Osteoporosis is an epidemic problem that affects men as well as women. It’s often caused by poor nutrition, increased stress, smoking, and drugs, especially steroids. Traditionally, most dieticians recommend milk for strong bones and teeth and to stave off osteoporosis in later life. However, this advice may not be as helpful as previously thought. 

Firstly, many people can’t digest dairy and experience painful and troubling side effects from it. What’s even worse is shocking news from The China Study, a 2004 book by T. Colin Campbell. Based on twenty-year observations of Chinese populations, the study found that drinking milk leeched the calcium from bones and increased other health issues such as cancer and heart disease. The study was done in cooperation with Cornell and Oxford Universities and The Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. 

If dairy isn’t the answer, then you need to look for alternatives, which you can find in the whole food plant-based cookbook based on the study. 

What Osteoporosis Looks Like

Barbara, in her seventies, has a red complexion and acne. Her hands and feet have deformed nobs and swollen joints. She leaves a pungent odor in the room wherever she goes. Her voice is shrill and her eyes flutter from agitation. She complains about bleeding gums. 

What you notice first in her collection of inflammatory symptoms is the curve of her spine. Her head is bent forward, not from computer use, but from osteoporosis. The vertebrae have become thin and the cartilage worn so that the bones are crushed together, and she has lost several inches of height. 

All of these symptoms and problems are common with osteoporosis. 

How to Protect Your Bone Strength

There is actually a lot you can do to protect your bone strength. Adrenal vitality, good circulation and strong muscles are all essential for preserving the strength and the structure of your skeleton. 

With adequate nourishment and specific herbal medicines, you can prevent damage to cartilage, muscles, joints and bones. This will also help you avoid bone loss, which causes pain and enables bone fractures. 

Using food and herbs for calcium is far better than supplements because they’re absorbed better by your body. Plants contain complex components that work together in ways that still aren’t completely understood to strengthen bone, muscle and connective tissue. Taking supplements, which offer isolated vitamins or minerals, just can’t match the health benefits of the natural combinations in real foods. 


photo by NordWood Themes

Plant-Based Calcium Sources

It isn’t as hard as you might think to get calcium from plant sources. Here’s a guide to where to find this vital mineral in easily digested vegan sources: 

  • Green, leafy vegetables –broccoli, cabbage and okra, but not spinach
  • Fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks
  • Calcium-set tofu
  • Sesame seeds and tahini
  • Pulses
    • 200g baked beans – 85mg of calcium
    • 70g red kidney beans (canned) – 50mg of calcium
    • 90g green or French beans – 50mg of calcium

The Top 10 vegan sources of calcium are:

  • Figs
  • Bok choy
  • Spinach
  • Okra
  • Broccoli
  • Arugula
  • Kale
  • Broccoli rabe
  • Collard greens
  • Soaked almonds

Calcium from Seafood 

We don’t usually think of seafood as a source of calcium, except fish bone soup. But there are other Asian delicacies that provide essential minerals such as calcium. For example: 

Fish Maw 

Fish maw soup is a delicacy served during special occasions like Chinese New Year. It’s the dried form of fresh, high quality air bladders of fish, which are rich in gelatin. Fish maw isn’t often sold or eaten in western culture, but you can find it here.   

Some of the benefits of this food are:

  • Collagen rich, fish maw is a Chinese beauty secret for youthful skin, joints and bone
  • It contains rich proteins and nutrients such as phosphorus and calcium
  • Nourishes ‘yin’ which means it replenishes the tissue, moisture and fluids of the lung, stomach, liver and kidney.
  • Stamina boosting and helps prevent burnout
  • Doesn’t contain cholesterol and therefore it is a very valuable health enhancing ingredient suitable for long time consumption 

Dried Sea Snail – Abalone 

Snail meat contains essential nutrients like protein, fat (mainly polyunsaturated fatty acid), iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, vitamins A, B6, B12, K and folate. They also contain selenium and are a rich source of vitamins E, A, K and B12. 

Snail meat is a high-protein, low-fat alternative to industrially raised foods and is composed of around 80% water, 15% protein and 2.4% fat. It has anti-cancer properties and can boost the immune system because of its high antioxidant count and anti-inflammatory effects. 

When preparing dried sea snail, rinse the meat in warm water, soak overnight in water, and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes in soup. Be careful not to overcook as the meat will become tough. 

Canned and Cooked Abalone (sea snail) 

You can eat abalone out of the can or simply soak dried abalone as directed, rinse and then boil it for ten minutes. Afterwards, slice the meat and add it to a soup or rice dish for your daily minerals.

If you want to be a little fancier, then try this traditional Chinese slow food tonic soup recipe. The flavor is mildly sweet and not too fishy. 

Ingredients:

  • 3 dried sea snail slices
  • a pack of tonic herbs
  • about 8 pieces of lean meat
  • 3 ginger slices

Directions:

  • Wash the dried sea snail slices and soak them for 20 minutes, rinse with cold water and discard the water.
  • Rinse the lean meat, then add all the ingredients to the clay pot.
  • Add enough water to cover the ingredients.
  • Boil on high heat for 10 minutes, remove the foam from the boiling water to reduce the fat content and turn to low heat for 3 hours.
  • Season with salt and eat.


photo by Thiébaud Faix

Chinese Herbs for Bone Health 

A traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) approach to osteoporosis links bones with their energetic origins. This basically means that you can’t increase your bone strength in isolation. You also have to strengthen the associated organs, circulation, and general nutrition and adrenal sufficiency. 

There are a number of different Chinese herbs that will help support the muscles and joints and prevent wear & tear on bones. These include: 

Vine Essence pills 

This formula first became popular during the Chin Dynasty. The first Emperor of China gave it the name Vine Essence. Today it is a popular and well-known herbal supplement that supports the health and wellbeing of:

  • Bones, muscles, and tendons
  • The circulatory, respiratory, digestive, immune, and nervous systems
  • Organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys and spleen 

This classic herbal formula for general health and the prevention/treatment of osteoporosis includes warming herbs for kidney yang (precursors of testosterone) Chinese red panax ginseng, epimedium and morinda. These strengthen lower back and leg muscles as well as support sexual vitality. Herbs that strengthen circulation in this formula include ligusticum and dong quai. 

The formula is useful for people who are weak, elderly, recovering from illness, or who have arthritis or suffer joint and bone pain during cold weather. Do not use these or any tonic herbs if you have a fever, hot flashes, or if you catch a cold/flu. These are acute conditions that need to be addressed with antibiotic herbs. 

Do you Need Warming Herbs? 

This herbal combination is nourishing and warming. There is a strong focus in Chinese medicine on the benefits and necessity of warming and cooling herbs. Here’s how to tell if warming herbs are suited to you: 

  • Do you have facial pallor, cold hands and feet, a pale tongue?
  • Do you suffer aches and fatigue in cold weather?
  • Prefer warm foods?
  • Wear extra clothes for warmth during day and night? 

If so, cooked foods and warming herbs will feel comforting and may help you feel less pain during cold or damp weather. 

Eucommia Ulmoides 

Eucommia ulmoides (Du-Zhong) is a Chinese kidney-tonifying herbal medicine. It has a long history of use treating bone and joint diseases such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA.) 

This herb is rich in polyphenolic compounds such as lignans, phenolic acid, and flavonoids. It is used to reduce hypertension and can improve inflammatory arthritis due to estrogen deficiency. 

You can add the liquid extract to water, soup or a vegetarian milk but don’t add it to sugary or sour juices. 

Drynaria 

Drynaria fortunei, the root of a vine, is referred to in China as Gu Sui Bu, which literally means “mend broken bones.” Over the centuries, traditional doctors in China developed a number of herbal formulas to promote bone healing in fractures resulting from farm work, martial arts training, war, and construction work.

Drynaria has been shown to improve bone rebuilding in people with excessive bone loss in the body and gum disease. It may also be able to reverse the effects of osteoporosis. Bone building, called remodeling, requires a careful balancing act between the destruction of weak, old bone (resorption) and the manufacturing of new, healthy bone (regeneration). When old bone is broken down at a faster rate than new bone is created, the result is osteoporosis. 

Drynaria has been shown to improve bone rebuilding in several ways: 

Inhibiting Osteoclast Function

 Osteoclasts are specialized cells that break down old bone to provide a space for healthy new bone. This is a normal, healthy process unless it outpaces the body’s ability to create new bone tissue. Drynaria has been shown to support healthy osteoclast function without entirely halting it.

Stimulating Osteoblast Function

Osteoblasts are specialized cells within bones that deposit new, healthy bone in the spaces created by osteoclasts. When osteoblasts can’t keep up with the pace of bone resorption, bone loss accelerates, resulting in osteoporosis. Drynaria has been shown in multiple studies to stimulate osteoblasts to produce more healthy bone tissue.

Osteogenesis (Mesenchymal Cells)

During osteogenesis, mesenchymal cells in bone marrow differentiate to become new osteoblast cells capable of producing new bone tissue. This helps replace the essential osteoblast cells that are lost to disease or apoptosis, the process of natural cell death. Several studies have shown that Drynaria stimulates osteogenesis to provide bones with an adequate supply of new osteoblasts.

Loss of Ovaries

Accelerated bone loss in recently menopausal women is associated with the loss of ovarian function. Extracts of Drynaria have been shown to provide an anti-osteoporotic effect in female mammals following the loss of ovaries. 

Recipe for Bone Broth with Drynaria 

Drynaria is very mild in flavor and has a neutral temperature (does not heat or cool the body). It’s very comforting as a winter soup or soup stock. Here’s how to make it:

  • Parboil chicken, beef, pork, or fish bones in boiling water for a minute to remove the excess fat and scum.
  • Discard the water.
  • Make the soup by adding fresh water and calcium rich vegetables such as celery, kale, seaweed and mushrooms.
  • Also, also carrots, parsnips, parsley, and onion for taste.
  • Add some delicious herbs such as oregano and thyme.
  • Simmer at a low heat for several hours.
  • The soup can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or more and used as needed.


photo by Alison Marras

Seaweed 

Raw seaweed or wakame contains 150 milligrams of calcium per 100 gram serving, while the same amount of kelp contains 168 milligrams. In fact, kelp contains the highest natural concentration of calcium of any food – 10 times more than milk.

Sea kelp is a natural source of:

  • Vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D and E
  • Minerals like zinc, iodine, magnesium, iron, potassium, copper and calcium. 

If you’re buying dried seaweed, simply soak it in water until it becomes tender. Use it in soups, salads, or in standalone dishes. Buy a seaweed soup mixture if you’re struggling to find seaweed. When cooking, don’t heat it above a simmer and always drink the cooking water.

Kelp makes a good salt substitute and if you eat it with beans, then it will improve your digestion. Cook seaweed with grains or snack on dulse, which is deliciously salty and high in iodine to boost thyroid action and metabolism. 

Herbal Soup for Strong Bones and Muscles 

This soup, also known as Feng Shi Gu Tong Tea, is a warming tonic not to be used if you have a fever, cold or flu or chronic inflammation illnesses. Check with your doctor if you’re pregnant or currently taking medication before using any herbal remedy. This soup is especially useful for people experiencing aging or general debility, recovering from surgery, or chronic debilitating illnesses with resulting aches.

This soup contains herbs that have a number of health benefits including: 

  • Angelica sinensis (dong quai), which is blood-warming and and used to stimulate blood circulation
  • Epimedium (yin yang huo, lusty goat weed) stimulates “kidney yang” and alleviates associated symptoms like chronic fatigue, sore aching lower back and legs, sexual weakness and low libido. 

Ingredients:

Drynariae Rhizoma, Spatholobus Stem, Epimedium Herb, Clematis Root, Corydalis Rhizoma, Eucommia Bark, Herba Taxilli, Flowering quince fruit, Radix Angelica sinensis, Licorice root

Directions: 

Boil the mix with six bowls of water in one bowl, then filter and drink. 

The amount of water used is the key point here because it can directly affect the efficacy of traditional Chinese medicine. If you cook the herbal soup according to the guidelines, you’ll enjoy the best results.

Suggestions:

  • Make the soup stronger for long term muscle or bone weakness, osteopenia and osteoporosis or for injuries
  • If you’re unused to Chinese herbs, cook for 20 minutes at first and for up one to two hours once you’re used to the taste
  • Keep the soup in the refrigerator for up to 5 days
  • It can be frozen
  • Start with one cup to become accustomed to the taste and effects
  • Slowly increase the dose as needed to no more than 3 cups per day
  • If irritability or insomnia result, reduce the dosage.
  • Add the dried herbs or the decoction to a crock pot when making bone broth cook at a low heat for 8-10 hours  
  • If you have a health condition, please consult your Natural Holistic Nutrition Consultant before using this or any medicinal soup.

Weight-Bearing Exercise and Qigong

You will need to do some form of exercise to build strong muscles and bones. What you do will depend on your own preferences and capabilities. Talk to a health professional before you start any exercise program. 

If you’re looking for weight-bearing exercises and Qigong, one of our Daoist friends, Sharon Smith, is a long-time teacher of Chinese healing arts. This includes qigong, tai chi and women’s Daoist sexual practices. She has helpful videos and offers classes online


photo by Sriyoga Ashram

The Takeaway

Building strong muscles and bones is essential for osteoporosis relief and long-term health and wellbeing. These are lifestyle changes that must be sustained over your lifetime, so make sure that you’re working with scientific strategies and knowledge that has lasted the test of time.

If you want more information or dream of helping others live strong, happy lives, then become a qualified nutrition consultant with the Academy of Healing Nutrition in New York or London. Our professional courses are held in-person and online and will help you build a career based on helping others find better health.