Bone health goes into a decline after the age of 20, thus increasing the risk of osteoporosis later in life. How can TCM help?
Our skeleton is constantly losing old bones and forming new ones throughout our lifetime. During the childhood to teenage years, for example, new bone is formed faster than old bone is lost. However, what happens when you start to lose more bone than you can form? That’s when a condition known as ‘osteoporosis’ occurs.
THE SILENT EPIDEMIC
Osteoporosis is nicknamed the ‘Silent Epidemic’ because, in the early stages of the condition, it’s difficult to tell that anything is amiss. This is due to the fact that, even though weakened bones are more prone to fractures, it tends not to show any telltale signs for a very long time. Certain people with osteoporosis may suffer from spinal compression fractures, resulting in loss of height with a stooped back known as a ‘dowager’s hump.’
For others, fractures occur more easily. As agonising as it may be, some people dismiss a broken bone as a broken bone with no cause for alarm. However, individuals who sustain fractures have a higher risk of dying from causes such as pneumonia and urinary tract infection in the five years after the fracture compared to non-fracture cases, according to a recent study by the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.
Associate Professor Gerald Koh, who led the study, explains, “When you’re not so mobile, you tend to retain urine, which then provides opportunity for bacteria to multiply exponentially and increases the risk of urinary tract infection.” He adds that other patients who are lying immobile for a long time because they’re waiting for their wound to heal may develop other complications, such as chest infections.
WHO SHOULD WORRY?
Some people can withstand a more rapid loss than others. Over the last 30 years in Singapore, cases of hip fractures have increased five times in women aged 50 and above but just 1.5 times in men of the same age group, according to the Health Promotion Board.
What explains the drastic difference between the genders? The answer, according to experts, is menopause.
Before menopause, the female body uses oestrogen to protect the bones. Within five to seven years after menopause, oestrogen production will fall drastically, leading to bone loss in women of up to 20% and, as a result, an increase in the risk of fractures. But Men should not take osteoporosis lightly, either. Habits such as excessive alcohol intake, smoking or extreme thinness can decrease the level of such hormones in the body, resulting in bone loss.
Physician Lin Jiayi, a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) expert from the Eu Yan Sang clinic at Plaza Singapura, reveals that people who are already suffering from diseases such as diabetes, kidney problems, chronic enteritis and hyperthyroidism are also more prone to osteoporosis.
CALLING FOR REINFORCEMENTS
Prevention is better than cure, and nowhere else does this ring truer than with osteoporosis.
According to the Mayo Clinic, men and women between the ages of 18 and 50 need about 1,000mg of calcium a day. This daily amount increases to 1,200mg when women hit menopause and when men turn 70. The clinic also highly recommends Vitamin D, which promotes calcium absorption. Although exercising helps by making your bones ‘hungry’ for calcium and facilitates better absorption, note that not all physical activities are good for people with weakened bones. Physician Lin suggests activities such as taiji, slow walking, jogging and even dancing.
As for treatments, the focus should be on medication and acupuncture, recommends Physician Lin. According to TCM principles, people with weakened bones can be helped by boosting their blood circulation and kidney function. Not only will this strengthen the bones and improve calcium absorption by regulating the marrow, muscles and blood, it will even go a step further by improving the flow of qi throughout the entire body.
Photo courtesy of Thinkstock. This article first appeared in NATURA magazine issue No.9. Find NATURA at Eu Yan Sang retail outlets, newsstands and major bookstores in Singapore.