Naturopathic Medicine for Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a degenerative condition in which the bones become fragile, brittle, and prone to breakage. Fractures of these porous bones occur most frequently in the hips, wrists, and spine. According to naturopathy, osteoporosis results from an imbalance between the ingestion and absorption of calcium into the body and its excretion. This loss of bone-building materials occurs as the body ages, and is particularly prevalent among post-menopausal women. About eight million of the ten million estimated people with osteoporosis in the United States are women.
Osteoporosis may not be painful in its earliest stages; however, as the condition progresses symptoms may include severe back pain, loss of height, a stooping posture, and debilitating fractures. Osteoporosis more frequently occurs with advancing age, a more sedentary lifestyle, and with acceleration of mineral loss and the breakdown of bones.
In a healthy individual, bones are broken down and reformed about every three months, a process called remodeling. By age 25-30, an individual reaches what is called “peak bone mass,” after which more bone is lost than is formed. As the individual ages, the risk of osteoporosis increases. The onset of osteoporosis depends to some extent on the base level of peak bone mass achieved earlier in life. The early stage of this process of progressive bone loss is called osteopaenia.
Naturopathic Medicine Treatment for Osteoporosis
Naturopathic medicine offers a variety of natural treatments to help combat and reverse osteoporosis, including diet changes, nutritional supplementation, exercise, hydrotherapy, and herbal medicine.
With osteoporosis, the naturopathic principle of prevention through a healthy diet rich in bone-building nutrients and a routine of weight-bearing exercise is of primary importance. Bone strength reaches its peak by age 30 and decreases gradually as a person ages. Even after osteoporosis is diagnosed, applying naturopathic principles of diet and exercise can minimize the progressive loss of bone density and promote healing.
Diet and Nutrition for Osteoporosis
Naturopathic approaches to treatment of osteoporosis will first consider the individual’s dietary habits. Certain foods and drugs may slow the absorption of the calcium necessary for healthy bones. Osteoporosis is best prevented by adequate intake of calcium-rich foods and vitamin D, naturally available through sunlight.
Certain foods and supplements may help prevent or delay onset of osteoporosis or minimize its damage and should be included in the diet:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Green leafy vegetables such as collard, kale, turnip, and dandelion greens
- Salmon, halibut, tuna and sardines
- Flax seed oil
- Raw, unsalted nuts and seeds, particularly sesame
- Garlic, onions, eggs, avocado
- Nutritional supplements such as calcium, magnesium and Vitamins D and K-2 and Strontium citrate
Certain foods and substances that interfere with calcium absorption include:
- Nicotine products
- Carbonated sodas, alcohol and caffeinated drinks
- Excessive salt and sugar
- Foods high in oxalic acid (oxylates), such as spinach, rhubarb, beet greens, chard, and almonds
- Red meat and dairy products
Red meat and dairy products interfere with the absorption of calcium because they contain high amounts of protein. The more protein a person consumes, the less calcium is absorbed by the body. Most Americans eat a diet very rich in protein, primarily from animal products. Increasing calcium intake or decreasing protein intake can help offset this dietary imbalance.
Exercise for Osteoporosis
A diagnosis of osteoporosis may require some change in one’s exercise routine to minimize damage to a weakened skeletal structure. Continued exercise is important for overall health. It is best to consult with a naturopathic physician to determine one’s level of skeletal strength before initiating strenuous exercise routines. Following a diagnosis of osteoporosis, one should develop an exercise routine that includes:
- Flexibility exercises to increase joint mobility
- Low impact aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, swimming, dancing and bicycling
- Exercises to strengthen muscles and help slow bone mineral loss
- Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art that increases flexibility and balance
With osteoporosis, one should avoid high impact exercises such as jogging and jumping, as well as exercises that involve forceful twisting movements. These may lead to compression injuries of the spine.
Hydrotherapy and Osteoarthritis
Hydrotherapy is used extensively in naturopathic medicine and is particularly helpful in the treatment of osteoporosis. Hydrotherapy includes water exercises which help strengthen muscles. Constitutional hydrotherapy involves the application of hot and cold towels to detoxify the body and stimulate the immune system.
Herbs for Osteoporosis
Various herbal remedies have been used effectively in the naturopathic treatment of osteoporosis, including drynaria root (Drynaria fortune), used to nourish the kidneys and strengthen bones, and red clover (Trifolium pratense), which contains isoflavanoids that may help prevent breakdown of existing bone mass.
What is Naturopathy?
Naturopathic Medicine is a system of natural health care with roots in ancient traditional healing systems including Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Naturopathy was founded and named as a health system in the 1890s by Benedict Lust, a German physician. Naturopathic Medicine has been practiced in the U.S. throughout the 20th century, and is experiencing resurgence in popularity. Naturopathic medicine has proven effective in the treatment of degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis.
Naturopathy seeks to discover the underlying cause of illness and to stimulate and harmonize the inherent ability of mind and body to restore and maintain health. Naturopathic methods and techniques are chosen to optimize these natural processes. Naturopathic doctors are also aided by current scientific research and are trained to incorporate clinical nutrition, herbal medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, massage and other manipulative techniques and preventative measures that act to stimulate and augment natural healing.
Basic principles of Naturopathic Medicine, according to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, include:
- First, do no harm
- Find the cause
- Treat the whole person
- Utilize the natural healing process
- Practice preventative medicine
Choosing a Naturopathic Doctor
Licensed naturopathic physicians, sometimes designated as Naturopathic Doctors (NDs), have graduated from an accredited four-year naturopathic medical college. There are several accredited naturopathic medicine schools in North America. For information on these schools, contact the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) is a professional organization that seeks to unify and advance the Naturopathic professional in the United States. Talk to your naturopath about their education, licensing, and experience in treating osteoporosis.
American Naturopathic Medical Association—ANMA is a nonprofit, scientific, educational organization, dedicated to exploring new frontiers of mind, body, medicine, and health.
National Osteoporosis Foundation—a leading voluntary health organization dedicated to osteoporosis and promoting bone health.