Use Them or Lose Them

Regular exercise is one of the essentials of an effective osteoporosis treatment or prevention program. Particularly important are weight-bearing exercises such as aerobics, walking, jogging, weight training, and Tai Chi. Research has shown that exercise helps build bone density, even for people in their 80s

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become thin and fragile. It can lead to bone fractures, typically in the hips, spine, and wrist. Over a lifetime, bones naturally lose some of their density, but osteoporosis is an exaggeration of this process. Contributing factors may include a hormone deficiency (in women), low-calcium diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and certain medications.

Nutritional Therapy for Osteoporosis

Nutritional therapy, like allopathic medicine, recognizes that getting enough dietary calcium is important in treating and preventing osteoporosis. However, the dietary needs for this condition are more complex than calcium alone. Several nutritional factors either help or hinder the absorption and retention of calcium. It's interesting to note that people in parts of the world where calcium intake is low have some of the lowest rates of osteoporosis. The following factors may play a role in this fact:

  • Excessive protein intake is linked to osteoporosis, because protein causes calcium to be excreted from the body with urine. In addition, meat contains high levels of phosphorus, which also competes with calcium for absorption. People who follow cereal-based diets with low to moderate levels of protein, such as vegetarians, require lower levels of calcium for healthy bones. In fact, several studies have shown that vegetarians have a lower rate of bone loss than nonvegetarians.
  • Sodium (salt), refined sugar, and caffeine also encourage the loss of calcium through the urine.
  • Too much saturated fat and unusually large amounts of fiber, iron, and zinc all limit the quantity of calcium that's absorbed in the digestive tract.

Vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium, and boron are among the nutrients that support healthy bones. (Magnesium is extremely important for keeping calcium in the bones.)So are milk and other dairy products a good thing? While they supply a lot of calcium, they usually also provide saturated fat and high levels of protein. Instead, practitioners of nutritional therapy typically recommend getting calcium from green leafy vegetables, dark-green vegetables, and certain types of beans, as well as other foods, all of which provide little or no protein and fat.

Here's a sample of good calcium sources that are low in protein and fat:

  • 1 cup bok choy (250 mg of calcium)
  • 1 cup kale (200 mg)
  • 1 cup broccoli (180 mg)
  • 1 cup great northern beans (140 mg)
  • 5 dried figs (135 mg)
  • 2 corn tortillas (120 mg)

Note: The Recommended Dietary Allowance for calcium for menopausal women is 1000 to 1200 mg, although a practitioner of nutritional therapy may recommend less than that, depending on the woman's typical dietary sources of protein.

Herbal Medicine for Osteoporosis

Several herbs can be beneficial for preventing and treating osteoporosis when combined with a diet and exercise program. Different herbs approach the problem differently; some provide dietary calcium, some regulate the body's use of calcium, and some increase the level of certain hormones in the body. For example, horsetail (silica) is recommended to boost the body's absorption of calcium. Once this plant, which often resembles a horse's tail, is dried, it can be used as a tea or in tincture or capsule form. Other helpful herbs include:

  • alfalfa, black cohosh, and wild yam, which are all phytoestrogens
  • comfrey (This herb may cause liver toxicity if used continuously for long periods.)
  • false unicorn root, which stimulates the ovaries
  • oatstraw

To help prevent osteoporosis an herbalist may prescribe taking powdered horsetail, for example, or may suggest a more comprehensive formula, such as one that also includes alfalfa, black cohosh, wild yam, vitex, and dong quai.

Other Osteoporosis Therapies
  • Ayurvedic Medicine for Osteoporosis -- The treatment focuses on dietary changes, coupled with herbal therapy.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine for Osteoporosis -- Treatment includes herbal therapy (including dong quai), acupuncture, and Tai Chi.
For more information on osteoporosis and alternative medicine, see: