Better Bone Health with Chinese Medicine

In Chinese Medicine, bone health is maintained through a combination of diet, exercise, and herbal medicine. This article discusses ways you can improve your bone health by following some simple health practices such as consuming more vegetables, getting more exercise, and seeing your Chinese medicine practitioner.

Enhance Bone Health and Prevent Osteoporosis

By Daoshing Ni, D.O.M, L.Ac., Ph.D, Dipl.C.H.

Today, the increasing aging population in the United States has brought the issue of bone loss into greater focus. As we grow older, the loss of bone density is a natural aging occurrence. The issue becomes a problem only when a person loses too much bone density or has an accelerated bone loss that can potentially increase the odds of fractures and shorten one’s life span.

Therefore, it is important to understand the risk factors and the healthy measures you can take to enhance bone health throughout your life. In the United States, 10 million people already have osteoporosis and 80% of them are women. Millions more have low bone mass, or osteopenia, which places them at an increased risk of having osteoporosis.

Osteopenia is a term describing a person’s bone density as somewhat lower than normal. By definition, approximately one out of six of young white women has osteopenia. Most of these young adults have no symptoms and appear normal in their lives.

By age 65, about half of the women in the United States will have either osteopenia or osteoporosis.

By age 80, almost all women in the world have had some bone loss and their bone density will show either osteopenia or osteoporosis. A World Health Organization committee has defined four diagnostic categories of bone density: Normal, Osteopenia, Osteoporosis, and Established Osteoporosis. Bone density naturally declines with age. Doctors can measure bone density by using an X-ray test called densitometry. This test utilizes X-ray sources of different energies passing through bone and soft tissue in an area of interest – usually the hip, wrist and spine.

It is important to remember that the risk of getting a fracture (broken bone) is more important than the measurement of bone density. Fractures are a major problem for the elderly due to the complications, weakening and the cascades of other health issues that may arise with the onset of
fracture and can lead to early death.

Fracture risk depends on many other factors, especially age. At the same time the risk of fracture doubles every ten years. Other risks include poor general health, unsteady balance, presence of a fracture and low weight.

The following list points out the potential risk groups for osteoporosis:

  • Petite build
  • Scoliosis history
  • Family scoliosis history
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Frequent or long term use of Lupron
  • Frequent or long term use of corticosteroids and heparin
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Endocrine disorders – Cushing’s syndrome, hyrotoxicosis

The Chinese culture puts a great emphasis on the role of good nutrition and daily exercise as the two fundamental requirements for good bone health and prevention of bone loss. In a typical Chinese diet, most Chinese eat a greater variety of vegetables than most Americans. If you ever have a chance to visit a local Chinese supermarket, you will notice an additional 10 to 20 different types of vegetables that are not carried in regular supermarkets.

The emphasis of eating fresh and regular meals also contributes to good absorption of nutrients such as calcium, zinc, vitamins D and K and others that are vital to the maintenance of good bone health. It is best to get your daily amounts of calcium and other nutrients from food whenever possible. It is possible if you eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables – especially leafy green ones – grains, protein and low-fat dairy products. And with so many calcium-fortified products on the market, it’s getting easier to get all the calcium you need from food. Considering most Chinese are non-dairy consumers, they actually suffer less bone loss problems and fractures compared to Americans.

The other contributing factor to better bone health is the high activity level of most Chinese. They incorporate plenty of walking even though their use of automobiles have increased. Many of the exercises inherent to Chinese culture, such as Qi Gong, martial arts and Tai Chi, are all wonderful exercises that incorporate flexibility, power, concentration and strengthening. The frequent poses of bending one’s knees and squatting enhance the weight bearing nature of the exercise, which in return strengthens the bones.

The use of herbal medicine also contributes to better bone health. For example, Karen, a 43 year old woman came to our office for treatment of osteopenia and osteoporosis of her lumbar spine and hip. At the time of her initial visit, Karen’s bone loss was progressing rapidly and she had been prescribed Fosomax. Unfortunately, the side effects were strong and she was unable to continue taking the medication. She came to our office and began to take herbs to help reverse her condition. We came up with a customized herbal formula which she took consistently for one year. After a year of taking this formula, her densitometry showed a reversal of her osteopenia to normal and osteoporosis became osteopenia. Her commitment to a better lifestyle with exercise also helped to reverse these conditions.

Again, a healthy lifestyle rich with activities, good nutrition, regular exercises and good attitude all contribute to better bone health at any age.

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