Far from being an older person’s disease, osteoporosis can, and does, strike at any age. Literally meaning “porous bones,” osteoporosis is a progressive degeneration of the skeleton. Bone tissues gradually lose minerals, especially calcium, and become brittle and tend to break easily. Bone loss occurs as part of the aging process; after about age 35, human bone structure becomes less dense. In osteoporosis, however, bone weakness trumps normal bone loss from aging and bone becomes exceptionally thin from mineral loss and poor-quality protein matrix.
Osteoporosis develops to a significant degree in nearly 25 percent of white, Asian, and brown-skinned women after menopause. Black women have greater bone density, which lessens their osteoporosis risk. If you are a Caucasian woman over 50 in America, your lifetime chance of a fracture from osteoporosis is about 50%. The good news: osteoporosis is not inevitable; to a great extent, it’s preventable and treatable.
Silicon plays a role in bone development, and may enhance bone mineralization and promote calcium deposition in bone. Horsetail (Equisetum spp.), which contains silicon, is a traditional joint medicine, and research shows it to be an effective natural treatment for osteoporosis. In an Italian trial, 122 women received either a placebo, horsetail extract, a horsetail-calcium combination, or no treatment. Both the horsetail and calcium groups had a statistically significant improvement in bone density. In 2012, scientists who tested horsetail extract found that the herb helped to reduce bone loss and destruction; in a companion study, they also found that the extract excited human osteoblasts (bone-building cells). Use horsetail in capsules at a dose of 5 gm per day. One product to try: Life Extension Bone Restore.
To help restore the damaged bone tissue, consider Chinese teasel root (Xu Duan, Dipsacus asper), which is a mainstay of Chinese herbal joint therapy. It’s the main herb used there to heal traumatic injury and has broad benefit for the musculoskeletal system and for pain. Xu means connect, and duan means severed; the herb helps to reconnect damaged bones or severed tendons. In 2012, Chinese scientists reported that a tea containing Xu Duan stimulated new bone growth. Use up to 15 gm per day as powder, in capsules, or brewed into tea. one product to try: Planetary Herbals Flex-Ability.
Astragalus root is a popular Chinese herb in America. We think of this root as an immune support remedy, but it has many other uses in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In Asia, astragalus is considered a general health enhancing remedy, especially for increasing stamina and strength of muscles and bones. In a 2013 study, Korean researchers fed female mice a diet deficient in calcium and then measured their bone mass. Then they fed the rodents astragalus extract, calcium, or a combination of the two nutrients. The combination of calcium and astragalus was more protective for bone loss than either treatment alone. The scientists surmised that a combination of the herb, along with calcium, would be effective in maintaining bone mass in postmenopausal women. Astragalus is available in capsules, and the root is tasty, so it makes a good tea. Brew up to 30 gm of the dry, chopped root into water and enjoy the tea each day as a bone and stamina building beverage. Alternatively, you can buy astragalus tea bags. One product to try: Alvita Astragalus Root tea.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, DN-C, RH, is president of the American Herbalists Guild and author of The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs.