There’s a common axiom among doctors and health care practitioners —to live a long, healthy life, don’t fall and break a bone. Why? For starters, bone fractures can land you in the hospital. They also limit your mobility, not a good thing at any age, and increase the risk of respiratory infections like pneumonia among the elderly. Studies have shown that people who break a hip have an increased risk of dying within six months.
Osteoporosis, which literally means “porous bone,” is the cause of most bone fractures in seniors. Estimates are that 54 million Americans have osteoporosis, which is characterized by loss of bone mass, reduced strength, and weak, brittle bones. The condition is more common in women, particularly postmenopausal women as estrogen affects bone mass. Plus, women’s bones are generally smaller than men’s. But men suffer from osteoporosis too.
Osteoporosis is hard to spot early on because it often has no symptoms. But there are a few hallmark signs of the disease to consider.
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Signs of Osteoporosis
• Brittle fingernails — nail strength may be an early sign of osteoporosis.
• Poor grip and muscle strength
• Loss of height
• Poor balance
• Receding gums — your bones and teeth contain 99% of the body’s calcium.
• Muscle and bone pain and cramping
• Broken bone from a fall (bones that break easily)
Specific minerals and vitamins, including calcium, magnesium, boron, silicon, zinc, and vitamins C, D, and K, are essential for strong, healthy bones. For preventing and helping to treat osteoporosis, think mineral-rich herbs. The minerals in these plant-based medicines are easier for the body to assimilate compared to certain types of supplements. The following three herbs are packed with bone-friendly nutrients. (Keep reading for our list of the top bone-building foods.)
In a word association game, when you hear alfalfa, the first thing that may come to mind is “horse food.” After that, “sprouts.” Turns out, though, that alfalfa is a versatile food for people. It’s a legume related to clover, beans, and licorice, and its young leaves can be used in salads or as steamed greens. Alfalfa is high in calcium and other minerals; protein; B vitamins; and vitamins C, D, E, and K. With its mild, grassy taste, dried alfalfa is refreshing as a tea, or you can consume the dried powder in food or capsules. Capsules are often taken as a diuretic and to lower high cholesterol.
Horsetail, an ancient plant, grows abundantly all over the globe. Herbalists have pointed to its bone-healing properties for centuries, and it’s a traditional joint medicine.
Recent studies have confirmed that this mineral-rich herb does in fact promote bone growth, while simultaneously suppressing bone-mineral loss-likely because of its silicon content. Studies indicate that silicon plays a role in bone development, may enhance bone mineralization, and may promote calcium deposition in bone. In an Italian trial, 122 women took a placebo, a horsetail extract, or a horsetail-calcium combination. After a year, both the horsetail and calcium groups had a statistically significant improvement in bone density.
In addition to horsetail demonstrating promise as an effective natural treatment for osteoporosis, there’s more. Want longer, thicker hair? Horsetail is popular in supplements and teas to promote hair growth and strength, as well.
About 500 different species of nettles are found in tropical and temperate climates all over the world. Commonly called stinging nettle, Urtica dioica (the Latin name translates as “to burn”) can grow as high as seven feet. The smaller Urtica urens are fixtures in Western herbal medicine. Nettle leaves are consumed as a spinach-like vegetable throughout Europe and are remarkably nutritious. Cooking, drying, or soaking deactivates the sting you may feel when you touch them.
As a healing food, nettle is a general tonic, a nutritive, building herb. European herbal expert David Hoffmann calls it “one of the most widely applicable plants we have,” and says that nettles strengthen and support the whole body. In fact, Hoffmann’s motto is, “If in doubt, use nettles.” At its peak ripeness, nettle contains up to 25 percent dry weight protein, which is top-notch for a leafy green vegetable.
Is kale your go-to leafy green because of its high calcium content? You’ll go nuts for nettles, which, at 428 mg of calcium per cup, boasts four times the amount of calcium as kale. Naturally high in iron, with 1.46 milligrams per 1-cup serving of cooked leaves (2 cups of fresh leaves or 2 tablespoons of crushed, dried leaves, which makes one cup of nettle tea), nettle is a champion for blood health.
Add that to substantial amounts of zinc, magnesium, copper, selenium, potassium, manganese, and vitamins A and C, and nettles rival spinach for total nutritional value. And speaking of spinach, cooked nettle tastes similar to Popeye’s favorite food, and also has a slight cucumber flavor. Use nettle as a spinach, basil, or parsley substitute in polenta or pesto. Nettle soup is common in Northern and Eastern Europe. Nettle is also available in capsules and tinctures and is often taken to relieve arthritis and allergies.
These foods are particularly rich in minerals and other nutrients for strong bones:
Collagen-rich bone broth
• Dairy, including cottage cheese and hard cheese (Parmesan cheese contains the most calcium of any cheese.)
Dark leafy greens
• Salmon and sardines, canned
• Sesame seeds
Whole grains, including buckwheat, quinoa, whole-wheat bread, and oatmeal
Check out these webinars to help with Osteoporosis