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Bones - what holds us up, propels us along, and forms the framework under all that skin and tissue - can develop problems, and usually underlying bone problems is a nutritional breakdown. Outside of breaking a bone, the major concerns are bone mass loss and bone degeneration. Half of all women between the ages of forty-five and seventy-five show signs of some degree of low bone mass and actual bone loss. And in the United States alone, 25 million people are affected by this loss either by a bone fracture, loss of height, loosened teeth, hunched over or deformed back, or chronic back or bone pain. Many women mistakenly believe that losing bone mass is something they need be concerned with after menopause. Research says something entirely different.

Bone loss or osteoporosis begins early and is not strictly a menopausal problem. Bone is at its strongest when a person is around age thirty and thereafter begin to decline. Anyone who has not accumulated sufficient bone mass during the formative years of childhood adolescence, and early adulthood, is at increased risk of losing bone mass. Plus a number of factors are known to increase the risk of developing bone loss: diet which is insufficient in calcium and other minerals and lifestyle which includes minimal to no exercise, high alcohol consumption, smoking; and medicinal drugs.

Why worry about bone loss? If you’re a man, one-fifth of men over 65 will suffer at least one fracture due to osteoporosis. If you’re a woman, osteoporosis is the fourth cause of death among women and the average women has a one in four chance of fracturing a bone in her life- time. And it appears that Americans have the impression that osteoporosis is caused solely by a dietary calcium deficiency and it can be remedied by taking calcium supplements. This is not strictly correct. It is the way calcium is absorbed and used by the body that seems to be more important than the amount of calcium consumed. Moreover the type of calcium one takes appears to be very important. And calcium must be combined with a correct balance of magnesium, boron, potassium, folic acid (a member of the vitamin B family), and vitamins C, D, E, and K - all play vital roles in keeping bone health.

Vitamin D is commonly known to help in the absorption of calcium; without enough D the body can’t absorb and use calcium whether from food or supplement. In this instance, the body will take calcium from bones for use in heart, muscle, and nerve functions. Since vitamin D comes from direct exposure to sunlight and from foods such as in fortified dairy products, egg yolks, liver, and fish, the average person does not assimilate enough of it. Thus a calcium supplement combined with vitamin D is a good choice.

Several minerals complement calcium: magnesium, boron, fluoride, and phosphorus. About 60% of the body’s magnesium is found in bones and teeth. This mineral helps prevent dental cavities by making teeth enamel strong and less vulnerable to decay. Boron plays a role in bone development. Fluoride strengthens bones and teeth during mineralization and can actually increase resistance to dental decay by reducing the destructive acids produced by oral bacteria. About 85% of the body’s phosphorus is bound with calcium. This mineral helps with bone strength and hardness. Sources for these minerals are from legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and nuts. Manganese is another mineral which the body uses to build bone tissue and connective tissue. This mineral should be included in any joint repair formula.

Many of us worry about osteoporosis. Where does it come from? How does it begin? And what can be done about it? There are three basic types of osteoporosis. Type I is caused by hormonal changes, such as a decline in estrogen; such changes cause an accelerated loss of minerals from bones. Type II is linked to dietary deficiency especially a lack of calcium and vitamin D. This type is very common due to the insufficient calcium intake from a typical American diet meager in vegetables and fruit but heavy in caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks containing phosphates. Type III is induced by drug treatment for illnesses unconnected to osteoporosis.

If you are depending on your diet to supply your calcium requirements, your diet needs to be balanced not only with the foods that are high in calcium content but also have the correct amounts of other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, that allow for calcium absorption and use. Good sources of easily assimilated calcium include most dark green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, dandelion greens, and kale; fish, particularly salmon and sardines with the bones; grains; fermented dairy foods such as live, unflavored yogurt; seaweeds and sea vegetables; and soy in all forms. Include garlic, onions, and eggs for their sulfur content which is a mineral needed for healthy bones and joints. The body will absorb calcium from these foods better than it does from dairy sources. Among fruit sources, the availability of calcium is very low except for dried figs; but nuts are high in both calcium and magnesium.

The magnesium, potassium, and vitamin K your body needs to promote absorption and use of the calcium it takes in, is found in all fruits and vegetables. If you can’t meet the nutrient requirements from a diet, then you should consider a supplement. Here it becomes more complicated because of the bewildering array of vitamin and mineral supplements available. However, there are definitely significant differences among them. Where calcium is concerned, the numbers on the label don’t reflect the amount of calcium you can expect from the product. For example, a label may say 600 milligrams of calcium but only 60 milligrams are actually bio-available calcium. This happens because minerals can’t be made into tablets in their pure state; they must be combined with substances that will make a stable com- pound. There are many “extras” in a calcium tablet. The most important information to look for is the amount of “elemental” calcium that is present and in a form that ensures bio-availability.

The most common forms of calcium found in supplements have their individual drawbacks:

  • Calcium carbonate will provide a large percentage of elemental calcium but poor absorption. This form works best when taken with food. Calcium citrate has high absorption but low amounts of elemental calcium.
  • Calcium gluconate has low elemental calcium and side effects of diarrhea and nausea.
  • Calcium lactate has a low elemental calcium content.
  • Calcium phosphate contains phosphorus and vitamin D additions which help the body absorb a higher percentage of elemental calcium.

An excellent source of elemental calcium is a bone supplement formula made from whole foods; it will provide calcium plus magnesium, boron, silicon, and phosphorus plus the D and K vitamins. Taking digestive enzymes helps increase calcium absorption and calcium is best used by the body when it is taken two or three times a day in amounts of 500 milligrams. Former sources of calcium such as bone meal, dolomite, and oyster shell are now considered too contaminated to use.

A number of population studies have found that soy helps prevent osteoporosis. Ounce for ounce soy provides more protein and iron than beef, more calcium than milk, and more lecithin than eggs. Eating soy in any of its forms actually increases spinal bone density. In addition, soy foods are rich in nutrients called isoflavones. Isoflavone breaks down into several micronutrients with one in particular important to bones called ipiflavone. With more than 60 clinical studies demonstrating its effectiveness in preventing bone loss and slowing down the progression of osteoporosis once its started in postmenopausal women, ipriflavone is an excellent addition to a bone repair formula. Plus it also reverses the loss of zinc, a mineral needed by the immune system.

One dose of your calcium for the day should be at bedtime. Not only does the body best absorb the mineral at this time but it can also help with sleeping. Working your body against gravity as in walking, further prevents bone loss and can even reverse it. Calcium also needs an acid environment in the stomach; adding HCl - hydrochloride - and digestive enzymes to the beginning of a meal increases the amount of calcium and other nutrients absorbed from the food. The doses most commonly taken are around 500 milligrams which is too low.

There are drugs for the treatment of osteopenia and osteoporosis. While these drugs increase bone mineral density and reduce certain fractures in the short term, trials lasting up to ten years are raising doubts about the long-term safety and efficacy of these drugs. Studies document that long-term use leads to damage to the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. Too little water taken with Fosamax, for example, can expose linings to ulcers. Furthermore, there are potential risks including severe bone pain, gastrointestinal disease, osteonecrosis of the jaw and arterial fibrilation. Even though the drugs increase bone mineral density they can cause fractures in the long-term and bone tissue in Fosamax treated women resembles a dynamic bone disease.(Hospital for Special Surgery and Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism).

The main issue with these drugs - Fosamax, Actonel, Didronel, Boniva, and Reclast - is their tendency to inhibit formation of new bone cells, block normal bone mineralization, and prevent resorption of bone cells. Bone is constantly restoring itself. There is a constant interplay by the cells responsible for making bone - the osteoblasts- with the cells that remove old bone as its minerals are absorbed for use elsewhere in the body - the osteoclasts. When the partners remain equal, bones are healthy. You can definitely ensure this partnership with the right supplements, nutrition, and exercise.

Part II

As a partner to the body’s bony parts and the ability to remain mobile, muscle, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissue have to be kept healthy. Bones support the whole body in its movements, protect the internal organs from trauma, store minerals, and manufacture red and white blood cells and joints allow us to walk, run, dance, and play. It’s a great partnership; however, more than 70% of the population 65 years of age or older demonstrate bone and/or joint problems.

The degenerative changes that happen to bones and joints make the ordinary in life difficult and predispose the body to further progressive deterioration. Cartilage in particular can suffer a huge loss with aging. Cartilage is a complex matrix of collagen and elastic fibers within a hydrated gel. The interaction of these components gives a joint flexibility and resistance to compression. The collagen in itself is somewhat inert but the other components are very active undergoing continually changing processes.

The large macromolecules in joint tissue are mostly made from sulfur derivatives and water. They form a viscous, elastic layer that lubricates and protects joints. Problems such as osteoarthritis, result in an imbalance between build up and break down with a steady decrease in cartilage. This alters the joint’s affinity for water; the resultant inability of water to easily flow in or out of the joint surface plays a big part in rigidity and loss of movement. Sulfur derivatives are the other essential element for the stabilization of the matrix of connective tissue. It’s no wonder that supplements made from sulfur derivatives such as glucosamine sulfateand chondroitin sulfate appear to work on restoring or at least preventing further damage to the articular cartilage of joints.

Glucosamine sulfate serves as a base (substrate) for the synthesis of chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid, and other macromolecules in the cartilage matrix.

Chondroitin sulfate is secreted into joints bound to proteins and these chains draw water into the tissue, creating a high osmotic pressure, swelling and expanding the matrix. Load-bearing properties can be directly linked to the water that fills the matrix.

Clinical trials to evaluate the effect of glucosamine sulfate in the treatment of joint problems such as osteoarthritis definitely show a decrease in joint pain, tenderness, and swelling and an in- crease in mobility. It appears that patients treated with glucosamine sulfate can experience over a 70% reduction in overall symptoms. Physicians rate the results of glucosamine sulfate therapy as excellent or good compared to those patients who receive a placebo. Studies of chondroitin sulfate have similar results: a statistically significant therapeutic effect on all symptoms, especially pain and mobility. In addition, chondroitin sulfate appears responsible for an increase in cartilage height (the water factor).

When the pain factor was investigated, several significant differences between the two supplements - glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates - and anti-inflammatory (NSAID) and pain agents came to light. Both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates have an anti-inflammatory effect which works in a slightly different manner than the NSAIDs or ibuprofen. A difference in response time was found, with glucosamine sulfate requiring two weeks to achieve the same degree of pain relief achieved with the pain medicines in one week; but the benefits of the drugs appear to stabilize after a two week period while patients taking glucosamine sulfate continued to improve in subsequent weeks.

At the end of the treatment period, both agents reached a similar level with no real differences in success rates. A significant disparity in the amount and nature of adverse effects of the two treatments was found; pain killers such as in the ibuprofen group had a 35% rate of adverse side effects compared to 6% in the glucosamine sulfate group. Comparing chondroitin sulfate with NSAIDs , the results showed a prompt reduction in clinical symptoms from the drugs but these symptoms reemerged soon after the discontinuation of therapy. Patients treated with the chondroitin sulfate despite having a slower initial response, exhibited a more favorable outcome months after treatment stopped. With fewer side effects and a lack of toxicity coupled with high efficacy, the two supplements now have widespread use among joint pain sufferers.

Herbs can also play a major role in rebuilding lost bone and joint tissue. Since trace elements are so important to both bone and joint health, the best sources of useable trace elements come from herbs.

Silicon is one of best minerals for rebuilding and the best sources of useable silicon come from the plant kingdom. The plant Horsetail or Equisetum, is the most bio-active among all the silicon-containing herbs.

Horsetail repairs bone, skin, and connective tissue, stops internal bleeding, and heals wounds. The herb provides a full benefit of flavoglycosides, minerals such as iron, calcium, phosphorus, the B vitamins, C and P vitamins and sterols.

Silicon is necessary for the formation of bone cells called osteoblasts, in cartilage-forming cells called chondroblasts, and in fiber-forming cells called fibroblasts. Any time bone or cartilage, collagen, and proteins in joints are injured, the need for silicon rises sharply.

The herb Devil’s claw - Harpogophytum procumbens - is used frequently in European countries to treat inflammatory diseases. In one of the very first papers published on Devil’s claw activity in experimentally-induced arthritis, researchers were able to reduce swelling from 300 to 800 % in days. Relief of pain due to decreased inflammation was an added benefit. The herb is highly useful in treating chronic arthritis, lower back pain, and neuralgia.

Yam whether as a supplement or as food, has been well documented as a treatment for arthritis. Yam or Dioscorea, far exceeds all other herbs as an excellent source of plant steroids; plant steroids don’t contain steroidal hormones and the body does not recognize them or mistake them for its own hormones. Rather plant steroids are used in the body in a similar manner as anti-inflammatory drugs.

Flavonoids from vegetables and fruit are anti-inflammatory agents also. Phenolic acid from such vegetables as carrots, tomatoes, squashes, and yams and quercetin found in red peppers, apples, broccoli, green beans, celery, and tomatoes help in reducing and managing joint inflammation. Along with food, essential fatty acids such as Omega-3, 6, and 9 are useful for their anti- inflammatory effect and to help regain elasticity.

Minerals that are needed are :

  • Boron which helps in the absorption of calcium and comes from apples, pears, grapes, legumes, and nuts;
  • Magnesium which remodels bone and comes from whole grains, spinach, broccoli, kale, almonds, and oatmeal;
  • Calcium which hardens bones comes from kale, sardines and salmon with the bones, tofu, and leafy greens such as mustard greens, legumes such as chick peas, cottage and ricotta cheese and eggs.
  • and of course vitamin D needs to be in the mix since it also hardens bone.

In the role of prevention, many trace minerals can be incorporated into the diet.

  • Copper found in liver, nuts, edible seeds, dried beans, barley, and chicken keeps collagen strong and insures elasticity.
  • Zinc is important in keeping the maximum levels of synovial fluid in the joints. Zinc comes from beef, pork, grains, nuts, eggs, and nutritional yeast.
  • Phosphorus pairs with calcium to promote bone health and mend bones that have been bruised, broken, or grow too slowly. Phosphorus is obtained from meat, fish and poultry as well as whole grains, edible seeds and nuts. For the optimum effect on the entire musculoskeletal system, a mix is a winning combination.

Keep in mind that vitamins A, C, D, and E are all important. Vitamin E’s role in primarily on the muscle part of the system. A vitamin E deficiency may be undetected for a very long time. The damage of chronic nutritional deficiency of E would cause serious damage to the heat, nerves, and muscles. Damage develops slowly and is largely irreversible thus the vitamin must be included in a diet in both the correct doses and early in life. Liver and gall bladder problems can reduce the absorption of E and other fat-soluble vitamins in the blood stream. In such cases, herbs for repairing the liver and gallbladder and increasing bile flow need to be added.

A great drink you can make for yourself and your pet is a high mineral vegetable broth. The following recipe is often seen and served at health spas and modified from an original recipe of Gaylord Hauser.

1 cup shredded carrots
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 quart water
1 cup chopped tomatoes

Combine carrots, parsley, and water in a large pot. Cover and cook slowly for 30 minutes. Add tomatoes. Let cook for 5 more minutes. Puree the whole mix in a food processor and serve as a drink or pour over food for your dog.

A super drink to get flavonoids into your diet is a fruit smoothie; it’s easy to make and refreshing to drink.

½ cup sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
1 ½ cups apple juice, unsweetened
1 medium ripe banana, peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium size apple, cored and cut into chunks
1 tablespoon unflavored, live-culture yogurt

Grind the seeds in a blender. Combine seeds and remaining ingredients in the blender or food processor and whizz until smooth. You can substitute different fruits depending on the season and availability. Use ripe fruits before they spoil.

A variation on the theme is:

10 strawberries cut into chunks
1 banana, peeled and cut into chunks
1 peach, pitted and skin removed
½ yogurt
1 cup apple juice
1 tablespoon dry milk powder

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth and foamy.

Adding greens to your life and that of your pet provides super nutrients needed by your bones and muscles. It is easy to grow greens in your home. In the late spring and through summer and fall, you can buy greens but it becomes difficult to get good, organic young greens in the winter. This is the time to think of an indoor garden. You can start small pots on a windowsill in your kitchen. Plant a few seeds of each vegetables in every pot. As the early leaves emerge throughout the season, you can feed them to your pet and eat them yourself.

Start seedlings in organic soil. Purchase seed packets that have been left over from the summer. These usually are less expensive but still have good growth potential. Plantings are chosen for their dark green color. If you have introduced greens to your pet in the summer, you may have an idea which plants are his favorite. Dogs and cats can eat mustard greens, beet greens, turnip greens, spinach, collards, etc. It takes a bit of adjusting him to the taste.

A body afflicted with arthritis usually suffers from poor circulation and sluggishness. Improving circulation is important and can be done through several methods. Physical exercise such as walking daily and practicing deep breathing are both very good methods. When a particular part of the body or joint is affected, it should first be exercised very slowly and as the movements become freer, the exercise could be gradually accelerated.

One European treatment is to alternate hot and cold showers, usually taken in the morning. The procedure is first a warm shower for about 10 to 15 minutes to limber up the body. This is followed by a cold shower for approximately 1 to 3 minutes. Water should be as cold as you can tolerate. After the shower, a vigorous brushing with a stiff brush or rubdown with a coarse towel will stimulate glands and reactive them.

Therapeutic bathes such as with Epsom salt are wonderful. Add one cup of Epsom salts to a tub of hot water, allow hot water to trickle in to keep up the temperature, and lie there for 15 minutes. When out, warp up but do not dry off. Relax and when cooled down, dry off and dress.

Brushing your cat or dog daily is a way to keep them healthy. Pay particular attention to areas where the lymph system is prevalent: in all four legs at their inside attachment to the trunk, along the collarbone, and in the sternum and rib cage connections. This helps lymph fluid move out toxins more efficiently. Use a moderately soft, natural vegetable fiber bristle brush as synthetic fibers will build up static magnetic energy in addition to being too sharp. Wash the brush every couple of weeks with soap and water and dry before using. This will rid any impurities picked up from the skin.

Any plan to help bones and muscles needs to start with the best nutrition, then add the supplements, herbs, and exercise. There are many excellent supplement mixes available; try one and you will see the difference. The entire system will flourish.

For supplies and further information consult Marie Cargill.


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Marie Cargill - Holistic Medicine for People and Pets.