Complementary and Alternative Therapies: Beyond the Drugs

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Boniva, Fosamax, Actonel… for many of us, the bone-strengthening drugs we take are a real challenge.

    Did you ever hear the saying, “The cure is wore than the disease”? That would be bisphosphonates.

    Sure, you might be one of the lucky ones who experiences little or no side effects from these powerful drugs. But many of us taking that daily or weekly pill (or monthly or yearly injection) find ourselves with some fairly severe gastric disturbances.

    Heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea are quite common. Not surprising, since bisphosphonates were originally developed for use in the fertilizer, textile, and petroleum industries.

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    Can you imagine what they do to your stomach, on their way to helping your bones?

    For that reason alone – to say nothing of the irritatingly structured way you have to take the pills – quite a few people who should be treating their bone loss with medication simply aren’t doing so. And no amount of talking or persuasion will make them go back, bone loss or not.

    Are you one of those people?

    If so; and if you have full-blown osteoporosis, and are at significant fracture risk, you’re making a mistake by stopping your drugs. There’s no scientifically proven medicine or therapy that will strengthen your bones as effectively as bisphosphonate drugs, nor give you as much protection against fracture. Period. End of story.

    However, if you’re not in osteoporosis, but have been diagnosed with osteopenia (T-scores between -1.0 and -2.5), you might consider complementary and/or alternative methods of treatment, a.k.a. CAM.

    In addition, if you’re already taking bisphosphonates, you might access such treatments to make your drug regimen more bearable.

    Let’s look at some of the more common complementary and alternative treatments people try. First, three practices you may already be following:

    •Diet. Yes, changing your diet to include more calcium and vitamin D is considered complementary treatment. In addition, boron and manganese (both found in nuts); isoflavones (found in soy, and particularly helpful for post-menopausal women); and vitamin K, vitamin B12, protein, potassium, and magnesium are key bone-building substances.

    •Lifestyle. Stop smoking; no two ways about it, it’s bad for your bones. And excess alcohol consumption lowers bone mass density: for women, more than one serving of alcohol a day is excessive; for men, make that two servings.  

    •Exercise. Yes, it really does promote bone health – especially the right type of exercise.

    Next, let’s examine some therapies that are less mainstream. You may consider the following too “out there” for you to try, but rest assured, the scientific evidence exists that while they may not build bone, they can definitely help you feel better. And when you feel better – less pain, more energy – you’re able to exercise more. So indirectly these modalities can increase bone strength.

    •Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
    Chinese herbal practitioners, who practice in the centuries-old field of TCM, offer advice on certain herbs and combinations of herbs that increase bone health by helping bones absorb calcium more readily. If you’re ready to go this route, check out the Web site of the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). You’ll find a list of certified practitioners there, sorted by town and state.

  • Energy therapies: This broad field includes a range of therapies, from Reiki with its “universal life force,” to Chinese qi gong, to acupressure. They involve “veritable energies” (energies that can be measured, like light, magnetism, and laser beams); and “putative energies,” energies that can’t be measured by any known scientific method.

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    Putative energies, also called biofields, are said to be energy fields infusing and surrounding the body; when they’re disturbed, the body becomes ill. Putative energy is probably the most controversial form of complementary medicine in this country, yet conversely, it’s also one of the fastest growing. Healing touch, Reiki, and therapeutic massage are all gaining credence within the traditional medical community, and many medical centers now offer these treatments, along with more conventional therapies.

    Acupuncture has proven effective with osteoporosis patients not only by reducing pain, but by increasing energy levels. It also increases levels of serotonin, your body’s “feel good” hormone. 

    So how does this help strengthen bones? Again, when you feel better, you’re able to exercise. Looking for a certified acupuncturist? Check out the NCCAOM Web site.

    So, what about all the other osteoporosis remedies you see out there – say, wild yam cream? It’s received quite a bit of press as “a miracle cure” for osteoporosis. Why not try it?

    Well, it’s up to you. But when I’m checking out alternative and complementary therapies, I rely on two things to separate fact from fiction.

    First, if what I’m looking for isn’t mentioned on either the NCCAOM Web site, or the government’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine site, I’m skeptical. Between these two groups, I feel that all the legitimate (scientifically proven) CAM practices and treatments are covered.

    Second, look closely at the Web site espousing the particular “cure” you’re researching. Is there clear contact information? Are authors on the site linked to their credentials? Is the site trying to sell you something? Or, something as simple as this: is it a shoddy looking site, full of misspelled words and broken links? Then it’s probably not something you want to take seriously.


Published On: October 08, 2010