Osteoporosis - Osteopenia

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Get tested

At the time of writing, the gold standard osteoporosis testing method is still dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, usually abbreviated to DXA (previously called DEXA)

There are less expensive and less invasive methods i.e. without x-rays, but I personally think that, given what is at stake, and until we have much better consensus in the general scientific community on the reliability and accuracy of the alternative tests, it is best to stick with the gold standard DXA tests.

We need those accurate ‘numbers’ because, whatever is done to help, there will be no other way of knowing if it is making a true difference unless we compare ‘before’ and ‘after’ x-rays of the bones.

The following article has been developed from working with people with a clinical diagnosis of osteoporosis or osteopenia. This condition that has the potential to cause very serious problems in the future life and we have carefully watched the numbers over long time-frames to be able to answer the question whether these approaches actually work... the answer is definitely yes.


Vitamin D

Another thing that must be tested is the serum vitamin D levels. Good vitamin D levels are essential for the health of the bones. The best way to test vitamin D status is to look at the levels of 25(OH)D, i.e. 25-hydroxyvitamin D).

Again, we need to go by the numbers. 50 something is too low, 40 something is much too low. If the person has osteoporosis or osteopenia, then they need to get their levels of 25(OH)D up to at least 60 ng/ml and preferably even higher into the 70s or 80s. 90 something would be completely fine but I would stop using measures to increase vitamin D once we had got that high.

100 ng/ml is the upper safe limit but a person has to be getting above 200 ng/ml to be running any real danger of toxicity and it is extremely rare to get even close to those levels.

Conventional medicine does now always test for vitamin D if someone has any degree of osteopenia however, they don't set the optimal range high enough and they are still stuck with the old method of giving one massive dose of vit D once a month. This is not ideal, people will get better results in their bone health by getting their vitamin D levels up more consistently, and more naturally

I and others believe that the best way, by far, to improve bone health in relation to vitamin D is by getting the skin exposed to the sun for a safe period of time between the hours of 10am and 2pm. This is when the UVB waves that help make the best kind of vitamin D from the sun are at their highest.

For a light skinned person, the sunlight 'dose' probably needs to be for around 10 to 20 minutes. A darker skinned person may need longer. Obviously, the person must avoid burning their skin in any instance but this regular exposure to midday sunlight can be of great benefit to arresting the decline of bone health and assisting with its regeneration.

It is perfectly appropriate to use a high potency vitamin D supplement taken as a daily dose. I won't single out any particular product but will just make the point that, whatever is used, the proof must be seen of it being an adequate dose by a repeat blood test, within no more than a few months of using it.

Another good option is to use a decent daily dose of Cod-liver oil. Not so long ago that would be a tough prescription but modern filtration methods now have Cod-liver oil supplements in liquid or capsule form that can be easily taken without any nasty tastes or odours.

Supplements have their place, but along with sunlight, you will often see the best results from getting the necessary nutrients from the diet, and there are other good food sources of vitamin D as shown in the picture below.


Calcium - not by itself

As everyone knows, Calcium is important for the bones, but taking it by itself is unnatural and potentially harmful. Recent studies have proven this beyond any doubt, but prescribing habits die hard and if you have been advised to take Calcium by itself then stop, change direction.

There are a number of well-balanced 'bone support' supplements readily available in the commercial marketplace. Carefully look at what's available before you choose and get a recommendation from an experienced practitioner if possible. It will have some calcium in it but it will also have just as much of an emphasis on equally important bone nutrients such as Boron, Zinc, Vitamin B6, Magnesium. etc.

In my own practice, I am personally less likely to recommend a mineral supplement and more likely to recommend my patients get the extra minerals they need from their diet. However, this might depend on them being open to eating more slow-cooked meat, or things like bone-broths etc.


Liver health

Your liver has so many jobs to do in your body that if it were a factory it is estimated it would need to cover the size of at least 3 city blocks to do its work. As well as the key organ of detoxification, the liver is the most important manufacturing plant of the body and many of the enzymes and proteins that are essential to healthy bone formation are initially made in the liver.

The liver is sometimes called the herbalist's favourite organ. We have a number of excellent remedies from Nature to reliably help it work better and do people a lot of good on a number of levels. However, most people don't know when their liver needs help. A blood test that shows normal liver function levels just means that the liver cells aren't actually dying and breaking down. It can be overactive, underactive, stressed or congested for a long before a conventional blood test will show anything.

Herbalists get a picture of liver health by such things as looking at the tongue, palpating the liver, and asking questions about diet and lifestyle. We would almost certainly also want to take some extra steps to support liver health if the person with osteoporosis or osteopenia was taking Fosamax-type drugs for their bone health, or any other strong pharmaceutical medications for that matter.

For example, anyone who needs to take drugs for any length of time should seriously consider getting a high quality preparation of St Mary's thistle and using it on a daily basis for as long as they need to take drugs, all of which are potentially toxic. By supporting liver health and protecting it from harm, this exceptional herb can make a world of difference to a person's quality of life and long-term outcomes. More about this and other herbs and approaches to give the liver some love is written up in the article on liver health found here

Silybum marianum (St Mary's thistle)


Tonic herbs

The great majority of people who get osteoporosis have a constitutional nature that is cooler and dryer. There is a link at the end in the section called 'constitutional medicine' that shows you how to work this out and, particularly if it turns out that you do have the 'EB' constitution, then you will be wise to consider taking some tonics over the long term.

Tonics are herbs that have an uplifting, nourishing and energising effect, they can be of help in preventing the wearing down of the bones because they lift a person's natural vitality and help the body to heal itself. There are many great tonics in herbal medicine, two of the most important ones and the ones I use the most in a combined capsule form in my own work are Withania, more about it here and Panax Ginseng, more here

Panax ginseng


Food matters

Everyone will tell you that you need to sustain or increase weight-bearing exercise in order to prevent or treat Osteoporosis. They are right, but it will do no good if the person doesn't have enough fats and proteins circulating around their systems to create more sturdy tissue in response to the increased wear and tear from the exercise.

Osteoporosis is greatly influenced by deficiency. Any person who has it must ask themselves two questions:

1) Have I lost too much weight for my bones to keep their strength?

f you are too thin, you must start eating more to gain back some weight, however slowly that might happen. If you do not have enough of an appetite to achieve this, then consider using the famous Gentian & Ginger tonic as talked about here and possibly delving further into this subject by reading the article on loss of weight or appetite found here

2) Would I score myself at least 7 out of 10 for my diet?

Anything below a 7 means you must give a lot more attention to this crucial area, more here


Constitutional Health Note

Finally, you might benefit from learning about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general.

Constitutional health is an old and fascinating way of understanding our differences. There's a brief introduction here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd