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Yoga & Other Natural Ways to Prevent & Treat Osteoporosis | Health

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Yoga & Other Natural Ways to Prevent & Treat Osteoporosis
Yoga & Other Natural Ways to Prevent & Treat Osteoporosis


McLean, VA - September 4, 2013– It is estimated that more than 40 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis or are at high risk of developing the condition due to low bone density. It is usually seen in individuals over 50, but it can strike at any age, and there are factors that put you at higher risk, such as:

·         Being female

·         Low body weight

·         Lack of physical activity

·         A family history of osteoporosis

·         Early menopause without hormone replacement

·         Prior bone fractures

·         Chronic use of steroid medications

·         Smoking

·         High alcohol intake

In its early stages, the condition is likely to be painless or nearly painless, but as osteoporosis progresses and bones become brittle and break, the pain and disability can be severe.  Many hip fractures occur when someone with osteoporosis falls.  The complications associated with these fractures can require long-term nursing care or even lead to death.

It is commonly believed that the frailty and disability associated with osteoporosis and osteopenia (bone loss that is not as severe as osteoporosis) is a normal part of aging.  But it is not.  Research shows that it's inactivity that causes bones to weaken and easily break.  So what kind of exercise is most effective in increasing bone density and strength?  Apparently, yoga.  A pilot study from Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in New York City showed that when individuals practiced yoga for merely 10 minutes per day over a two-year period, their bone density increased.

Dr. Lisa Lilienfield, who specializes in women’s health at the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean, VA, is also a certified yoga instructor who encourages patients to take up yoga.  “Besides being one of the safest preventative treatments for osteoporosis and osteopenia, yoga is something that anyone, any age, can do anywhere. The benefits are many and risks are few, if done correctly,” says Dr. Lilienfield.

So, how does yoga increase bone strength? In the 19th century, a German anatomist and surgeon, Julius Wolff, theorized that bone becomes stronger by resisting the load that is placed on it.  The inverse is also true; as the load decreases, bone becomes weaker. This phenomenon is perhaps best demonstrated by what happens to astronauts in space, who without the force of gravity working on their bones, are at a high risk for developing osteoporosis. 

In holding yoga poses, the stretching force and weight-bearing force stimulate the cells found in mature bone to produce proteins and lay down new bone. In addition, yoga stimulates the production of synovial fluid, which not only lubricates and nourishes the joints, but also activates the cells found in healthy cartilage to lay down new cartilage.

According to Dr. Lilienfield, “By engaging our muscles to both pull and push on the bone, yoga surpasses the bone-strengthening benefits of gravity.  The benefits occur when you hold a pose for anywhere between 12 and 72 seconds. I suggest holding each pose long enough to take five to seven deep breaths (about 30 seconds).”

Even if you already have osteoporosis, practicing yoga can help strengthen muscle tissue and bone; however, certain joint movements should be modified or avoided altogether.  For these individuals, Dr. Lilienfield highly recommends beginning with a customized, one-on-one session with a therapeutic yoga instructor.

Additional measures that can help prevent the development of osteoporosis include:

  1. A Healthy Diet:  To keep bones strong, getting enough of the following nutrients are essential: Vitamins C, D, B6, B9, B12, K, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Manganese, Copper, Boron, Silicon and Omega-3 fatty acids.
  2. Nutritional Supplements:  If your risk factors for developing osteoporosis are high, ask your doctor to test for nutritional deficiencies, which can often be corrected through nutritional supplementation.
  3. Medications:  Bisphosphonates are the usual “go-to” medications for treating osteoporosis because of their effectiveness in reducing osteoclast activity (cells that breakdown older bone).  Bisphosphonates can have side effects; however, so patients taking this medication should be closely monitored.


How strong are your bones?  Ask your physician about having DexaScan, a quick and painless test that measures the thickness of your hip or spine.  There is also a supplemental test called “Ntx” that measures collagen breakdown in the urine associated with increased bone turnover.

Although it cannot be cured, much can be done to prevent the osteoporosis or forestall its progression.  September is National Yoga Month, so there are lots of promotional deals to entice you to get started.   Click here to find a free yoga class near you.  How about beginning today to strengthen your bones by practicing yoga and good nutrition?


--Fast Facts: What is Osteoporosis?  National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center.  (online resource visited 9/3/13)

--Wolff, Julius. The Law of Bone Remodeling. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1986. Print.

--Rubin CT and Lanyon LE. Regulation of bone formation by applied dynamic loads. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. 1984. 66-A: 397-402.

--Fishman, Loren, and Ellen Saltonstall. Yoga for Osteoporosis: The Complete Guide. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.

--Fishman LM. Yoga for Osteoporosis, a pilot study. Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation. 2009. 25(3): 244–50.

--Genuis SJ and Schwalfenberg GK. Picking a bone with contemporary osteoporosis management: nutrient strategies to enhance skeletal integrity. Clinical Nutrition. 2007. 26; 193-207.

--Nielsen SP. The biological role of strontium. Bone. 2004. 35: 583-8.

--Jordan N, Barry M, Murphy E. Comparative effects of antiresorptive agents on bone mineral density and bone turnover in postmenopausal women. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2006. 1(4): 377-87.

--FDA Approved, Medication Guide: Prolia. Amgen Manufacturing Limited, a subsidiary of Amgen Inc. One Amgen Center Drive Thousand Oaks, California 91320-1799. Accessed July 2013.


About Dr. Lisa Lilienfield:  A member of the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine team in McLean, Virginia, and Clinical Assistant Professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine, Dr. Lilienfield is board-certified in family medicine.  She specializes in women’s health and sports medicine and teaches yoga classes at the Kaplan Center.  To learn more, please visit: www.kaplanclinic.com.



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