Well, who would have thought we are here in 2017 already! February will see the 2nd anniversary of the production of Herbs, Healing and Health. Where did all that time go? I hope you are all rested (and well fed) after the Christmas season.
One of my New Years resolutions has been to do more walking, apropos of which I took a wee stroll from West Bay to Charmouth this week. In the last newsletter I spoke of the shapes of trees at this time of year, and on my little walk I of course met with many a windswept hawthorn, knarled and stark in their winter aspect. This got me thinking about ‘what lies beneath’ in a bit more depth, so I thought I’d take a brief look at bones in this newsletter, and what we can do to keep them healthy.
What do bones need?
Many of us remember the days when we got a free third of a pint of milk at school. We all know about the important role that calcium plays in bone structure and density. But bone health is not just about calcium.
The ideal ratio of calcium to magnesium was once thought to be 2:1. Then a 1;1 dietary ratio was considered optimal. Some research now shows that magnesium intake should be twice that of calcium.
The Western diet is significantly higher in dairy products than that of the Asian one and yet such conditions as osteoporosis are a big issue in the western world. Some research is now showing that excessive calcium intake can lead to calcium deposition in soft tissues, which in turn may lead to a number of degenerative diseases (Alzheimers being one of them).
So, whilst calcium levels should not be neglected, too much of a good thing etc etc!
Healthy bones need to be flexible as well as strong so that they can operate effectively for us and bend a little rather than just snap under pressure. This involves a number of factors (and co-factors) operating together. Complexity theory wins again.
Minerals exist in the body in a delicate dynamic balance. If calcium is low, then other minerals will also be low. Vitamins and minerals essential to bone health include magnesium, and vitamins A, C and D. Ultimately optimal levels are to be found in a good, balanced, whole food diet. Back to the importance of diet, and keeping it simple, varied and whole.
Foods to avoid
Calcium levels can be a good indicator of mineralization in the body in general, so if they are low (and a simple blood test can reveal this) a good strategy is to avoid foods that inhibit calcium absorption, therefore disrupting mineral balance in general.
These include: excess meat or protein in the diet, alcohol, tobacco, coffee, excess refined sugars, and excess salt. Does all this sound familiar? You will find most of it cited as problematic for a wide range of disorders. I am personally of the mind that the individual terrain or body of a person has certain weaknesses or predispositions towards ill health.
They can be avoided to a fair degree by good diet and successful management of stress levels but will out if the system as a whole is put under too much pressure for any length of time. In terms of bone health specifically, the nightshade family (potato’s, tomato’s aubergines and peppers) are often best avoided.
In traditional Chinese medicine, bone health is improved by supporting the kidneys and adrenal glands at the level of jing essence. (The kidneys store jing, which determines vitality, resistance to disease and longevity). Kidney imbalances are seen as resulting in fear and bone disorders, especially those of the knees, lower back and teeth.
Foods recommended using this approach include:
Sardines: Nurtures the yin, increases qi energy and fortifies the sinews and bones.
Oats: Help to renew bone and connective tissue due in part to high silicon levels, important for good bone density and for the synthesis of elastin and collagen.
Black soybeans; used in treatment of kidney related conditions such as weak bones.
Seaweed; contains somewhere between 10 and 20 times more minerals than land vegetables. Use regularly in your diet.
Comfrey/Knitbone Symphytum officinale
I wrote in an earlier newsletter about the concern surrounding the use of plants internally containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Lovely comfrey, which, as the latin officinalis suggests has been recognised as a valuable medicine for many centuries, is one such herb, and therefore is on the current list of ‘not recommended for internal use’. Externally however, there are no perceived problems, and it may still be used for its most traditional remedy, the poultice. As the name knitbone suggests it is fantastically good at the effective and speedy healing of bruises, broken bones and torn tendons and ligaments. Use a s follows:
- Mash fresh or dried comfrey leaf with enough cider vinegar to soak the leaf thoroughly.
- Apply the comfrey/vinegar mash at least a half an inch thick directly onto the skin over the injured area. Bind in place with cotton cloth.
- Leave the poultice in place for at least three hours.
As you can imagine, the musculoskeletal system is a highly complex area, often involving the immune system, digestive tract and other factors, depending upon the individual in question and the presenting pathology. This is the realm of the practicing herbalist. However I hope I have given you some food for thought (hohoho) and provided a few strategies to follow up on.
Paul Pitchfords book Healing with Whole Foods will give you much more information about Asian dietary approaches to bone health (Reference at the end).
I hope to see some of you at the one day tree workshop in two weeks time.
In the mean time – Happy January.
Pitchford, P. 2002. Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. North Atlantic Books. California