Preventative Care & Healing for Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a thinning of bone mass which results in porous (less dense) bones, leading to increased breaks and fractures. The disease is increasingly common in North America and is caused by a myriad of lifestyle and dietary factors. It’s a challenging condition to wrestle with, as it leaves one feeling literally unsupported, both physically and emotionally. Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed with the disease or have a friend or family member who has, learning about the causes of osteoporosis and a holistic approach to dealing with it is beneficial.
Post-menopausal women are the demographic the most likely to be affected by osteoporosis, as lowered estrogen levels allow for more bone breakdown than bone build-up. Many other factors also contribute to the development of osteoporosis, including exposure to environmental toxins (e.g. fluoride, cigarettes), low exposure to sunlight, low vitamin D intake, low intestinal calcium absorption, low physical activity levels, low vitamin K intake, low growth hormone levels, and nutritional deficiencies. If you have a history of hyperthyroidism, Crohn’s disease, an eating disorder, celiac disease, or chronically elevated stress levels, you may want to check in with a doctor as these conditions all increase the risk of developing bone loss.
Simple lifestyle and dietary changes combined with herbal and nutritional support can help to strengthen bones, to support overall nutrient absorption and utilization, and to prevent osteoporosis.
Follow this healing protocol to both treat and prevent osteoporosis:
Regular healthy habits and routines can go a long way in supporting optimal health including good bone density. Some helpful habits in preventing or treating osteoporosis include:
Increase physical activity - Weight training exercises, in particular, are supportive of bone density and mass. Incorporate strength training into your workout routine 3x/week.
Get outside - Regular sunshine (20 minutes daily) relieves stress and raises levels of vitamin D, which is essential for calcium absorption and bone health.
Decrease alcohol consumption - Alcohol lowers the absorption of calcium, and also causes a decrease in the activation of vitamin D due to its negative effects on the liver.
Quit smoking - Not only does smoking introduce damaging toxins and free radicals into our bodies, but smoking also causes a decrease in estrogen levels. Since menopause and its accompanying drop in estrogen is a risk factor for osteoporosis, reduced estrogen levels due to smoking have the same negative effect on prognosis.
Manage stress - Incorporate yoga, meditation, journaling, or other calming activities into your day to keep stress levels low and manageable. Stress contributes to pretty much all chronic, degenerative diseases, including osteoporosis.
Consider switching to a plant-based diet in order to increase beneficial nutrients and to crowd out foods with fewer or no benefits. Reduce sugars, grains/starches, dairy, and salt to a minimum, as these foods are all inflammatory. Gluten sensitivity in particular has been linked with the development of osteoporosis. Alcohol, caffeine, and processed red meats should also be removed from your diet. Decrease your protein intake to just what is necessary. Increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens, to promote an alkaline body and to ensure a high intake of essential vitamins and minerals.
These additional dietary tips will help you to heal from osteoporosis:
Swap out dairy - Contrary to conventional wisdom, the calcium in dairy is not easily absorbed by the body and so dairy is not the best source of this important mineral. Replace dairy with raw cultured (fermented) dairy, which has more assimilable levels of calcium as well as magnesium, vitamin K, phosphorus, and vitamin D. Good examples include kefir, yogurt, and raw unpasteurized cheeses.
Include phytoestrogens - These are foods that imitate estrogen hormones in the body, helping to balance our natural levels. They’re beneficial to consume, and can be found in soy products. Fermented soy products, such as tempeh and miso, offer all the estrogen-balancing properties of phytoestrogens with the added benefit of providing beneficial bacteria to promote healthy gut flora and proper nutrient assimilation.
Consume foods that are high in manganese on a daily basis - These will help to reduce inflammation, balance calcium and phosphorus levels, and promote bone collagen formation. Manganese-rich foods include whole grains such as rye and brown rice, hazelnuts, and chickpeas and beans.
Increase omega 3s - Foods high in omega 3s, such as wild-caught fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, etc.), walnuts, and chia seeds, all help to decrease inflammation, which is related to osteoporosis.
Sea vegetables, such as wakame, nori, and kombu are full of important minerals such as iodine and others that contribute to bone health.
To help manage osteoporosis, you should also support your digestion to ensure that calcium is being properly absorbed and assimilated. Support acid levels in the stomach by supplementing with betaine HCl (hydrochloric acid, or stomach acid), digestive enzymes, and herbal bitters before meals.
Take advantage of the broad, multipurpose benefits of plants with herbal teas and tinctures. Here are some herbs that specifically contribute to the treatment/prevention of bone loss:
Willow - tincture 1:5, 25%, 5-8 ml 3x/day - pain reliever and anti-inflammatory (note that willow must be combined with zinc supplementation, or hearing loss can occur in zinc-deficient patients).
Hawthorn - tincture 1:5, 45%, 1-2 ml 3x/day - strong antioxidant and provides treatment for connective tissue problems.
Licorice - tincture 1:1, 40%, 2-6 ml 4x/day - contains saponins and isoflavones (beneficial phytoestrogens) as well as anti-inflammatory properties.
Red clover - tea 2-4 g/cup 3x/day - is high in minerals and contains isoflavones, making it phytoestrogenic.
Alfalfa - tea 1 tsp/cup 3x/day - nutritive, and contains saponins and isoflavones (phytoestrogenic)
Osteoporosis is about so much more than calcium. Many vitamins and minerals work together synergistically, so ensure you have adequate levels of the following ones, which are especially important to bone health:
Vitamin D (in the form of D3) - 4,000 IU/day reduces the risk of bone fractures. You can easily get your levels checked to ensure you don’t over-supplement (vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so overdose is technically possible although unlikely for most living in the northern hemisphere).
Magnesium & calcium - 800 mg/day (of each) helps with bone building and improves bone density. Never take calcium on its own - it must be paired with magnesium. If calcium is taken alone, it will start to calcify tissues outside of bone matrix, leading to hardened, dangerous deposits in places such as the arteries.
Zinc & copper - 30 mg/day (of zinc) and 2 mg/day (of copper) can help to reduce bone loss as the 2 minerals work together in a synergistic way to support the skeletal system.
EFAs - 1,000-2,000 mg/day promotes calcium absorption, increases the amount of calcium being deposited into bone matrix, and decreases the excretion of calcium.
Vitamin K2 - 100 mcg daily is beneficial as K2 plays a role in calcium bone matrix.
Boron - 6 mg/day is helpful as boron (a trace mineral) directly improves bone density and strength. It also plays a role in increasing estrogen levels, which can help to counteract the bone-affecting hormonal changes of menopause.
Strontium - 680 mg/day supports and improves bone density.
Look for a good bone-building supplement that includes several of the nutrients above for maximum effectiveness.
Through dietary and lifestyle changes, along with the additional benefits of herbs and nutritional supplements, osteoporosis can be treated and/or prevented. Strong bones give us much-needed backing in life, supporting our bodies and our daily movement. No matter your age, start following this healing protocol now to support your bones and prevent fractures.