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Maintaining Healthy Bones – An Herbalist Prospective

Since the health of the body is reliant on all of the body systems working synergistically together it is hard to isolate one system without having an impact on the entire body. I always think of the bones or skeletal system as our structural framework wherein lay the foundation for the rest of our body. This article will look at the major players when it comes to the nutrients required to maintain proper bone health so that we can prevent many of the debilitating bone and joint disorders that plaque our modern day society.

We will also look at the biochemical markers that are indicators of weakness and address how plants can make a positive impact on the reversal and prevention of bone diseases, such as, arthritis, osteoporosis, osteomalacia, gout etc.

Lets begin by looking at our bones and see what is required. Bone is living tissue that is constantly being torn apart and rebuilt. This process continues our entire life and is managed by many systems in our body. The minerals necessary for bone development consist of calcium, magnesium, silica, boron, manganese, zinc and copper. Vitamin C, D, B6 and folic acid are also necessary vitamin components.

A person can get these through supplementation but my belief is that diet is a better solution, especially if there are no symptoms showing signs of deficiency and the person is not following the SAD (standard American diet) high in animal products, refined fats and sugars. When we begin to understand that nutritional deficiencies are the root cause of many of the disease processes it makes sense to rule that out. Diet is the best way to accomplish this because the plant chemistry is intricately tied to body chemistry. This is where body PH comes into play. The SAD diet is a highly acidic diet. Think for a moment about acid and how it affects things. Acids tear down or aid degeneration.

Without the proper alkaline minerals, which come from our fruits and vegetables, these acids do not get neutralized therefore we see pain and inflammation due to degeneration processes. There’s one dietary factor that is detrimental to our mineral and bone health and that substance is soda pop. Sodas are very acidic, approximately 2.8 on the acid scale. It requires alkaline minerals of sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium to balance the effects of drinking sodas. Where do you think these minerals come from? Your bones and muscle tissues.

When it comes to body physiology there are a few players that affect bone health. The endocrine and digestive systems along with collagen building processes are the main ones. First let’s look at he endocrine system which consists of the adrenal-pituitary-thyroid-parathyroid glands. These glands are involved in many aspects of bone health. Briefly the adrenals help maintain the proper mineral balance through proper kidney functions; they also are involved with the stress response hormones.

The thyroid and parathyroid work with the hormone calcitonin and others to signal osteoblasts (bone building) and oesteoclasts (bone tear down), which is a constant process. The trace mineral boron is involved in these processes. It is interesting to note that on a hormonal level estrogens slow bone resorption and progesterone increases bone building.

The digestive system is also necessary in making sure the good nutrient rich foods are broken down and absorbed by the body. The hydrochloric acid in the stomach is important for mineral breakdown followed by the proper enzymes to aid absorption across the colon wall. The antacid, and h2 receptor drugs have a history of creating mineral deficiency due to blocking of the hydrochloric acid production. This can be a problem especially in osteoporosis.

Let’s now look at nutrient rich foods and botanicals as a way to assure we are getting what we need. Beginning with foods the alkaline fruits and vegetables provide the minerals especially if they are organically grown. The green leafy chard, kale, collards, cabbage, the root vegetables of carrots, turnips and parsnips, the berry fruits are all necessary on a daily basis. The whole grains of rice, barley, wheat and oats provide necessary proteins. These dietary recommendations can be found in most health books so we will move onto the herbal kingdom.

When it comes to using herbs I like to research how traditional plant use dealt with bone and structural issues. Let’s look at nutrient herbs, anti-inflammatory, diuretics and blood purifiers. I like to recommend the use of nettle, alfalfa, and kelp mainly for their high mineral nutrient proportions.

When recommending herbs for pain and inflammation we use cayenne pepper, ginger, turmeric, rosemary, and green tea. These herbs work as pain relievers due to many actions, one being a natural cox-2 inhibitor (kind of like Celebrex and Vioxx). The plant enzyme bromelain from pineapple stems is also beneficial but needs to be taken on an empty stomach. I also use analgesics like willow bark, meadowsweet and wintergreen.

For removing and neutralizing acid waste, dandelion, birch, celery seed, red clover have been used for years by many cultures by aiding the liver detox processes. Diuretics also work in eliminating waste and we use uva ursi, parsley leaf, marshmallow root, and nettle to name a few. There are many choices that can be made for the herbal kingdom.

Another area I like to address is the endocrine system and making sure the glands are functioning properly. For the adrenals I like, eluethero senticoccus (formerly Siberian ginseng), rhodiola (artic root), licorice root, ashwaganda (winter cherry) and wild yam root.

For proper thyroid function kelp, dulse and mullein leaf are beneficial.

As you can see there are many benefits to bone health just by using plants either as foods or herbs. Each individual is unique to the necessary nutrients required and lifestyle is a major player in determining which avenue to begin. When one is experiencing symptoms of bone disorders the protocols become specific to them.

The whole concept is to prevent them in the first place. As Hipprocrates stated, “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food”.

Article by herbalist Dave Hawkins, MH, CNC

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