Melissa Carr, DrTCM, RAc
Until we break a bone, suffer from bone pain, or experience other bone issues, we may not spend much time thinking about the important structure that supports us every day. Yet the bone disease, osteoporosis?-?thinning of the bones?-?affects one in four women and one in eight men over age 50.
Until we break a bone, suffer from bone pain, or experience other bone issues, we may not spend much time thinking about the important structure that supports us every day. Yet the bone disease, osteoporosis–thinning of the bones–affects one in four women and one in eight men over age 50.
Most of us try to avoid becoming one of these statistics by taking calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D supplements to increase our bone density. Some of us even take additional boron, strontium, silica, and other minerals. Is there more that we can do? You bet your bones there is.
The Kidney Key
According to the ancient art of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), we can maintain bone health by taking care of the Kidney sector of our body (“kidney” is capitalized to designate the TCM definition of the organ). Many processes of aging, including menopause, are associated within TCM with a decline in Kidney energy, or qi (pronounced “chi”).
Research done at the Traditional Medicine Research Institute in western China showed lower bone density in women who experienced an earlier onset of menopause; those women also had a TCM diagnosis of Kidney weakness. Researchers concluded that “the increase of bone mass in amount and density and the increase of age have a close relationship with… Kidney qi.”
Meanwhile a meta-analysis conducted by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto has confirmed that people with kidney failure have lower bone density than those with healthy kidneys.
The Circulation Equation
According to TCM theories, the second root cause for bone diseases is blood stasis. Thus, promoting blood circulation can treat and prevent osteoporosis. Both TCM and Western medical approaches suggest exercises such as weight training and weight-bearing activities, including walking, to improve bone nutrition; exercise increases oxygen and blood supplies to the bone.
Tai chi is also recommended as these exercises improve balance, which results in fewer falls that often lead to fractures.
A Kidney-Friendly Diet
For thousands of years, the Chinese have believed in consuming animal parts corresponding to deficiencies in their own bodies; for example, to treat bone weakness, they would cook soups containing chicken bones. We now recognize that doing so releases calcium from the bones into the soup. Today we can achieve the same effect by eating calcium-rich sardines and other bone-in canned fish. Vegetarians can nourish the Kidney system by eating nuts, seeds, and legumes–many of which are rich in calcium and magnesium.
Modern research also supports the high fruit and vegetable diet that TCM recommends for bone health. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Osteoporosis International have published articles showing that a higher intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with higher bone density. However, do not forget the importance of protein–either from animal or vegetable sources–as the Framingham Osteoporosis Study demonstrated that lower rates of age-related bone loss in elderly men and women are linked to higher dietary protein.
You can also improve your Kidney energy through acupuncture and Chinese herbs (properly chosen for you by a qualified TCM doctor, TCM practitioner, or Chinese herbalist). Or try this simple exercise, which you can do while walking or standing still: Swing your right arm forward and your left arm back and forth, gently tapping the back of your hand across the small of your back to the opposite side. The gentle tapping of your lower back stimulates the Kidney energy and relaxes the muscles of the lower back.
Rather than pulling on that wishbone and hoping your bones are alright, work on preventing osteoporosis with nutrition, exercise, and supplementation, and treat osteoporosis with the assistance of a qualified natural health practitioner.