Building Better Bones with Herbs, and Lifestyle Changes

As our bones weaken over time, we can look to a variety of herbs and lifestyle changes to improve, and in some cases even rebuild, bone strength.

Every second, someone in the world fractures a bone, and more than half of Americans over the age of 50 suffer from osteoporosis or osteopenia. Although women are five times more likely to have osteoporosis than men, one-third of hip fractures occur in men, and men are less likely to recuperate. Thankfully, you can set up some healthy bone habits that will help you in the long-term, no matter your age or gender. And a host of herbs can help along the way.

The three most important factors in building bone need to occur together: Adequate calcium intake, optimal vitamin D levels, and weight-bearing exercise. However, the pace at which your body breaks down or rebuilds bone relies on many more considerations. Several factors lead to the loss of bone:

  • Inadequate calcium and vitamin D
  • Inactivity
  • Low body weight
  • Low estrogen levels and, particularly, a rapid decrease in estrogen levels {from menopause}
  • Low stomach acid {which impairs absorption of calcium and other nutrients}
  • Acidic body state due to inflammation, diet, and disease {your body uses calcium to buffer that acidity}
  • Medications including antacids, proton-pump inhibitors, and steroids
  • Inadequate intake/absorption of other minerals and nutrients that work tandem for bone strength
  • Excessive {or highly deficient} protein intake
  • High animal meat consumption, particularly red meat {the dietary factor most associated with poor bone structure
  • Excessive salt/sodium intake
  • Smoking
  • Soda consumption {particularly those containing phosphoric acid, and because soda can displace more mineral-dense drinks

On the other side, you have several factors that increase bone density:

  • Adequate calcium and vitamin D intake and absorption {from diet, supplements, and sunshine}
  • Frequent physical activity, especially weight-bearing and strength-training exercises {walking, jogging, hiking, lunges, push-ups, planks, and weight-lifting} as well as balance {yoga and Tai chi} to prevent falls
  • Supportive mineral and nutrient intake/absorption from diet or supplements, including vitamin K1 and K2, silica, magnesium, boron, and collagen
  • A plant-based or plant-focused diet including lots of vegetables and fiber
  • Phytoestrogens {preferably starting at a young age} as a regular part of the diet from beans, possibly soy, other legumes, flax seed, sesame seed, and possibly from supplements
  • Healthy digestion, including stomach acid production {with the use of herbal bitters}
  • Diet, lifestyle, and herbs that reduce inflammation

So, where do herbs fit into this? At first glance, herbs may seem to have no place in bone density, but they can actually serve as great allies. Sadly, scientific research is severely lacking in this area, but that doesn’t mean there are no herbs available to boost bone health. With any bone-building changes, the effects are slow to build, but you should notice some improvement in a year.

Mineral – Rich Herbs

Nutrient-dense herbs form the basis of any herbal bone protocol. These herbs provide ample amounts of some of the most important minerals for bone structure. We know from research on isolated nutrients that not only is calcium important – it’s the most abundant mineral in our bones – but other nutrients aid calcium utilization and also improve the bone matrix, so that it’s both strong and flexible, as well as shock-absorbent. Among many useful functions, magnesium allows the body to properly utilize vitamin D, which is necessary to use calcium. You’ll find this mineral in all dark leafy greens {including nettle and dandelion leaf} because it’s a component of chlorophyll. Silica improves collagen synthesis and the overall bone matrix, while vitamin K1 aids bone density. Mineral-rich herbs have useful body-alkalizing and anti-inflammatory actions to boot. The ability of herbs to provide myriad bone-building nutrients and activities in a highly absorbent form suggests that they may prove as beneficial {or more} than supplements, even though they haven’t been studied.

To get the most out of mineral-rich herbs, you have a few options:

Herbal Decoctions: 

Simmer herb material for 20 minutes or longer in tea or broth {decoctions make a great addition to bone broth, which provides additional benefits from the bone themselves}, strain and drink. Refrigerate or freeze the extra. Aim for 1/2 to 1 ounce of herbs per day. Nettle, oat straw, and horsetail work quite nicely. Feel free to add other ingredients for flavor, such as chai spices or soup ingredients.

Super-Infusions:

Steep 1 ounce of herb by weight for approximately four hours. Strain, squeezing out as much as you can, and drink hot or cold {refrigerating extras} over one to two days. Start with nettle or nettle and oat straw, then branch out with horsetail, alfalfa, violet, and red clover. You can add flavor-enhancing herbs, such as chai spices, peppermint, holy basil, or lemongrass. I have seen postmenopausal women’s bone density increase with only the daily addition of super mineral infusions.

Powder:

Add up to 1 ounce to smoothies and food daily.

Pesto:

Puree fresh, leafy green herbs with pesto ingredients such as pumpkin seeds {or almonds, walnuts, and pine nuts}, garlic, Parmesan {or nutritional yeast}, olive oil, and lemon juice. While it’s best consumed that day, you can refrigerate it for a day or freeze it. Dandelion leaves are a personal favorite for this recipe.

Weed Pesto

Enjoy this fragrant and flavorful pesto with organic blue corn tortilla chips or crudite’. While this is best served fresh, you can keep it refrigerated for one to two days or frozen for longer. Minimize air exposure during storage – the greens will oxidize and the garlic flavor will mellow over time.

  • 1 bunch dandelion {and/or violet, blanched nettle, or chickweed}
  • 1 cup salted tamari roasted pumpkin seeds {or raw seeds plus 1/2 tsp salt} or nut of choice
  • 1 – 3 cloves raw garlic
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • Juice of 1 lemon or to taste
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Coarsely chop herbs and add them to the food processor with the other dry ingredients. Blend. Add lemon juice and olive oil. Blend again until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides as needed.

As Food:

Use fresh, cooked, or dried herbs in your daily cuisine. Nettles work well for this {oat straw and horsetail less so, since they are too tough to eat}.

Herbal Vinegar:

Compared to the other suggestions above, this provides a much weaker mineral extract, but it can still be enjoyed as part of a broader protocol. Steep various mineral-dense herbs in apple cider vinegar for two to four weeks, strain, and enjoy a teaspoon to a tablespoon daily with meals in water or salad dressing.

Nettle {Urtica dioica}

And other species tops the list for nutrient-dense herbs, providing more bioavailable calcium per ounce than possibly any other food on the planet. One cup of super-infused tea provides two to three times the calcium of a glass of milk, and in a more easily absorbed form, as well as 20 percent of your daily magnesium intake. Fresh nettles, blanched and eaten like spinach, provide approximately 452 mg of calcium as well as 499 mcg of vitamin K1. It also contains silica and other nutrients. Nettles has a definite vegetal, spinach-like flavor that some people love, while vegetable-haters might abhor. Combining it with the lighter flavors of oat straw and violet, as well as flavorful herbs like chai spices or peppermint, help make it more palatable. Nettle also has a mild antihistamine action, is gently astringent {tightens and tones tissues}, may help control blood sugar, and acts as a strong diuretic, though the diuretic effect may wear off as your body gets used to it. It’s usually very well tolerated and is safer than spinach, but occasionally people have rare negative reactions.

Oat Straw {Avena sativa}

Straw has a lighter, sweeter, hay-like flavor. While it doesn’t pack quite the nutritional punch that nettles do, oat straw and dried tops still contain ample calcium, magnesium, and silica. It’s less diuretic and usually very safe and well tolerated. However, you should avoid it if you are allergic to oats or have gluten allergies that cross-react with oats. Oat Straw and tops don’t contain gluten, but they do contain a somewhat similarly structured protein called avenin. People with gluten reactions that can eat certified gluten-free oatmeal without a problem will be fine with oat straw. As a grass, it’s too tough to eat, so strain it out of tea or broth or take it as a powder.

Horsetail {Equisetum arvense}

Has more silica per ounce than almost any other plant on the planet, providing nearly 3,000 mg per ounce! Both isolated silica and horsetail are promising additions to any bone-building blend, improving the integrity of collagen and the bone matrix. Highly preliminary yet promising studies suggest that this helps prevent bone loss, builds bone structure, and reverses osteoporosis.

Benefits may go beyond the silica content. Several herbalists report that horsetail tincture {which contains little to no silica} helps broken bones heal, and studies support horsetail extract’s ability to reduce inflammation, modulate immune function, and heal wounds. That said, you have to source horsetail carefully. This water-loving plant readily accumulates nitrogenous toxins from polluted waterways and soil {from agribusiness, industrial plants, or big farms upstream}. Fresh horsetail also depletes vitamin B1 and has been toxic to grazing animals, but drying, cooking, and tincturing it should denature the enzyme responsible. If you opt to grind your own horsetail, be sure to wear a good mask and ensure proper ventilation to avoid inhaling the silica particles; silicosis can be quite dangerous for the lungs. Like oat straw, it’s too tough to eat, so strain it from tea or broth or take it as a powder.

Additional Herbs:

Nettle, oat straw, and horsetail are the three key players for bone structure, but other worthy additions include red clover {also a phytoestrogen}, violet leaf {slightly moistening}, alfalfa {a phytoestrogen, but with some cautions for autoimmune disease}, dandelion leaf {rich in minerals}, and seaweed {just a pinch here and there, its iodine makes it unsafe to consume in large amounts}.

Nutri-Tea Super Infusion

This herb-packed infusion offers an easier way to consume several of the main bone-boosting herbs at once.

  • 0.4-ounce nettle
  • 0.2-ounce oat straw
  • 0.2-ounce red clover blossoms
  • 0.1-ounce horsetail
  • 0.1-ounce peppermint and/or spearmint

Combine herbs in a 32-ounce French press or jar. Cover with boiling water. Stir herbs so they float freely. Let steep approximately 4 hours, strain, and squeeze the herb material to get as much liquid as you can. Reheat as desired, and refrigerate extras. Enjoy 1 – 2 cups daily. If you prefer, add mint in the last 15 minutes of steep time.

Note: If the super infusion is too strong for your taste buds, just use 1 – 2 heaping tablespoons of the mixed dry herbs per 12- 16 ounces of hot water, steeped for 15 – 60 minutes. This won’t contain as many minerals, but it’s lighter and more pleasant tasting.

Vitamin D-Rich Mushrooms

The synthesis of vitamin D mainly takes place via skin exposure to the sun or through supplements and cod liver oil. Herbs do not generally contain vitamin D, but mushrooms make it in their flesh when exposed to UV or sunlight. studies have shown that just a piece of sun-treated shitake can provide ample vitamin D. Once dried, they retain most of their vitamin D for at least a year. So feel free to throw some sun or UV-treated mushrooms into your broth and daily diet for a vitamin-D boost. Studies confirm that the body does indeed absorb and utilize the vitamin D from mushrooms. You can purchase fresh mushrooms from the grocery store and place them upside down in the sun for a few hours, and then use them fresh or finish drying them in the dehydrator.

Phytoestrogen-Rich Herbs

Estrogen has a protective effect for bones, discouraging breakdown. For this reason, women have added protection over men – until they enter peri- and menopause, when the sharp reduction in estrogen speeds up bone breakdown. Phytoestrogens appear to modulate this drop and prove especially beneficial if you have eaten them your whole life. All phytoestrogens are controversial for estrogen-dependent cancers, with some studies showing benefit and others harm.

Soy, Beans, and The Legume Plant Family

Provide most of our best-known phytoestrogens and isoflavones, including genistein and daidzein. By far, the most-studied source of phytoestrogens in soy, both because it’s relatively high in isoflavones and because soy agribusiness has funded and driven much of the research. A review study on osteoporosis and bone density in menopausal women concluded that soy isoflavones may prevent postmenopausal osteoporosis, improve bone strength, reduce the risk of fracture, increase lumbar spine bone mineral density, and decrease bone breakdown. Other beans and legumes, while minimally studied, likely offer similar benefits and are generally easier to digest and safer for the thyroid. Phytoestrogens may be why legume-rich, plant-based diets are associated with increased bone density while eating animal protein is associated with worse bone density {red meat’s detrimental inflammatory activity also plays a role}.

Red Clover {Trifolium pratense}

Is another popular legume plant for phytoestrogens and bone health. The blossoms taste lovely in tea and contain a good amount of minerals as well. It doesn’t seem to be quite as strong as soy; rather, it appears to inhibit bone breakdown {but does not help build back}. In one randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 177 middle-aged women in the United Kingdom, those who took red clover isoflavones for 12 months had significantly less bone loss compared to those taking the placebo. Because bone turnover happens slowly, the researchers suggested longer-term studies could show even greater improvements.

The body requires adequate gut flora to convert phytoestrogens into a more active form, so taking them with probiotics may enhance the activity. Red clover is generally safe, but it may contain blood-thinning coumarins, especially if it’s allowed to ferment as it dries. Much of the dried red clover on the market is low quality. Look for nice purple flowers, not brown dust. You can also harvest your own. For optimum quality, pick it early in the day and place the flower tops in a single layer in the dehydrator. You can use the leaf and aerial parts of alfalfa {Medicago sativa} similarly {the same safety concerns apply}. Purchase organic alfalfa because this is otherwise a genetically modified crop. Alfalfa may also aggravate autoimmune flare-ups, such as lupus.

Digestion-Enhancing Herbs

Digestive bitters and carminatives are worth adding to your routine if your digestive performance isn’t what it should be. You need good stomach acid to break down and absorb minerals, and most Americans fall short. Many herbal bitters formulas exist on the market. Most include flavorful carminatives that balance the formula. Moderately strong bitters include artichoke leaf and dandelion leaf and root, while chamomile flowers, lemon balm leaf, and catnip are milder, tea-worthy options. You can also add citrus juice and peel, bitter leafy greens {dandelion, radicchio}, tamarind, and artichokes to the diet.

Anti-Inflammatory Herbs

These herbs do not play a direct role in bone health, however, inflammation is an underlying cause of bone loss. Alongside regular exercise, a plant-based or plant-focused diet, and other healthy habits like not smoking, anti-inflammatory herbs incorporated into your daily life may indirectly support bone health. Turmeric, green tea, tart cherry juice, and hawthorn serve as good long-term tonic anti-inflammatory herbs, and some research does suggest that turmeric and green tea help preserve bone. Any flavorful culinary or tea herb will also be excellent.

 

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4 Comments on “Building Better Bones with Herbs, and Lifestyle Changes

  1. Thank you for this post. So informative and helpful! I am currently on day 2 of my Detox Plan. I feel like I’m learning on the fly with this. The more I detox the more I want to know! It’s like I’m now craving information instead of unhealthy food. Thanks again!🌹☺️ God bless you!

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