I decided to write up about bone health (as well as nails and hair), because in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), winter is the season where bones, hair and nails is mostly affected. I am sure many can relate with increased skeletal pain and dry, brittle hair and nails.
An holistic health approach is necessary to look after our bones and skeletal system. When thinking of healthy bones we need to think of nutrition, exercise, hormonal balance, medication and the health of the rest of the body.
When it comes to nutrients, most of us assume that more calcium is the answer, but it is not.
“Bone health depends not so much on calcium intake, but rather on its metabolism and utilization. The major players in this regard are vitamin D, vitamin K, and magnesium — which are woefully under-publicized in the campaign against osteoporosis”. 
Magnesium is in actual fact the key mineral in bone health, and taken with collagen is even better. One study showed that taking calcium supplements increased bone density by 7%; Magnesium supplements increased bone density by 70% and Magnesium and collagen increased bone density by 170%.
Calcium can actually be recycled in our bodies, unless we have a problem with the parathyroid hormone, we should have enough calcium stores in our body.
One of the main bone health issues is osteoporosis. Some of the causes of Osteoporosis are: low magnesium and high calcium levels; female / male hormonal imbalance; candida (systemic yeast overgrowth); high acidity (related to all of the above conditions; low levels of vitamin D and K and high levels of cortisol & low levels of DHEA. There are also more complicated primary and secondary causes of bone health issues.
A very important factor in keeping the bones healthy is maintaining an alkaline balance in the body. When the body is acidic, it leaches alkaline minerals from the bones (namely calcium) into the blood. Keeping the body pH around 7.30 to 7.45 is crucial to maintain all aspects of health because no pathogens or disease can survive in an alkaline environment. We can also see from the Chinese element cycle point of view (below) why this balance is important for bone health.
Did you know that bone health is affects the kidneys (or vice versa)? This is an obvious link in Chinese medicine and is also known in western medicine. The kidney’s are important in maintaining a correct composition of the blood and they also make certain hormones (both key factors in bone health).
In TCM, some of the signs of kidney / bladder imbalance are weak bones, brittle and dry hair and brittle nails. These signs are usually due to weak kidney energy. There are many factors that can contribute to this, examples include medication and drugs, excess caffeine or alcohol intake, imbalance amount of protein, lack of essential nutrition. Other signs and symptoms of this are often indicted as signs along the meridian:
Another important thing to note is that the kidney / bladder meridian (or water element) is controlled by the stomach / spleen meridian (earth element) which is acid / alkaline and blood sugar balance. With this said, we can understand why an alkaline balance is vital for healthy bones.
Key tips for bone health
- Diet high in alkalising foods (see list below)
- Try tissue salts (see list below)
- High-impact weight-bearing exercising such as dancing, aerobics, hiking, walking,
- Resistance exercising such as yoga, pilates, using weight machines.
- Balance hormones naturally
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
- Avoid smoking as it reduces blood flow (and nutrients) to the bones
- Avoid the use of medications that cause done loss, such as most anti-inflammatory drugs (cortisone), phenytoin and Phenobarbital (used to treat epilepsy), Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists(used to treat hormonal related conditions such as endometriosis, prostate cancer and infertility) 
With regards to exercising, too much exercising with not enough rest puts pressure on the kidneys. Balance is key. If you are an athlete, speak to your health care professionals or coaches about kidney health and exercise.
Key foods & supplements for bone health
- Celery & rhubarb – these foods specifically target bone strength
- Alkaline forming foods – which are most of our vegetables
- Remember: The less sugar & processing, the more alkaline!
- Cold pressed oils (use in salad dressings)
- Herbal teas
- Vitamin D (get a few hours of sunlight every day! – many of us have forgotten about this)
- Mediterranean have been shown to protect bone density – High consumption of olives, olive oil, vegetables, fruit, legumes, moderate consumption of dairy and fish, and a low consumption of meat and meat products
Here is a list of ideal foods to eat for kidney (and bone) health.
Tissue salts – minerals that are found in rocks and soil and also in the human body – necessary for body function. Lack of these minerals causes imbalances within the body. Here are some specific combinations for bone related issues:
- Brittle nails – 7
- Brittle hair – 3, 10, 12
- Hair fall – 3, 7, 12
- Skeletal pain – 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 12
- Osteoporosis – 2, 12 & 2, 9
- Magnesium is No 8
How can reflexology help?
Lifestyle is the key factor in improving bone health, but reflexology helps speed up the process by balancing the bodies energies (in this case, particularly the kidney / bladder and other organ systems that need to be supported specific to the patient).
Reflexology is also great for pain management. Pain in the bones and joints is often the case in people with decreased bone density.
For more info on reflexology for the skeletal system (as well as the kidney energies) see links below.
The most fundamental part to looking after our bones, hair and nails is to balance the kidney / bladder meridians (following the key tips). Take a look at my article “Living in Harmony with Winter” for more advice on balancing these meridians and it’s element.
The list of references are also great sources to learn more. This is such an in depth topic and there is a lot to consider! After all, the bones are the framework of our body.
 Accessed via TNRA workshop – speaker Johan van Zyl