Healthy Bones The Wise Woman Way
c.2002 Susun S Weed
author of Breast Cancer?
Breast Health! The Wise Woman Way
Every woman I know is concerned about osteoporosis. Frightening stories
equate it with broken hips, bent spines, wheelchairs, and death -
things we all want to avoid. What can we do? Should we take calcium
supplements? Hormones? Fosamax? Can we rely on our green allies?
The Wise Woman tradition maintains that simple lifestyle choices -
including, but not limited to, regular use of nourishing herbal infusions,
medicinal herbal vinegars, yogurt, and seaweed - are sufficient to
preserve bone and prevent breaks. And, further, that these lifestyle
choices produce multiple health benefits, including reduction of heart
disease and breast cancer, without the problems and risks associated
with taking hormones. As for supplements, as we will see, they do
more harm than good.
First, we must rid ourselves of the idea that osteoporosis is important.
In the Wise Woman Tradition, we focus on the patient, not the problem.
There are no diseases and no cures for diseases. When we focus on
osteoporosis, we cannot see the whole woman. The more we focus on
disease - even disease prevention - the less likely we are to know
how to nourish health/wholeness/holiness.
In fact, focusing our attention narrowly on the prevention of osteoporosis
actually increases the incidence of breast cancer. The postmenopausal
women with the highest bone mass are the most likely to be diagnosed
with breast cancer. Women who take estrogen replacement 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.
These risks might be vindicated if we could show a correlation between
bone density and bone breakage, but there isn't one. When I found
myself at dinner last year (2000) with Susan Brown, director of the
Osteoporosis Information Clearing House, I asked her to point me in
the direction of any study that shows a clear relationship between
osteoporosis and broken bones. She smiled. "There are none."
"In a recent study," she continued. "Researchers measured
the bone density of people over 65 who had broken bones. Twenty-five
percent had osteoporosis. Twenty-five percent had high bone density.
And fifty percent had normal density." Notice that those with
high bone density broke their hips as frequently as those with osteoporosis.
NOURISHING OUR BONES
If osteoporosis isn't the problem, what is? In a word: inflexibility.
Flexible bones bend; stiff bones break. This holds true even if the
flexible bone is thin, even if the stiff bone is thick. Think of a
piece of dead pine wood. Though it may be thick, it is brittle and
breaks easily. Think of a green pine twig. Even a small one is nearly
impossible to break. Flexible bones, whether thick or thin, bend rather
Flexibility is synonymous with health in the Wise Woman Tradition.
It is created by nourishing and tonifying. Bone flexibility is created
by nourishing the bones and tonifying the muscles around them. Tonifying
is as important as nourishing, but because we are herbalists, let's
focus on the benefits nourishing herbs offer to women who wish to
have strong, flexible bones.
Old age does not make weak bones. Poor nutrition makes weak bones.
What are bones made of? Like all tissues, they contain protein. They
are rich in 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,
vitamin D must be present and the diet must contain high-quality fats.
- Bones Need Protein
I have heard, and no doubt you have too, that animal protein leaches
calcium from the bones. This is only half true. All protein, whether
from meat, beans, soy, grains, or vegetables, uses calcium in digestion.
Protein from soy is especially detrimental to bone health; soy is
not only naturally deficient in calcium, it also directly interferes
with calcium uptake in the bones. Traditional diets combine protein
and calcium (eg seaweed with tofu, tortillas made from corn ground
on limestone with beans, and melted cheese on a hamburger). Protein-rich
herbs such as stinging nettle, oatstraw, red clover, and comfrey leaf
provide plenty of calcium too, as do yogurt, cheese, and milk (which
also provide the healthy fats needed to utilize the minerals). Limiting
protein limits bone health. Increasing mineral-rich proteins increases
- Bones Need High-Quality Fats
Hormones are kinds of fats, and cholesterol is the precursor to many
of them. Post-menopausal bone problems do not, to my mind, arise from
a lack of estrogen, but from a lack of fat. If the diet is deficient
in good-quality fats, hormones will be produced in inadequate amounts.
And vitamin D, a hormone-like vitamin, will not be utilized well.
Further, mineral absorption is dependent on fats. A low-fat diet,
in my opinion, makes it quite difficult to have healthy bones.
- Bones Need Minerals
Bones do need calcium, and they are the last to get it, so our diets
need to be very rich in this mineral. But to focus on calcium to the
exclusion of other minerals leads to broken bones, for calcium is
brittle and inflexible. Think of a piece of chalk, calcium carbonate,
and how easily it breaks. A six-and-a-half year study of 10,000 white
women over the age of 65 found that "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 humerus." The other minerals found
in bone lend it flexibility. When we get our calcium from herbs and
foods (containing a multitude of minerals) we nourish healthy bones.
- Extracting Minerals
From the Wise Woman perspective, the perfect way to maintain bone
health, bone flexibility, and resistance to fracture is to use mineral-rich
herbs and foods. Because minerals are bulky and do not compact, we
must consume generous amounts to make a difference in our health.
Just as eating a teaspoon of carrots is laughable, so is taking mineral-rich
herbs in capsule or tincture form. Because minerals are rock-like,
we need to break open cell walls to get at them. Raw, fresh foods
do not deliver minerals to our bodies.
To extract minerals, we need heat, time, and generous quantities of
plant material. I prefer to extract minerals into water or vinegar.
To make a nourishing herbal infusion, I pour one quart/liter boiling
water over one ounce/30 grams of dried herb in a canning jar, covering
it tightly, and letting it brew overnight. In the morning, I strain
out the mineral-rich liquid and drink it - over ice or heated, with
honey or milk, mixed with black tea, seasoned with mint, spiked with
rum, however you want it. You can drink the entire quart in one day,
but do finish it within two.
My favorite nourishing herbal infusions are made from oatstraw (Avena
sativa) or nettle (Urtica dioica) or red clover (Trifolium pratense)
or comfrey leaves (Symphytum uplandica x). I sometimes add a little
bit of aromatic herb such as peppermint (Mentha pipperata), lemon
balm (Melissa off.), or bergamot (Monarda didyma) to change the flavor.
To extract minerals from fruits and vegetables, I cook them for long
periods of time, or until there is color and texture change, evidence
that the cell walls have been broken. Kale cooked for an hour delivers
far more mineral to your bones than lightly steamed kale. Fresh juices
contain virtually no minerals. Cooking maximizes the nutrients available
to us, especially the minerals.
- Herbs Are Mineral Powerhouses
Eating a cup of cooked greens every day is difficult, even for the
most motivated woman. But drinking nourishing herbal infusions, eating
seaweeds, and using medicinal herbal vinegars is easy. They are tasty,
fun to prepare and use, and add a big nutritional plus with virtually
no calories attached. Nourishing herbs and garden weeds are typically
far richer in minerals than ordinary foodstuffs. Not only are nourishing
herbs exceptional sources of minerals, their minerals are better at
preventing bone breaks than supplements.
The ability of herbs to counter osteoporosis may be more complex than
their richness of minerals, however. The minerals in green plants
seem to be utilized more readily by the body and 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,
My own experiences in helping women regain and maintain bone density
and flexibility have led me to believe that life-style modifications
work exceptionally well for motivated women who wish to avoid the
risks and expense of long-term pill use. Nourishing herbal infusions,
mineral-rich herbal vinegars, yogurt, and seaweed, combined with attention
to tonification of the muscles, unfailingly increases bone density
and creates flexible, healthy bones and women.
Green blessings to you all. 8 KEYS TO HEALTHY BONES
1. Good nutrition for your mother while pregnant with you.
2. Good nutrition for you during the formation of your bones.
3. Monthly menses throughout your fertile years, especially before
4. Special attention to maintaining high levels of protein, fat, minerals,
and vitamins from herbs and foods in your diet when menses cease during
pregnancy, lactation, or after menopause.
5. Regular rhythmical movement, the faster the better, daily.
6. Consistent practice of yoga, tai chi, or any strengthening, opening,
7. Chop wood, carry water.
8. Eat yogurt.world round.
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