"It is a bone-deep change you are going into, my beloved,"
counsels Grandmother Growth. "You must open to your very marrow
for this transformation. No cell is to remain untouched. You are to
open more than you ever dreamed you could open, more than you have opened
in birth or in passion. You open now to the breath of mortality as it
plays the bone flute of your being. What can you do but dance to the
haunting melody, develop a passion for an elegant posture and a long
"Ah, yes," Grandmother Growth smiles rather
wantonly. "It would do you well to develop a taste for dark greens
tarted with vinegar and mated with garlic. These things will build strong
flexible bones to support you as you become Crone."
Did you know that your bones are always changing? Every
day of your life, some bone cells die and some new bone cells are created.
From birth until your early 30s, you can easily make lots of bone cells.
So long as your diet supplies the necessary nutrients, you not only
replace bone cells that die, you have extras left over to lengthen and
strengthen your bones.
Past the age of 35, new bone cells are more difficult
to make. Sometimes there is a shortfall: more bone cells die than you
can replace. In the orthodox view, this is the beginning of osteoporosis,
the disease of low bone mass. By the age of forty, many American women
have begun to lose bone mass; by the age of fifty, most are told they
must take hormones or drugs to prevent further loss and avoid osteoporosis,
hip fracture, and death.
Women who exercise regularly and eat calcium-rich foods
enter their menopausal years with better bone mass than women who sit
a lot and consume calcium-leaching foods (including soy "milk,"
tofu, coffee, soda pop, alcohol, white flour products, processed meats,
nutritional yeast, and bran). But no matter how good your lifestyle
choices, bone mass usually decreases during the menopausal years.
For unknown reasons, menopausal bones slow down production
of new cells and seem to ignore the presence of calcium. This "bone-pause"
is generally short-lived, occurring off and on for five to seven years.
I noticed it in scattered episodes of falling hair, breaking fingernails,
and the same "growing pains" I experienced during puberty.
I did not see it in a bone scan, because I didn't have one.
The idea behind bone scans is a good one: find women who
are at risk of broken bones, alert them to the danger, and help them
engage in preventative strategies. There's only one problem: bone scans
don't find women who are at risk of broken bones, they find women who
have low bone density.
I would like to help you let go of the idea that osteoporosis
is important. In the Wise Woman Tradition, we focus on the patient,
not the problem. In the Wise Woman tradition, there are no diseases
and no cures for diseases. When we focus on a disease, like osteoporosis,
we cannot see the whole woman. The more we focus on one disease, even
its prevention, the less likely we are to nourish wholeness and health.
Focusing on osteoporosis, defining it as a disease, using
drugs to counter it, we lose sight of the fact that postmenopausal bone
mass is a better indicator of breast cancer risk than broken bone risk.
The twenty-five percent of postmenopausal women with the highest bone
mass are two-and-a-half to four times more likely to be diagnosed with
breast cancer than those with the lowest bone mass.1 And that hormones
which maintain bone mass also adversely affect breast cancer risk. Women
who take estrogen replacement (often given to prevent osteoporosis),
even for as little as five years, increase their risk of breast cancer
by twenty percent; if they take hormone replacement, the risk increases
by forty percent.2
Focusing on bone mass, we lose sight of the fact that
a strong correlation between bone density and bone breakage has not
been established, according to Susan Brown, director of the Osteoporosis
Information Clearing House, and many others. We lose sight of the fact
that women who faithfully take estrogen or hormone replacement still
experience bone changes and suffer spinal crush fractures.
Bone-pause passes and the bones do rebuild themselves,
especially when supported by nourishing herbs, which are exceptional
sources of bone-building minerals and better at preventing bone breaks
than supplements.3 The minerals in green plants seem to be ideal for
keeping bones healthy.4 Dr. Campbell, professor of Nutritional Biochem-istry
at Cornell University, has done extensive research in rural China where
the lowest known fracture rates for midlife and older women were found.
He says, "The closer people get to a diet based on plant foods
and leafy vegetables, the lower the rates of many diseases, including
osteoporosis."5 Women who consume lots of calcium-rich plants and
exercise moderately build strong flexible bones. Women who rely on hormones
build bones that are massive, but rigid.
Hormone replacement regimes do not increase bone cell
creation; they slow (or suppress) bone cell killers (osteoclasts). There
is a rebound effect; bone loss jumps when the hormones are stopped.
Women who take hormones for five years or more are as much as four times
more likely to break a bone in the year after they stop than a woman
of the same age who never took hormones. Women who build better bones
with green allies and exercise nourish the bone cell
creator cells (osteoblasts).
Hormone or estrogen replacement, taken as menopause begins
and continued for the rest of your life, is said to reduce post-menopausal
fracture rates by 40-60 percent. Frequent walks (you don't even need
to sweat) and a diet high in calcium-rich green allies (at least 1500
mg daily) have been shown to reduce post-menopausal fractures by 50
percent. The first is expensive and dangerous. The second, inexpensive
and health promoting. It's easy to see why more than eighty percent
of American women just "say no" to hormones.
It is never too late to build better bones, and it is never too soon.
Your best insurance for a fracture-free, strong-boned cronehood is to
build better bones before menopause. The more exercise and calcium-rich
green allies you get in your younger years, the less you'll have to
worry about as you age.
"A woman has lost half of all the spongy bone (spine,
wrist) she'll ever lose by the age of 50, but very little of the dense
(hip, hand, forearm) bone. Attention to bone formation at every stage
of life is vital; there is no time when you are too old to create healthy
new bone." -American MD
"Osteoporosis is much less common in countries that consume the
least calcium. That is an undisputed fact." -T. C. Campbell, PhD.
Step 1. Collect information . . .
Calcium is, without a doubt, the most important mineral in your body.
In fact, calcium makes up more than half of the total mineral content
of your body. Calcium is crucial to the regular beating of your heart,
your metabolism, the functioning of your muscles, the flow of impulses
along your nerves, the regulation of your cellular membranes, the strength
of your bones, the health of your teeth and gums, and your vital blood-
clotting mechanisms. Calcium is so critical to your life that you have
a gland (the parathyroid) that does little else than monitor blood levels
of calcium and secrete hormones to insure optimum levels of calcium
at all times.
When you consume more calcium than you use, you are in a positive calcium
balance: extra usable calcium is stored in the bones and you gain bone
mass (insoluble or unusable calcium may be excreted, or stored in soft
tissue, or deposited in the joints). When you consume less calcium than
you use, you are in a negative calcium balance: the parathyroid produces
a hormone that releases calcium stores from the bones, and you lose
To insure a positive calcium balance and create strong, flexible bones
for your menopausal journey, take care to:
+ Eat three or more calcium-rich foods daily. See Appendix 3.
+ Avoid calcium antagonists. See page XX.
+ Use synergistic foods to magnify the effectiveness of calcium. See
+ Avoid calcium supplements. See page XX.
Step 2. Engage the energy . . .
o The homeopathic tissue salt Silica is said to improve bone health.
o What does it mean to you to support yourself? To be supported? To
stand on your own? To have a backbone in your life?
Step 3. Nourish and tonify . . .
o What do we need to make strong flexible bones? Like all tissues, bones
need protein. They need minerals (not just calcium, but also potassium,
manganese, magnesium, silica, iron, zinc, selenium, boron, phosphorus,
sulphur, chromium, and dozens of others). And in order to use those
minerals, high-quality fats, including oil-soluble vitamin D.
o Many menopausal women I meet believe that protein is bad for their
bones. Not so. Researchers at Utah State University, looking at the
diets of 32,000 postmenopausal women, found that women who ate the least
protein were the most likely to fracture a hip; and that eating extra
protein sped the healing of hip fractures.
Acids created by protein digestion are buffered by calcium. Traditional
diets combine calcium- and protein-rich foods (e.g. seaweed with tofu,
tortillas made from corn ground on limestone with beans, and melted
cheese on a hamburger). Herbs such as seaweed, stinging nettle, oatstraw,
red clover, dandelion, and comfrey leaf are rich in protein and provide
plenty of calcium too. Foods such as
tahini, sardines, canned salmon, yogurt, cheese, oatmeal, and goats'
milk offer us protein, generous amounts of calcium, and the healthy
fats our bones need. If you crave more protein during menopause, follow
that craving. CAUTION: Unfermented soy (e.g., tofu) is especially detrimental
to bone health being protein-rich, naturally deficient in calcium, and
a calcium antagonist to boot.
o Bones need lots of minerals not just calcium, which is brittle and
inflexible. (Think of a chalk, calcium carbonate, and how easily it
breaks.) Avoid calcium supplements. Focus on getting generous amounts
of calcium from herbs and foods and you will automatically get the multitude
of minerals you need for flexible bones.
o Because minerals are bulky, and do not compact, we must consume generous
amounts to make a difference in our health. Taking mineral-rich herbs
in capsule or tincture form won't do much for your bones. (One cup of
nettle tincture contains the same amount of calcium - 300 mg - as one
cup of nettle infusion. Many women drink two or more cups of infusion
a day; no one consumes a cup of tincture a day!) Neither will eating
raw foods. I frequently come across the idea that cooking robs food
of nutrition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cooking maximizes
the minerals available to your bones. Kale cooked for an hour delivers
far more calcium than lightly steamed kale. Minerals are rock-like,
and to extract them, we need heat, time, and generous quantities of
~ Green sources of calcium are the best. Nourishing herbs and garden
weeds are far richer in minerals than ordinary greens, which are already
exceptional sources of nutrients.
~ But calcium from green sources alone is not enough. We need calcium
from white sources as well. Add a quart of yogurt a week to your diet
if you want really healthy bones. Because the milk has been changed
by Lactobaccillus organisms, its calcium, other minerals, proteins,
and sugars (no lactose) are more easily digested. This carries over,
enhancing calcium and mineral absorption from other foods, too. (I have
known several vegans who increased their very low bone density by as
much as 6 percent in one year by eating yogurt.) Organic raw milk cheeses
are another superb white source.
~ Horsetail herb (Equisetum arvense) works like a charm for those premenopausal
women who have periodontal bone loss or difficulty with fracture healing.
Taken as tea, once or twice a day, young spring-gathered horsetail dramatically
strengthens bones and promotes rapid mending of breaks. CAUTION: Mature
horsetail contains substances which may irritate the kidneys.
Step 4. Stimulate/Sedate . . .
~ Beware of calcium antagonists. Certain foods interfere with calcium
utilization. For better bones avoid consistent use of:
+ Greens rich in oxalic acid, including chard (silver beet), beet greens,
+ Unfermented soy products, including tofu, soy beverages, soy burgers.
+ Phosphorus-rich foods, including carbonated drinks, white flour products,
and many processed foods. (Teenagers who drink sodas instead of milk
are four times more likely to break a bone.)
+ Foods that produce acids requiring a calcium buffer when excreted
in the urine, including coffee, white sugar, tobacco, alcohol, nutritional
+ Fluoride in water or toothpaste.
+ Fiber pills, bran taken alone, bulk-producing laxatives.
+ Steroid medications, including corticosteroids such as prednisone
and asthma inhalers. (Daily use reduces spinal bone mass by as much
as ten percent a year.)
+ Restricted calorie diets. Women who weigh the least have the greatest
loss of bone during menopause and "neither calcium supplements,
vitamin D supplements, nor estrogen" slow the loss. Among 236 premenopausal
women, all of whom consumed similiar amounts of calcium, those who lost
weight by reducing calories lost twice as much bone mass as women who
maintained their weight.
o Although chocolate contains oxalic acid, the levels are so low as
to have only a negligible effect on calcium metabolism. An ounce/3000
mg of chocolate binds 15-20 mg of calcium; an ounce of cooked spinach,
100-125 mg calcium. Bittersweet (dark) chocolate is a source of iron.
Recent research has found chocolate to be very heart healthy. (See page
XXX) As with any stimulant, daily use is not advised. Chocolate is an
important and helpful ally for women. Guilt about eating it damaging
to your health and interferes with your ability to hear and respond
to your body wisdom. If you want to eat chocolate - do it; and get the
best. But if you're doing it every day - eat more weeds.
o Excess phosphorus accelerates bone loss and demineralization. Phosphorus
compounds are second only to salt as food additives. They are found
in carbonated beverages, soda pop; white flour products, especially
if "enriched" (bagels, cookies, cakes, donuts, pasta, bread);
preserved meats (bacon, ham, sausage, lunch meat, and hot dogs); supermarket
breakfast cereals; canned fruit; processed potato products such as frozen
fries and instant mashed potatoes; processed cheeses; instant soups
~ To avoid phosphorus overload and improve calcium absorption:
+ Drink spring water and herbal infusions; avoid soda pop and carbonated
+ Eat only whole grain breads, noodles, cookies, and crackers.
+ Buy only unpreserved meats, cheeses, potatoes.
+ Avoid buying foods with ingredients; they are highly processed.
o Excess salt leaches calcium. Women eating 3900 mg of sodium a day
excrete 30 percent more calcium than those eating 1600 mg.1 The main
sources of dietary sodium are processed and canned foods. Seaweed is
an excellent calcium-rich source of salt. Sea salt may be used freely
as it contains trace amounts of calcium. Salt is critical for health;
do not eliminate it from your diet.
o Increase hydrochloric acid production (in your stomach) and you'll
make better use of the calcium you consume. Lower stomach acid (with
antacids, for example) and you will receive little bone benefit from
the calcium you ingest. Some ways to acidify:
+ Drink lemon juice in water with or after your meal.
+ Take 10-25 drops dandelion root tincture in a little water before
+ Use calcium-rich herbal vinegars in your salad dressing; put some
on cooked greens and beans, too.
Step 5a. Use supplements . . .
o I really wish you wouldn't use calcium supplements. They expose you
to dangers (see page XX) and don't prevent fractures. A study in Australia
that followed 10,000 white women over the age of 65 for
six and a half years found "Use of calcium supplements was associated
with increased risk of hip and vertebral fracture; use of Tums antacid
tablets was associated with increased risk of fractures of the proximal
o If you insist on supplements, go for calcium-fortified orange juice
or crumbly tablets of calcium citrate. Chewable calcium gluconate, calcium
lactate, and calcium carbonate are acceptable sources. Dolomite, bone
meal, and oyster shell are best avoided as they usually contain lead
and other undesirable minerals.
o For better bones, take 500 mg magnesium (not citrate) with your calcium.
Better yet, wash your calcium pill down with a glass of herbal infusion;
that will provide not only magnesium but lots of other bone-strengthening
o Calcium supplements are more effective in divided doses. Two doses
of 250 mg, taken morning and night, actually provide more usable calcium
than a 1000 mg tablet.
Step 5b. Use drugs . . .
o Even if you take hormone therapy (ERT or HRT) you must get adequate
calcium to maintain bone mass, according to researchers at Columbia
University. That's 1200-1500 mg a day (a cup of plain yogurt, two cups
of nettle infusion, a splash of mineral-rich vinegar, plus three figs
is about that). As you increase your intake of calcium-rich foods/herbs,
gradually cut back on your hormone dose if you wish.
Step 6. Break and enter . . .
o Bone density tests are frequently used to push women into taking hormones
or drugs. If your bone density is low, use the remedies in this section
and schedule another test (for at least six months later) before agreeing
to such therapies.
If you liked this excerpt by Susun S.
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Building Better Bones
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