Osteoporosis is a bone disease where the bones lose their mineral density and mass, resulting in abnormal bone tissue structure and fragility. Ayurveda suggests a slew of remedies and treatments for osteoporosis or bone loss.
As bone density is lost, the bones weaken and become more prone to fractures caused by falls or, in serious cases, even minor sneezes and bumps.
The word osteoporosis means ‘porous bone’. When viewed under a microscope, a healthy bone has a uniform honeycomb-like structure whereas an osteoporosis-affected bone has larger holes and spaces in the honeycomb structure.
About 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass, placing them at an increased risk of osteoporosis.
Studies suggest that approximately one in two women and up to one in four men ages 50 and older will have at least one fracture due to osteoporosis.1
It is most commonly seen in women post-menopause. This type is referred to as Primary Type 1 or postmenopausal osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is classified into two categories. In addition to the Primary Type 1, Primary Type 2 osteoporosis, also referred to as senile osteoporosis, occurs in men and women usually after the age of 75.
Here’s an outline of what we’ll discuss in this article.
- Osteoporosis Causes
- Ayurvedic Perspective on Osteoporosis
- Osteoporosis prevention and Osteoporosis treatment options
- More on prevention
- Osteoporosis awareness
Western medicine correlates the onset of osteoporosis to the following factors.
- Family history/genetics
- Gender (females are more prone)
- Poor exercise
- Low body weight/anorexia
- Lack of exposure to the sun (low Vitamin-D production)
- Estrogen deficiency
- Testosterone deficiency
- Low calcium/vitamin D intake
- Prednisolone use (on corticosteroids)
- Liver and renal disease
- Medications (antiepileptics, heparin)
Osteoporosis In Ayurveda
According to Ayurvedic medicine, osteoporosis is correlated with the depletion of bone tissue (Asthi Kshaya) and bone porosity (Asthi Saushirya).
This depletion of bone tissue and porosity can have two main causes. One is the deficiency of nutrients that nourish the bone tissue caused by malnutrition or aggravation of Vata dosha.
Here, an aggravated Vata dosha refers to increased air and space (ether) elements in the bone tissue.
The second reason is the possible blockage of the body’s channels responsible for carrying nutrition to the bone tissue. This blockage is known as srotorodh in Ayurveda.
Blocked srotas (channels) also lead to a depleted Agni (metabolism) and the formation of Ama (metabolic waste).
An aggravated Vata dosha that gets localized in the sandhi (joints) severely limits movement and causes pain and swelling in the region.
An aggravated Vata localized in the asthi (bones) leads to dryness, pain, and fractures.
An aggravated Vata dosha localized in the majja dhatu (bone marrow) causes severe dryness and pain that never subsides.2
From an Ayurvedic perspective, osteoporosis is a Vata disorder.
Since aging and Vata aggravation go hand in hand, not following a proper diet and lifestyle can easily vitiate Vata dosha. It can accumulate in the bones which can cause asthi kshaya or asthi saushirya, a wasting of the bone itself.
Since this is a Vata disorder, Vata-pacifying dietary and lifestyle changes are usually the primary course of action. Agni, the metabolic fire is also maintained since osteoporosis can be caused by poor metabolism as well.
Ayurvedic Treatments For Osteoporosis
Therapies like oleation (snehan), sudation (swedan), oil bath and massage (abhyanga), enema (basti), oil purgation (sneha virechana), oiling the head (shiro basti), lubricating gargles, lubricating smoke, and lubricating nasal drops are some of the Ayurvedic treatment options for those suffering from osteoporosis.
According to Ayurveda, one can take certain measures to prevent osteoporosis. This includes a simple warm and light diet depending on the individual’s prakriti or body constitution.
The right diet may help in reducing the buildup of ama and ensure the proper functioning of agni or metabolism.
Agni promotes the digestion, absorption, and assimilation of all the nutrients necessary for the formation and maintenance of healthy bone tissue.
Since this is a Vata disorder, Vata-pacifying dietary and lifestyle changes are usually the primary course of action.
Ayurveda recommends a diet consisting of meat soups, milk, meat cooked with healthy fats like sesame oil and ghee, juice of sour fruits, and fatty and salty food.3
Calcium-containing foods like whole unprocessed milk, cooked green leafy vegetables such as kale or spinach, sesame seeds or tahini, sardines, and grains like amaranth are also good for those suffering from osteoporosis.
Regular self-massage (abhyanga) with warm cold-pressed sesame oil is excellent for reducing excess Vata buildup in the joints and bones. This helps in reducing Vata’s catabolic activity on the bones.
Pouring a stream (dhara) of slightly warm liquids like oil (taila) and milk (kshira) is also beneficial.
The Panchakarma Approach
There is a special type of fomentation known as a pinda swed massage. It utilizes warm rice boluses called shastika shali pinda sweda. These are prepared in milk with Vata–pacifying herbs and then dipped in medicated oil.
This has the dual effect of removing blockages of ama from the channels or srotas as well as strengthening and toning the muscles, nerves, and bone tissue.
In extreme cases of depletion, medicated oils in the form of enemas (basti) can also be useful, especially when used as part of a deeper treatment program of cleansing and rejuvenation known as panchakarma.
Considering the close connection between the colon, the bones, and the Vata dosha, medicated enemas are considered to be one of the best methods of treating Vata-related disorders.
Ayurvedic Herbs For Osteoporosis
- Tinospora (Guduchi) shows estrogenic-like effects on bone and thus has a potential for being used as an anti-osteoporosis agent.4
- Indian ginseng (Ashwagandha) is considered a rejuvenating herb (rasayana) in Ayurveda. It helps in relieving the pains associated with osteoporosis and is also useful in cases of general debility, nervous exhaustion, and muscle pains. Ashwagandha is useful in debilitating conditions (kshyayavastha) by its property of improving strength and immunity (balya) and being adaptogenic. Thus it is beneficial in Asthi Kshaya (bone loss).5
- Wild asparagus (Shatavari). A study carried out on its aqueous and methanolic extracts of the root showed its significant effect on mineralization, ossification and osteoclastic activity suppression on bone in histopathological examination.6
- Triphala. The herbal formula of haritaki, amalaki and bibhitaki is known as Triphala. It is very beneficial in maintaining colon health, which plays a vital part in nourishing the bones.
- Guggul is also beneficial for bone health. It is known to treat cholesterol and intensify the growth of bone density.
- Sesame seeds. Black sesame seeds are wonderful calcium supplements. Sesame oil can be massaged into the body daily.
- Amalaki is an easily accessible fruit. Amalaki is known to restore lost tissues. Ingested either in powdered form, in the form of a puree or as a sweet can be helpful for people with osteoporosis.
- Shilajit. Shilajit has been used for the treatment of kidney stones, energy production, internal antiseptic, edema, spondylitis, hemorrhoids, injured muscles, bone fractures, and diseases such as osteoporosis.7
Preventing And Treating Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is often called a silent disease because one can’t feel the weakening of the bones. Often it is too late by the time the first signs of osteoporosis are noticed.
A patient may have a fractured bone or may experience pain and tenderness in the bones. They may notice that they are getting shorter or their upper back is curving forward.
If you are experiencing height loss or your spine is curving, be sure to consult an orthopedic doctor or your primary healthcare provider immediately.
Loss of bone density can be very debilitating but one can easily prevent or manage it with the right nutrition and regular exercise.
Ayurveda recommends various herbs and minerals for treating osteoporosis. Here’s a list of minerals which must be included in your diet to improve the loss of bone density.
Calcium is a major building block of the bones. The calcium in the bones also acts as a reservoir for maintaining calcium levels in the blood, which is essential for healthy nerve and muscle function.
The requirement of calcium changes at different stages of our lives. Calcium requirements are high during the teenage years due to rapid bone growth. During this period, the body’s capacity to absorb calcium from food is very efficient.
However, with age, the capacity for calcium absorption declines. Dietary sources of calcium include milk and milk products, vegetables like broccoli, bok choy, kale, citrus fruits, and sesame seeds are good sources of calcium and other micronutrients too.
Canned fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and nuts like almonds, Brazilian nuts also provide a good calcium supply. Homemade bone broth is also a good source of calcium supplement.
Premenopausal women should consume at least 1000 mg of calcium per day. Postmenopausal women should consume 1200 mg of calcium per day. This is a total of diet plus supplements.
If you are planning to take supplements, consult your doctor for appropriate doses for you.
Vitamin-D helps build bone density by aiding calcium absorption. Sunlight is the natural source of Vitamin-D. You can get your daily dose of Vitamin-D by going out in the sun in the morning, preferably before 10 am.
If you are not getting enough sunlight, take a Vitamin-D3 supplement for better calcium absorption. Men over 70 years and postmenopausal women should consume 800 international units (IU) of Vitamin-D daily.
In premenopausal women or in younger men with osteoporosis, 600 international units of vitamin D daily is required.
Green leafy vegetables, like spinach, swiss chard, nuts, seeds like pumpkin seeds, sunflower, and avocados are wonderful sources of magnesium. It is important to maintain a balance between calcium and magnesium in the ratio of 1:1.
Similar to other tissues in the body, the bone can respond to both bone-specific and bone non-specific growth factors.
Shilajit, an herbo-mineral compound of inorganic and organic agents, might regulate bone healing in a similar way to these 16 growth factors.
Therefore, understanding the different mechanisms by which growth factors regulate bone growth and repair is very important to understanding how shilajit affects bone formation.8
Osteoporosis Awareness And Treatment
Being aware of measures to maintain healthy bones and bone density throughout life ensures a worry-free transition to old age.
Knowing your particular body type is the first step to prevention. It’s better to prevent osteoporosis rather than relying on osteoporosis treatments.
Women’s bones tend to be smaller with a thinner cortex (bone exterior) and small diameters. They are also more prone to suffer from depleted bone density than men of the same age.
While men suffer bone depletion after the age of 70, women tend to start losing bone density after 45 or 50.
Growing girls attain half of their total body calcium by the time they attain puberty. By the time girls are 20 years, they achieve all of their peak bone mass( i.e, amount of bony tissue present at the end of the skeletal maturation).
Nutritional demands during adolescence are heavy and the body adds maximum bone strength, builds height and 95% of the growth needed for an adult. Calcium and Vitamin-D intake are crucial for bone strength.
Adolescent boys and girls must get 1200mg of calcium every day.
A cup of yogurt or orange juice or 3 cups of the juice of green leafy vegetable is sufficient for meeting daily recommended calcium requirements.
Children should be made aware of the harmful effects of beverages like carbonated drinks that can decrease the absorption of calcium from the intestines and thus hamper growth.
Weight-bearing exercises are essential during adolescent to reach maximum bone strength. Team sports, or regular running, walking are also good for increasing bone strength.
Yoga is the preferred ayurvedic way to exercise, and it doesn’t cause undue strain or pressure on the body tissues.
Those who are already diagnosed with osteoporosis can opt for slow and gentle yoga movements. Between the ages 20 to 30, a woman’s body needs the maximum nourishment as it prepares for pregnancy and breastfeeding.
If the body doesn’t have sufficient calcium during this time, the body loses bone strength rapidly during the term and breastfeeding.
A healthy and nourishing diet coupled with regular exercise during the post-breastfeeding years will help a mother in regaining lost bone strength.
If the body doesn’t have sufficient calcium during this time, the body loses bone strength rapidly during pregnancy.
Until you are 40, your body naturally replaces old bones with new ones through a process known as remodeling. After 40, the process of remodeling slows down and the lost bones are not replaced at the same pace.
At this stage, a nutritious diet, exercise, calcium, and Vitamin-D supplements are needed to maintain muscle mass and support bone density.
Consult your primary healthcare provider or general physician before trying osteoporosis treatments and remedies yourself. Consult your Ayurvedic practitioner before trying the remedies mentioned here.
- K.R. Srikantha Murthy, Sushruta Samhita Vol 1, Nidan Sthana with English translation, Chaukhamba Orientalia, Varanasi, 2017, Chapter 1, verse 28,29, page- 464, 465
- K.R Srikantha Murthy, Sushruta Samhita, Vol 2, Chikitsa Sthana, Chaukhamba Orientalia, Varanasi, 2017, chapter 3, verse 21-26, page 59
- Role of endometrial thickness optimization in the pregnancy rate for infertile women undergoing IUI using different ovulation induction protocols – Nidhal Hussein Ali Alsultan D.G.O, Muhammad Baqir MR Fakhrildin Ph.D., Mohammad Oda
- Agarwal, Khanna et al. 2007, Toussaint, Elder et al. 2009, Meena, Pandey et al. 2010
- SHILAJIT, A NOVEL REGULATOR OF BONE/CARTILAGE HEALING, 2013 Nawaf Yousef Labban