Low bone density (medically referred to as osteopenia) refers to bone density that is considered below the normal peak density level, with bone density being a measurement of how dense and strong bones are. Individuals with lower low bone density have a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is an advanced form of osteopenia where the bones become thin, weak and fragile, such that even a minor bump or accident can cause a broken bone (minimal trauma fracture).
As people grow older, bones will naturally become thinner, due to the fact that existing bone cells are reabsorbed by the body faster than new bone can be made. From this, bones lose their mineral content, heaviness (mass), and structure, which makes them weaker and therefore increases breakage risk.
Females are much more likely to develop low bone density (and osteoporosis) than men, due to the fact that they (1) have a lower peak bone density, and (2) loss of bone mass speeds up from hormonal changes due to menopause. It should be notes that some individuals who have low bone density may not necessarily have bone mass loss.
Other causes of the condition can include:
- Low calcium intake in the diet
- Eating disorders or metabolism problems that do not allow the body to take in and use enough vitamins and minerals
- Chemotherapy, or medicines such as steroids used to treat a number of conditions, including asthma
- Certain medical conditions, such as overactive thyroid, parathyroid or adrenal glands, celiac disease, IBS, blood diseases, a history of organ transplant, surgery or weight loss
- Exposure to radiation
- Having a family history of osteoporosis, being thin, being white or Asian, getting limited physical activity, smoking, and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol also increase the risk for low bone density and, eventually, osteoporosis.
- Sedentary lifestyle, tobacco use, alcohol use
However, low bone density can also be caused through an inherited genetic condition, known as Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease) which is present at birth. Signs and symptoms of this condition may range from mild to severe.
There are 8 different types of Osteogenesis Imperfecta, which are based on the type of inheritance, as well as signs and symptoms.
- Type I: Mildest and most common type. About 50% of all affected children have this type.
- Type II: Most severe type. A baby with type II usually dies within weeks of birth.
- Type III: Most severe type found in babies who don’t die as newborns. At birth, a baby may have slightly shorter arms and legs than normal and arm, leg, and rib fractures, a larger than normal head, a triangle-shaped face, a deformed chest/spine, and breathing and swallowing problems.
- Type IV: Symptoms are between mild and severe. A bay baby with this type may not have any fractures until crawling or walking. The bones of the arms and legs may not be straight, and may not grow normally.
- Type V: Similar to type IV. Symptoms may be medium to severe, often with hypertrophic calluses in the areas where large bones are fractured.
- Type VI: Very rare. Symptoms are medium. Similar to type IV.
- Type VI. Similar to type IV or type II,. Those affected will generally shorter than normal height, upper arm and thighbones.
- Type VIII: Similar to types II and III above. Very soft bones and severe growth problems.
There is no reversing treatment for low bone density. Treatments may include exercise, vitamin and mineral supplements, and exercise. Weight-bearing, resistance and balance exercises are highly important. Medications include hormone and hormone-related therapy, biophosphonates, biologics, and anabolic agents.
For Osteopenia Imperfecta, the above treatment lines are applicable, with treatment being directed toward the specific symptoms that are apparent in each individual, thus working to prevent symptoms developing further, maintaining individual mobility, and strengthening bone and muscle. Attention to nutrition and overall physical and psychological well-being is also very important. Surgery may be necessary in individuals where there is progressive deformity of a bone, or if a bone fractures repeatedly.
Ayurvedic Approach to low bone density (Asthikshaya):
According to classical Ayurvedic texts, low bone density is correlated with the depletion of bone both tissue and bone porosity, which is seen to have two main causes. One stems from the deficiency of nutrients that nourish the bone tissue caused by malnutrition or diet and lifestyle factors that provoke the aggravation of Vata dosha (body humor) in the body. Here, an aggravated Vata dosha creates an increase of air and ether/space elements within the bone tissue. The second refers to the possible blockage of the body’s channels (srotas) responsible for carrying nutrition to the bone tissue, which leads to depleted tissue metabolism and an increase in metabolic wastes. Both pathways involve a vitiation of Vata dosha.
BENEFICIAL AYURVEDIC HERBS FOR LOW BONE DENSITY:
Vata Pitta Balancing: kapikacchu, turmeric, guduchi, tripahala, amalaki, sesame, shilajat, shatavari,
Vata Kapha Balancing: kapikacchu, turmeric, guduchi, tripahala, amalaki, sesame, shilajat, guggulu, ashwaganda
Pitta Vata Balancing: kapikacchu, turmeric, guduchi, tripahala, amalaki, shatavari,
Pitta Kapha Balancing: kapikacchu, turmeric, guduchi, tripahala, amalaki, shilajat,
Kapha Vata Balancing: kapikacchu, turmeric, guduchi, tripahala, amalaki, sesame, shilajat, guggulu, ashwaganda
Kapha Pitta Balancing: kapikacchu, turmeric, guduchi, tripahala, amalaki, sesame, shilajat
Traditional Ayurvedic Treatment(s) for Low Bone Density:
Ayurvedic treatment approach(es) are individualised and are fully dependant on a full consultation with an individual, the current imbalances, their age, strength, severity of the condition, and if other conditions are also present. Treatment approaches can include:
- Avoid causative factors
- Balance Jataragni, and digestion
- Remove Ama (toxins within the digestive tract)
- Balance doshic imbalances through diet/lifestyle/herbs
- Intake of clean, wholefood, organic eating as much as possible
- Build immunity and nourishment of body tissues
- Abhyanga oil massage
- Oil bastis if required to balance Vata.
- Panchakarma detox therapies (as required)
General Ayurvedic Nutritional Guidelines for Low Bone Density:
Ayurvedic nutritional approach(es) are individualised and are fully dependant on a full consultation with an individual. One should eat compatible foods, and in accordance to one's imbalances. Some additional general guidelines include:
- One should eat the foods that one does not react to.
- One should eat according to the digestive capacity, keeping meals light, cooked, warm moist and easy to digest. As a guide, eat to fill the stomach 1/3 with solid food, 1/3 with liquid and leaving 1/3 empty to allow room for digestive secretions in the stomach.
- One should eat at regular times/intervals. Avoid skipping meals.
- One should eat wholegrains and non-processed foods, be sure to use ghee in cooking. Have adequate intake of dairy products (soft cheese over hard cheeses), green leafy vegetables (Kale, okra), nuts, seeds especially sesame, tahini, soy/tofu, and amaranth. Buttermilk is easy to digest, stimulates digestion and contains calcium (much easier to digest than yoghurt). For lactose intolerant individuals, soy milk is recommended.
- Foods to avoid: Cold foods, raw foods, leftover foods (24 hours), frozen foods, cold water, processed and packaged foods, soft drinks and aerated beverages, high fat foods, greasy foods. Restrict salt intake. Avoid dry, rough, hot spicy foods.
- One should avoid overeating. Allow 6 hours between meals and snack 3 hours after a meal and eat only if hungry. If digestion is poor, then 4 light meals per day is advisable in place of three regular meals.
- Breakfast should be easy to digest, lunch the main meal, and dinner should be lighter than lunch.
- Buttermilk consumed after meals is advisable.
- Eat home cooked meals, preferably made on the same day as being prepared.
- Water should be drunk warm in the cooler months and room temperature in the summer months. Avoid chilled water.
- Use all of the five senses at mealtimes. Savour the food that you are eating.
- Eat in a pleasant environment. Eat seated and try to avoid TV and electronic devices whilst eating.
- Eat slowly, eat with respect/reverence for what you are eating, chew thoroughly.
General Ayurvedic Lifestyle Guidelines for Low Bone Density:
Ayurvedic lifestyle approach(es) are individualised and are fully dependant on a full consultation with an individual. Some general guidelines include:
- Allow for sufficient rest and sleep. Go to bed at a regular time each day, and best before 10pm. Avoid also sleeping during the day.
- Keep to a routine as much as possible during the day.
- Get sufficient daily activity and exercise, without overdoing exercise. Balanced activity/exercise is healthy, but avoid over-exertion. Weight bearing exercise is also advised
- Avoid stress, anxiety, fear and tension. Look at counselling for self-care and working through any stress, anxiety, anger or any other mental health and/or emotional issues.
- Deep breathing for 10 minutes a day is very beneficial. Meditation, yoga and pranayama can also be highly beneficial.
- Make sure to be well rugged up in winter, especially when going outside.
- Self-abhyanga massage with warm sesame oil twice a week.
- Take an early morning sunbath daily.
- Avoid smoking and minimise alcohol and caffeine intake.
If you have any concerns about your health please be sure to consult an Ayurvedic Practitioner or your local health physician. See our Ayurvedic Practitioner Services and Consultation Page for more information.