Osteoporosis and Osteomalacia

Osteoporosis refers to a gradual and generalized loss of numerous components of bone substance that results in decreased bone mass.  It is often associated with aging, as more than 50% of Americans show signs of osteoporosis after the age of 50.  Bone loss is typically greatest in the spine, hips and ribs.  In its advanced stages it leads to pain and tendency toward bone fractures. Coffee, alcohol and smoking are known contributors to calcium loss, but soft drinks are the worst offenders thanks to their phosphoric acid content.  Phosphoric acid leaches calcium out of bones. Osteomalacia is a softening of the bones caused by calcium loss (the adult equivalent of rickets), and can be treated with the same herbs and nutrients as osteoporosis.

As with osteoarthritis, the first step in treating these problems is to ensure that all digestive processes are working properly.  As people pass the age of 60, the digestive system weakens, resulting in reduced absorption of nutrients.  Herbs from the digestive group can help combat this problem.  In addition to improving absorption, it is also necessary to supplement the diet directly with easy-to-absorb nutrients. I use a formula called “Bone Support” developed by Protocol for Life.

Research has shown that it contains all necessary bone strengthening minerals and nutrients in proper proportions, including easy-to-absorb forms of calcium and magnesium.  Exercise is also an essential component of any osteoporosis treatment regimen, as is exposure to sunlight to get your daily dose of Vitamin D.

Vitamin K is also very important The Nurses’ Health Study followed 72,000 women for ten years. Women whose vitamin K intakes were lower than 109 micrograms/day (μg/day) had a 30% higher risk of hip fracture compared to women with intakes equal to or above that amount

Micronutrients are also important. Boron, for example, is a mineral necessary for Vitamin D metabolism, which in turn stimulates calcium absorption. Foods that contain high levels of boron include asparagus, cabbage, dandelion, peach, plum, quince, and strawberry. A healthy, proportional diet is the best way to keep sufficient concentrations of micro- and macronutrients.  It can be a delicate balance, as in the case of protein.  Excess protein can leach calcium out of your system, while protein deficiency can lead to metabolic weakness.

Another important nutrient is strontium, and Dr Wright has written a long article on its usefulness.

In China, most families eat “bone soup” once or twice a week.  They make it by cooking animal bones, seaweed and vegetables for a few hours, often adding astragalus root, dang gui root, and dioscorea root (shan yao or D. opposita).

According to Nai-shing, the best TCM herbs for osteoporosis are bu gu zhi seed (Psoralea corylifolia), deer antler, drynaria rhizome  (gu sui bu or D. fortunei) and eucommia bark (du zhong or E. ulmoides). To these, you can add herbs from the blood-nourishing group, such as dang gui root, milletia stem, cooked rehmannia root and shou wu root.  ITM makes a pill called “Drynaria 12” that contains many of these herbs.

Osteoporosis is clearly associated with the reduction in hormones that occurs after menopause.  Dr. Duke tells me that according to his database, bu gu zhi seed (Psoralea corylifolia) is currently one of the world’s richest sources of the phyto-estrogens daidzein and genistein.  Part of its reputation in China as a useful treatment for osteoporosis may be due to its hormonal effects. Similar herbs from the West include alfalfa, black cohosh, red clover blossoms etc.

The piezoelectric shock that occurs during exercise (as a result of compression) has long been thought to stimulate bone growth.  It is a well-known fact that athletes and martial artists have stronger bones than less active people.  Research has shown up to 20% more bone mineral content in the dominant arm of tennis players (Calbet, et. al, 1998).  We also know that long periods of bed-rest will result in a loss of bone mass. Researchers are developing vibrating devices that will stimulate and help strengthen bones.

Advanced Qi gong (“skillful energy breathing,” also spelled chi kung) and T’ai Chi practitioners often have bones much stronger than normal.  It is well known aphorism that  “a real T’ai Chi master has arms like iron bars wrapped in cotton.”  I have felt the extraordinary bone heaviness of a few 80- and 90-year-old Masters.  My own bones are also heavier than normal due to my 20+ years of practice. The bone strengthening seems to occur around one or two years after the T’ai Chi player succeeds in “sinking the Qi,” a specific skill that takes a few years of ardent practice under correct guidance to develop.

Using the strategies of hormone balancing, dietary measures, regular exercise, Chinese herbs and the bone nutrients described above, our clinic has recorded over 30 cases of stabilization and reversal of osteoporosis confirmed by DEXA scans in post-menopausal women.