Few things age a person as quickly as osteoporosis (porous, brittle bone), a disease that robs bones of their density and strength, making them thinner, more prone to break. Eventually, bone mass decreases below the level required to support the body.
Over 28 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis today, and experts from the National Osteoporosis Foundation predicted 40 million Americans would suffer from osteoporosis by the year 2015.
Long considered a woman’s problem, because of its female hormone involvement, osteoporosis affects from 35 to 50 percent of women in the first five years after menopause. For women, osteoporosis risk is greater than the combined risks of breast, uterine and ovarian cancers. In fact, half of all women over 50 will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture in her lifetime.
Most of these are vibrant women at the height of their careers with no outward signs of poor health. Most have no idea their bones are becoming weaker and more brittle until they actually break. Bone loss is greatest in the high weight-bearing bones—hips, spine and ribs.
Men suffer from osteoporosis too
Osteoporosis also affects men, just at a later age, with less ferocity. Some bone loss occurs in both sexes around 45 years of age. But a greater testosterone supply and more bone tissue offer men some protection from osteoporosis.
Yet today’s men, in ever-increasing numbers are suffering from the disease. In America, by age 75, one-third of all men are affected by osteoporosis. One in eight men will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture.
Osteoporosis risk factors to look for
Check yourself for the following osteoporosis risk factors:
- Post-menopausal with family history of osteoporosis (high risk for women who have not had children).
- Women and men over 75 years; women over 45 with a history of calcium and vitamin D deficiency.
- A consistently high consumption of tobacco, coffee and animal protein.
- Long courses of steroid drugs. Research shows that over a long period of time these drugs tend to leach potassium from the system, weakening the bones.
- Long use of synthetic thyroid. The drug Synthroid increases risk for both osteoporosis and high cholesterol, and may also aggravate weight problems.
Women who had their ovaries removed before menopause, who had an early menopause (before 45 years old), or those with a history of irregular periods. Hormone and calcium deficiencies are common in women with irregular menstrual cycles, those who exercise excessively or who have eating disorders.
If you think you’re at risk, ask your physician or local pharmacy about bone mineral density screening.
Support your bones with the proper nutrients & lifestyle changes
Osteoporosis involves both mineral and non-mineral elements, so your bones need a full range of support nutrients. Although it is a life-threatening disease, osteoporosis is a lifestyle disease… that means we can do something about it. Bone loss can be arrested; remaining bone can be preserved; new bone mass can even be rebuilt with a vigorous osteoporosis intervention program.
The most successful treatment involves not only normalizing hormone levels, but also improving lifestyle (like lack of exercise) and dietary habits (like excess consumption of red meat and soda) that we know accelerate bone loss.
It’s not just a case of adding estrogen, progesterone or even testosterone. A broad range herbal formula containing estrogen and progesterone balancing substances as well as bioflavonoids and bone building minerals is a good choice for natural preventive care.
Flexibility may be more important for preventing fractures than was ever realized. Here’s why: While flexibility allows even thin bones to bend easily, stiffness can cause even thick bone to break. In addition to weight training, consider incorporating yoga or T’ai chi in your natural bone building program.
A 2001 year study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that increasing intake of vegetarian protein sources while reducing your animal protein intake can decrease bone loss and the risk of hip fractures.
For a complete Healing Diet for Osteoporosis prevention, please see pg. 144-159 of the book, “Diets for Healthy Healing” by Linda Page Ph.D., Traditional Naturopath.
Mineral Rich Protein sources:
- Calcium losses decreases when you include vegetable protein sources that are also high in minerals
- Nettles: Rich in iron, silicon, and potassium. When dried, sources indicate nettles are about 40 percent protein.
- Oatstraw: rich in protein, calcium, magnesium and potassium.
- Comfrey leaf: the leaves are rich in protein and calcium. Also called “bone knit” for its ability to mend broken bones. (The leaf is free of the toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in the root.)
- Nori: the highest protein content of all the sea vegetables.
- Rice protein: an easily digested vegetarian protein source.
- Nutritional yeast: a complete protein food, and excellent source of vitamins, minerals and trace minerals.
- Bee pollen: it contains all 22 amino acids, high minerals and has 5-7 times more protein than beef.
- Dulse: after nori, dulse has the second highest protein content. It contains 22% more protein than chickpeas, almonds or whole sesame seeds.
- Wheat germ: contains about 29% protein, essential fatty acids, B vitamins and minerals.
- Alfalfa: high chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals and high quality protein.
Silica Source Herbs:
- Horsetail: Used in natural osteoporosis, bursitis and tendonitis treatment.
- Parsley: a good source of silica.
- Burdock: a rich source of silica.
- Asian ginseng: contains silica.
- Oatstraw: a concentrated source of silica that can help build bones.
- Alfalfa: an excellent source of herbal minerals, including silica.
- Nettles: a very high mineral source, including silica.
- Dulse: a source of silica.
Hormone Balancing Herbs– EFA Sources:
- Evening Primrose oil: essential fats are critical for hormone production and mineral absorption. Very low fat diets or restrictive diets accelerate bone loss. Evening primrose is widely used for hormone balancing effects for menopausal women.
- Flax seed oil: essential fats are critical for hormone production and mineral absorption. Flax seed lignans also reduce menopausal hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
- Sesame seeds: high in essential fats and boron that can help strengthen bones.
- Hemp seeds: a complete protein source , high in EFA’s and trace minerals.
- Red clover: a high protein and plant estrogen source. Early research suggest that red clover’s isoflavones may slow bone loss and improve bone density for menopausal women.
- Black cohosh: a premier hot flash remedy and hormone balancing herb for menopausal women.
- Wild yam: a source of diosgenin, the precursor to progesterone. Progesterone is used by itself and in combination with estrogen for natural osteoporosis treatment.
- Royal jelly: a rich source of B vitamins, minerals, hormone-like components and all eight essential amino acids. A rejuvenating food and anti-aging aid.
- Ipriflavone: (semi synthetic isoflavonoid with chemical structure similar to estrogen) inhibits bone resorption and promotes the incorporation of calcium into the bone. Found in clinical studies to improve bone density in osteoporosis. Note: Ipriflavone interacts with many medications and could reduce white cell counts. Ask your holistic physician.
- Bioflavonoid-rich herbs: bioflavonoids are structurally similar to natural estrogen, but are about 1/50,000th the strength.
- Bilberry: high in proanthocyanidins, bioflavonoids which can build collagen, the main protein component of bone.
- Green tea: studies suggest tea drinkers have lower incidence of osteoporosis than non-tea drinkers. It is though that flavonoids in tea help to counteract calcium depletion caused by caffeine.
- Lemon peel: animal studies show bioflavonoids in lemon reduce bone loss.
- Hawthorn: high in bioflavonoids with heart and bone protecting effects.
- Cranberry: a good source of bioflavonoids and premier women’s bladder infection remedy.
- Turmeric: high flavonoid (curcumin) content; anti-inflammatory for joint and bone pain.
- Horsetail: high in naturally occurring bioflavonoids and silica.
- Rose Hips: high in vitamin C and bioflavonoids.
Enzyme-rich Herbal Catalysts:
- Ginger: high in protein digesting enzymes, enhances assimilation of other herbs in the formula.
- Cinnamon: a warming digestive aid and herbal catalyst. Improves digestion of fats.
- Capsicum: high vitamin C, enzymes (including the antioxidant, superoxide dismutase), flavonoids and carotenoids.
- Barley grass: high in enzymes, including the antioxidant, superoxide dismutase. Mineral rich for strong bones.
- Chlorella: high in enzymes. An alkalizing food that can help prevent mineral losses caused by over-acidity. Spirulina: high in enzymes. Helps to remineralize the bones. An alkalizing food that can help prevent mineral losses caused by over-acidity.
Sarah Abernathy has been a researcher, writer and herbal consultant in the field of natural health for over 12 years.
She is the managing editor of Healthy Healing Publications, and contributes regular articles to newsletters, magazines, and books. Sarah is a graduate of the East West School of Herbology.
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