current helps stimulate osteoblasts, which in turn build new bone. Just about any exercise with impact will increase bone density. Good choices include running, dancing, swimming, weight training, and aerobics.

"Daily vigorous exercise is the best thing for reversing the aging process," said Heidrich.

It's also essential to eat a healthy diet -- but that doesn't mean drinking milk. In fact, loading up on only one type of mineral (such as calcium) can actually create other mineral deficiencies. Dr. Heidrich emphasizes that bones are made up of 12-13 different minerals. And how do you get those necessary minerals? Green, leafy vegetables, of course. As far as calcium, Dr. Heidrich estimates she takes in about 300 mg. per day, which is the recommended value for much of the world.

Ruth Heidrich competes in marathons and triathlons, and has won over 600 trophies and medals since her diagnosis of breast cancer in 1982, at the age of 47. She holds the world record for fitness in her age group at the renowned Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas. Her most recent book, A Race for Life: A Diet and Exercise Program for Superfitness and Reversing the Aging Process, was published in June 2000.

In the U.S., you need a prescription from a doctor in order to get a bone density test. But you can do a simple home test for osteoporosis:

  1. Back up against a wall or doorway.
  2. Put a book on top of your head and make a mark on the wall with a pencil.
  3. Repeat this three times, to make sure your mark is accurate (you'll be measuring tiny differences, so it's important to be accurate to the millimeter).
  4. At the same time every day, repeat steps 1-3 daily for 6 months.
  5. Determine whether your height has changed at all over the period of 6 months.

Photo ©2000 by Tiffany Refior.