Bones have several functions from providing structure and protecting internal organs to storing calcium and anchoring muscles. Earlier it was believed that bone health was important only during childhood as this is the formative age but now we know that bone health maintenance during adulthood is equally important in order to prevent bone problems in the later stages of life. Osteoporosis is one of the most common bone health problems and recent studies show that 55 percent of people over the age of 50 in our country suffer from either low bone mass or osteoporosis. The best safeguard in this scenario, would be to incorporate diet and lifestyle changes that strengthen bones naturally.
Understanding Bone Health: The Ayurvedic Approach
In Ayurveda, there are seven types of tissue known as dhatus in the body. Asthidhatu or bone tissue is the fifth dhatu among the seven and gives solid structure to the body. The dhatus are the structures that make up the body which is why any imbalance in the body will affect these structures and lead to disease.
There is a close relationship between bone health and vata dosha; this is because asthi dhatu is formed as posaka medas dhatu (unstable body fat) flows into the purisha dhara kala – the membrane of the large intestine that houses asthi agni. Since the large intestine is also the home site of vata dosha, an increase in vata causes a decrease of bone tissue (Asthidhatu). Ayurvedic texts describe osteoporosis in terms of Asthikshaya (bone loss) and Asthisaushirya (decreased bone porosity).
Dosha Based Foods to Strengthen Bones Naturally
Diet plays an important role in bone health and so it is important to include calcium-rich foods in your daily diet. However, it is equally important to make sure that the foods you eat do not cause or aggravate dosha imbalances so stick with foods that are help to pacify your dosha type.
For Vata Individuals
People with a predominantly vata dosha have variable agni and produce less asthi dhatu. This leads to bones that are thinner and more fragile. In order to strengthen bones naturally, vata individuals should increase their intake of calcium-rich foods that also balance vata – this list would include foods such as yogurt, sweet potato, beets, water cress, sesame seeds, pistachios, and figs.
For Pitta Individuals
People with a predominantly pitta dosha have higher agni. This leads to bones that are are not as dense and can lead to narrowing and weakness in the bones if pitta becomes vitiated. In order to strengthen bones naturally, pitta individuals should increase their intake of calcium-rich foods that also balance pitta – this list would include foods such as mung beans, celery, cilantro, kale, prunes, strawberries, and oranges.
For Kapha Individuals
People with a predominantly kapha dosha have low asthi agni which results in the excess production of asthi dhatu. This means that the tissue produced is denser and kappa vitiation leads to excessively thick and dense bones. This can also increase the risk of painful bone spurs. In order to strengthen bones naturally, kapha individuals should increase their intake of calcium-rich foods that also balance kapha – this list would include foods such as pumpkin seeds, okra, black beans, water cress, Brussels sprouts, mustard sprouts, and rhubarb.
Herbs to Improve Bone Health
Harjor (Cissus quadrangularis) is an Ayurvedic herb that is renowned for its bone healing properties. It is often used as a decoction as well as an external application to treat fractures. In fact, one study found that using harjor can reduce the convalescent period after a fracture by as much as 33 per cent. Animal studies suggest that phytoestrogens in harjor increase the thickness of cortical bone – which is the outermost hard layer of bone which is responsible for bone strength.
Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna)is a tree that is native to india. The bark of this tree is used to prepare a decoction that offers cardioprotection and enhances bone health. The bark contains tannins, calcium carbonate, and sodium chloride along with several other bioactive agents that improve bone health. The powdered bark is used to treat and prevent bone diseases as well as aid bone fracture treatments.
Guggulu or guggul (Commiphora mukul) is one of the most widely used herbs in Ayurvedic medicine, commonly recommended for the management of obesity and elevated cholesterol. However, the plant’s resin, which is the main medicinal ingredient, is also used to promote bone healing and strength. A study investigating the pharmacological properties of the herb lends credence to its use, researchers found that the herbal extract promoted “significant gain in bone strength and nearly complete restoration of bone microarchitecture.”
Deterioration of bone health with aging is widely regarded as inevitable, but with adequate safeguards this risk can be significantly lowered. Adherence to a dosha balancing lifestyle and diet along with the use of natural remedies for bone strength holds the key to strengthening bones early in life, so as to avoid problems later. Keep in mind that in addition to your diet and the use of herbs, leading a physically active lifestyle also promotes bone health, reducing the risk of early or rapid bone deterioration as you age.
- Rao, M S, et al. “Cissus Quadrangularis Plant Extract Enhances the Development of Cortical Bone and Trabeculae in the Fetal Femur.” Pharmacology Online, vol. 3, 2007, pp. 190–202., manipal.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/cissus-quadrangularis-plant-extract-enhances-the-development-of-c.
- Singh, Vibha. “Medicinal Plants and Bone Healing.” National Journal of Maxillofacial Surgery 8.1 (2017): 4–11. PMC. Web. 3 July 2018.
Khan, Saleemulla, et al. “Methanol Extract of Dried Exudate OfCommiphora Mukulprevents Bone Resorption in Ovariectomized Rats.” Pharmaceutical Biology, vol. 50, no. 10, July 2012, pp. 1330–1336., doi:10.3109/13880209.2012.675339.