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Building Better Bones
"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 stride?
"Ah, ye s," 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. 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.
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. The minerals in green plants seem to be ideal for keeping bones healthy. Dr. Campbell, Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry 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." 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. Nutritional Biochemistry
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 ensure 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 bone mass.
To ensure a positive calcium balance and create strong, flexible bones for your menopausal journey, take care to:
Step 2: Engage the Energy
Step 3: Nourish & Tonify
Step 4: Stimulate/Sedate
Step 5a: Use Supplements
Step 5b: Use Drugs
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 & Enter
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.
Legal Disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material contained herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care. Exercise self-empowerment by seeking a second opinion.
Vibrant, passionate, and involved, Susun Weed has garnered an international reputation for her groundbreaking lectures, teachings, and writings on health and nutrition. She challenges conventional medical approaches with humor, insight, and her vast encyclopedic knowledge of herbal medicine. Unabashedly pro-woman, her animated and enthusiastic lectures are engaging and often profoundly provocative.
Susun is one of America's best-known authorities on herbal medicine and natural approaches to women's health. Her four best-selling books are recommended by expert herbalists and well-known physicians and are used and cherished by millions of women around the world. Learn more at http://www.susunweed.com
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