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 where she is. 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 bent forward, not from computer use as she claims, but from signs of osteoporosis. The vertebrae have become thin and the cartilage worn so that the bones crush together. She has lost several inches of height. It may surprise you that adrenal vitality, good circulation and strong muscles protect bone strength. Without the support of muscles our skeleton would collapse into a pile. Adequate nourishment and herbal medicines prevents damage to cartilage, muscles, joints and bones and prevents bone loss that causes pain and enables bone fractures. The great advantage of using foods and herbs over calcium supplements comes from better absorption of the complex components of plants that work together to strengthen bone, muscle and connective tissue.

Osteoporosis is an epidemic problem that affects men as well as women because of poor nutrition and increased stress, smoking, and drugs, especially steroids. Most dieticians recommend milk for strong bones and teeth. However, many people cannot digest dairy. Worse, The China Study, the 2004 book by T. Colin Campbell shocked dairy advocates. Based on twenty year observations of Chinese populations, the study found that drinking milk leeched 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. Here is a whole food plant-based cookbook based on the study.

Vegan Calcium

Bone strength requires more than calcium and vitamin D3 although sunshine does impact bone density. We tend to lose more bone tissue during winter’s darker season. There are vegetable sources of calcium that may be easier to digest. For example:

Vegan sources of calcium and vitamin D

  • 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.

These pulses are good sources of calcium:

  • 200g baked beans – 85mg.
  • 70g red kidney beans (canned) – 50mg.
  • 90g green or French beans – 50mg

The Top 10 Vegan Sources of Calcium are: Figs, bok choy, spinach, okra, broccoli, arugula, kale, broccoli rabe, collard greens and soaked almonds

Calcium: Seafood Sources

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

Fish Maw

Fish maw soup is a delicacy served during special occasions like Chinese New Year. However its nutrition is valuable year round: Rich in collagen, fish maw is a Chinese beauty secret for youthful skin, joints and bone. Fish maw contains rich proteins and nutrients such as phosphor and calcium. It nourishes ‘yin’ which means it replenishes the tissue, moisture and fluids of lung, stomach, liver and kidney. It boosts stamina and helps prevent burnout.  Furthermore, fish maw does not contain cholesterol and therefore it is a very valuable health enhancing ingredient suitable for long time consumption.

Fish maw is the dried form of fresh, high quality air bladders of fish, which are rich in gelatin. That means it supports joints with increased cartilage from collagen. Here is an online source and recipe.  Here is another tasty and Simple Fish Maw Recipe

Dried Sea Snail – Abalone

Snail meat contains protein, fat (mainly polyunsaturated fatty acid), iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, vitamins A, B6, B12, K and folate. The high-protein, low-fat content of snail meat makes it a healthy alternative to industrially raised foods. Snails possess anti-cancer properties and boost the immune system due to their antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects. An average snail is comprised of 80% water, 15% protein and 2.4% fat. They contain selenium and are a rich source of vitamins E, A, K and B12. When preparing dried sea snail, rinse them in warm water, soak them overnight in water, and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes in soup. Overcooking makes them tough.

Canned and Cooked Abalone (sea snail)

Here is a canned Abalone that is ready to eat out of the can. Below is a traditional Chinese slow food tonic soup recipe. Or simply soak the dried abalone as directed, rinse and boil for ten minutes. Slice it and add it to a soup or rice dish for your daily minerals. The flavor is mildly sweet and not too fishy.
Chinese Pork, tonic herbs and sea snails in a stew pot
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 to make a rich tasting, nutritious soup. Season with salt.

Chinese Herbs for Bone Health

A traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) approach to osteoporosis links bones with their energetic origins, which are associated organs, circulation, and nutritional and adrenal sufficiency.

Support muscles & joints to prevent wear & tear on bones:

Vine Essence pills

This formula was first used in 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 well being of bones, muscles, and tendons; of the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, immune, and nervous systems; and of organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys and spleen. Looking at this classic Chines formula we can see how healthy bone requires healthy breathing for oxygen, healthy digestion for nourishment, and healthy adrenal strength for energy and circulation. The herbs are nourishing and warming.

How do you know you need warming herbs?

  • 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. You will feel less pain during cold damp weather.

Ingredients:

Vine Essence pills contains blood and energy tonics that support vitality and bone strength. They are: Geranium (Geranium Eriostemon) Herb, Erycibe (Erycibe Obtusifolia Benth.) Stem (Ding-gong-teng, Chinese Angelica Tree (Aralia Chinensis L.) Herb, Futokadsura (Piper Futokadsura Sieb. Et Zucc.) Stem (Hai-feng-teng, Oriental (Ren-shen, Pipefish, Ilicis (Ilex Pubescens Hook Et Arn, Kadsura (Kadsura Cocchinea [Lem] A.C.) Root, Epimedium (Epimedium Sagittatum [Sieb. Et Zucc.] Maxim.) (Yin-yang-huo), Dong-qaui Root, Homalomeana (Homalomeana Sagittaefolia Jungh.) Rhizome (Qian-nian-jian, Chinese Licorice (Gan-cao) Root, Sichuan Lovage (Chuan-xiong) Rhizome, Morinda (Ba-ji-tian), Ligusticum (Gao-ben) Rhizome, Sichuan Teasel (Xu-duan) Root, Fo-ti (He-shou-wu) Root.

It is interesting to note from this classic herbal formula for general health and prevention/treatment of osteoporosis, that it includes warming herbs for kidney yang (precursors of testosterone) Chinese red panax ginseng, epimedium and morinda, that strengthen lower back and leg muscles as well as support sexual vitality. It seems that we need a strong back to help support our bones. Herbs that strengthen circulation in this formula include ligusticum and dong quai. They bring blood to support muscles.

The formula is useful for arthritis for people who are weak, elderly, recovering from illness and who 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, which is an acute condition, not chronic, that needs to be addressed with antibiotic herbs.

Single Herb Remedies:

Eucommia ulmoides

Eucommia ulmoides (Du-Zhong) is a kidney-tonifying herbal medicine in China with a long history for treatment of bone and joint diseases, such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA.) Du-Zhong, rich in polyphenolic compounds such as lignans, phenolic acid, and flavonoids, is a kidney-tonifying herbal medicine with a long history of safe use for treatment of bone fractures and joint diseases in China. It is also used to reduce hypertension and can improve inflammatory arthritis due to estrogen deficiency. Some people add the liquid extract to water, soup or a vegetarian milk. Avoid adding it to sugary or sour juices. Here is a study:  

Drynaria: cook it in bone broth

Drynaria fortunei, the root of a vine, is referred to in China as Gu Sui Bu, literally meaning “mend broken bones.” Drynaria has been shown to improve bone rebuilding in several examples of excessive bone loss in the body and gum disease. Over the centuries traditional doctors in China developed a number of herbal formulas to promote bone healing in fractures. Referred to as “bone-knitting herbs,” these specialized formulas were given to speed up bone healing in fractures resulting from farm work, martial arts training, wars and construction work.

Scientific research on Drynaria focused on its ability to rebuild healthy bone to reverse the effects of osteoporosis. Bone building, called remodeling, requires maintaining 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 examples of excessive bone loss.

  • 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, as bisphosphonate drugs do.
  • 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, loss of bone tissue accelerates, resulting in osteoporosis. Drynaria has been shown in multiple studies to stimulate osteoblasts to produce more healthy bone tissue.
  • Osteogenesis [mesenchymal cells]: Osteogenesis is the process by which mesenchymal cells in bone marrow differentiate to become new osteoblast cells capable of producing new bone tissue. Not only is it necessary to stimulate osteoblasts to produce bone, but to also stimulate bone marrow to produce new osteoblast cells to replace those 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 effects in female mammals following the loss of ovaries.

Bone Broth Recipe with Drynaria

Drynaria is very mild in flavor and has a neutral temperature (does not heat or cool the body). Bone broth is a comforting winter soup or soup stock. Cook animal bones. Bone goes to bone. First parboil the bones in boiling water for a minute to remove the excess fat and scum. Discard the water. They can be bones from chicken, beef or pork or fish bones. Make the soup by adding fresh water and add calcium rich vegetables such as celery, kale, seaweed and mushrooms also carrots, parsnips, parsley, and onion for taste. You might add delicious herbs such as oregano and thyme. Simmer at low heat for several hours. It can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or more and used as needed.

Seaweed

Raw wakame contains 150 milligrams of calcium per 100 gram serving, while the same amount of kelp contains 168 milligrams. If you’re buying dried seaweed, simply soak it in water until it becomes tender. Use the rehydrated veggies in soups, salads, or in standalone dishes. Sea kelp is a natural source of vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D and E, as well as minerals including zinc, iodine, magnesium, iron, potassium, copper and calcium. In fact kelp contains the highest natural concentration of calcium of any food – 10 times more than milk. A good way to cover your need for sea minerals is to buy a seaweed soup mixture. Do not heat the seaweed more than simmer and always drink the cooking water. Kelps make a good salt substitute and improve digestion for beans. Add seaweed to cook with grains or snack on dulse which is deliciously salty and high in iodine to boost thyroid action and metabolism.

Strong Bones and Muscles Soup

Strong Bones and Muscles /Feng Shi Gu Tong Tea  is a warming tonic soup, not to be used with fever, colds/flu or chronic inflammation illnesses. If you are pregnant or currently taking medication, check with your health specialist before using herbal remedies. Most of the herbs in Strong Bones and Muscles are warming tonics. The blood-enhancing herbs Angelica sinensis (dong quai) is also slightly warming and used to stimulate blood circulation. Epimedium (yin yang huo, lusty goat weed) stimulates “kidney yang” with symptoms of chronic fatigue, sore aching lower back and legs, sexual weakness and low libido; it is a precursor to testosterone. This warming, energizing formula may be a comfort during winter or cold inclement weather. Strong Bones and Muscles may be used by men or women who have no fever, hot flashes, active cancer or inflammatory symptoms. Persons taking medical drugs should check with their doctor or herbal specialist. The formula may prove to be especially useful for aging and debility and recovery from surgery or for chronic debilitating illness with resulting aches.

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

Add six bowls of water. Boil six bowls of water into one bowl, then filter and take the soup. The amount of water is a key point because it can directly affect the efficacy of traditional Chinese medicine, so if cooking the herbal soup according to the guidelines, the best results will be achieved.

Suggestions:

For long term muscle or bone weakness, osteopenia and osteoporosis or for injuries a stronger decoction is recommended. The traditional method: Boil six bowls of water to one” which makes a concentrated somewhat bitter brew. For people unused to Chinese herbs, it may be better to cook it twice, first for 20 minutes and after getting used to the taste, cook it again for one to two hours. It keeps in the refrigerator for up to 5 days and 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.
You might also add the Strong Bones and Muscles ingredients to slow cook in a crockpot when making bone broth. Add the formula either as dried herbs or the decoction while cooking at low heat for 8-10 hours. Bone broth and the combination of these herbs take the healing qualities of the herbs directly to bones and muscles. 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 for muscles and bones. One of our Daoist friends, Sharon Smith, is a long time teacher of Chinese healing arts, including qigong, tai chi and women’s daoist sexual practices. She has helpful videos and has done research which proves that tapping bones with a wire or bamboo hitter strengthens bone matrix. She gives classes online.

Become a qualified nutrition consultant with a professional program offered by Academy of Healing Nutrition, New York, London which is online.