Many of us fear potentially disabling bone fractures — particularly if we have the weak, porous bones that characterize osteoporosis. But we also worry about the bone-building medications that conventional Western doctors often prescribe, given that the drugs’ possible side effects include eye inflammation, muscle and joint pain and, ironically, brittle bones if taken for more than five years.
So it makes sense to look for other ways to keep our bones strong — and Chinese medicine offers a number of alternatives, according to doctor of Oriental medicine and licensed acupuncturist Maoshing Ni (“Dr. Mao”), PhD, of Yo San University in Los Angeles.
From a Western perspective, studies suggest that the therapies below have properties that support bone health… from the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, these therapies help restore your jing, or essence. Dr. Mao explained that jing is fundamental to the formation and maintenance of bone. “A person is born with a certain amount of jing and uses it throughout life. This essence can be depleted through aging, poor nutrition, constant stress and other assaults to the body — and this depletion increases osteoporosis risk,” he said. To restore jing…
MAKE A BONE-BUILDING TEA
The following herbs, used alone or in any combination, make a micronutrient-rich, jing-restoring herbal tea. All are sold fresh and/or dried in health-food stores and online. (If you are taking any medication, are pregnant or breast-feeding, or have a personal or family history of breast cancer, check with your health-care practitioner before using herbs.)
To brew herbs: Pour eight ounces of very hot water over one heaping tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs or one teaspoon of dried herbs. Steep for five minutes, strain and drink. Consume at least three cups daily.
Alfalfa contains phytoestrogens (plant-based compounds with estrogen-like effects) that help prevent the bone loss that can accompany postmenopausal declines in the body’s estrogen levels. It also provides the vitamin K essential to the specific proteins that are the building blocks of bones. Important: Do not use alfalfa if you take a blood thinner — it could reduce the drug’s effects.
Eucommia stimulates regeneration of bone tissue and eases pain caused by bone loss, especially in the back, hips and knees.
Horsetail supplies silicon, a mineral that assists calcium with bone growth and increases collagen (the protein component of bones). Important: Do not use horsetail if you have kidney stones or congestive heart failure or if you take an ACE inhibitor for high blood pressure. Horsetail can act as a diuretic, thus affecting blood pressure, heart function and/or the effects of medication.
Nettle contains boron, a mineral that helps the body use calcium, magnesium and vitamin D — all vital to bone formation. Caution: Do not use nettle if you take a diuretic or other drug that reduces blood pressure, because the herb also reduces blood pressure.
Rose hip is an excellent source of vitamin C, which aids collagen formation and stimulates bone-building cells. Important: If you take an antacid, blood thinner, estrogen from horses (such as Premarin), the antipsychotic fluphenazine (Prolixin) or lithium, do not take rose hip — the herb may alter the effects of these medications.
PRACTICE TAI CHI
Any type of weight-bearing exercise helps increase bone density. According to Dr. Mao, tai chi — an ancient Chinese mind-body practice of gentle, flowing body movements — has particular benefits for bones…
- When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol, a hormone that inhibits the cells that form bone — which is why chronic stress reduces bone mass. Tai chi, often called “meditation in motion,” helps you relax, thereby lowering cortisol levels.
- Because tai chi improves balance, it reduces your risk for falls and fractures.
- Tai chi is low-impact, so it generally is safe even for people with weakened bones. (Do check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program, however, to make sure that it is appropriate for you.)
Recommended: Practice tai chi for 20 minutes at least three or four times a week. Try it outdoors whenever possible so you get some vitamin D from exposure to the sun. Check local gyms for classes run by certified instructors.
For thousands of years, Chinese medicine practitioners have treated osteoporosis with acupuncture — and there is scientific evidence supporting the practice, too. Example: In a six-month German study of postmenopausal osteoporosis patients, all participants took calcium and vitamin D supplements… half of the participants also received acupuncture treatments. Results: The women whose treatment included acupuncture recovered more bone mass than the supplements-only group.
A modern form of this ancient practice may be particularly beneficial for those who are in pain. “The modern procedure, using acupuncture along with electrical stimulation, has been demonstrated to increase bone density. The method stimulates the deposit of calcium into specific bones, depending on where the needles are applied,” Dr. Mao explained. To find a licensed practitioner in your area, go to Acupuncture.com.