Legal Herbs for Bones

Can cannabis help my bones? Now that it’s available without a prescription in Canada, many people are wondering if this is yet another herb that promotes bone growth.

It’s not surprising that there’s been a shortage of well-controlled studies. Canada prohibited cannabis use in 1923 – long before osteoporosis had a name. Since 2001, doctors in Canada have been allowed to prescribe medicinal forms to manage certain specific conditions; these don’t include low bone density, and the drug has carried such a stigma that most doctors have been reluctant to prescribe it.

Some studies have tried correlating bone density with self-reported use of illegal cannabis, but of course it’s hard for those to take into account confounding factors, like other drug use, diet, or lifestyle habits. Results have been contradictory.

And as Diane Dawber points out, some symptoms that have prompted people to resort to cannabis – pain, anxiety, and poor sleep – can be caused in the first place by nutrient deficiencies.

So is anything clear about how cannabis affects our bones? A 2009 study looked at mutant mice, and concluded that cannabis may help maintain bone remodelling in some postmenopausal women – depending on our genetic variations.

More recently, a 2015 study of rats with broken legs compared how they healed while taking two different components of cannabis – THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is the psychoactive part of cannabis, the part that makes people high. CBD doesn’t have a psychoactive effect, so hasn’t been the major driver of the black market; however, some of its medicinal benefits, including for pain and inflammation management, are well-documented. In the study, while THC didn’t affect bone healing, CBD helped the osteoblasts (the bone-building cells), and measurably accelerated healing.

This could be good news for non-rodent Canadians like me, especially for those of us who simply want to be as well as possible, without complicating our lives with psychoactive effects. I expect that public interest will spawn new studies, so that neophytes can find out what forms and dosages will help which conditions.

In the meantime, I’m holding onto the bone-sustaining principles that are sure and established: Eat a well-balanced diet of whole foods, supplement the nutrients I don’t absorb well, and get the right kinds of exercise.


What? I have scurvy?

As a child I learned the dramatic story of scurvy being reversed with lemons or limes in the kegs of water aboard 18th century sailing ships. Some mystery ingredient in citrus fruits spared vast numbers of sailors from a painful death at sea between ports.

Well, it turns out that was just the British version of the story: according to the Dutch, they figured it out somewhat earlier, when they sent farmers (Boers) to plant gardens near South African ports in order to supply Dutch ships with produce on their long voyages to the East Indies. The Dutch knew their sailors couldn’t make it all the way around Africa without fruit or vegetables; scurvy would kill them.

The French say they knew before the Dutch: in 1535, the Iroquois saved explorer Jacques Cartier’s men, dying of scurvy as they sat stranded on the frozen St. Lawrence River by Quebec, with a tea made of ground needles from a tree.

And with the limitations of how history is recorded, I’m quite certain that many generations of mothers long before these men already told their children they had to eat their vegetables in order to be healthy; mothers usually know first.

And so it was that in 1970, when Linus Pauling first brought the science of vitamin C into the public awareness, my own mother bought a copy of his book, Vitamin C and the Common Cold. For by then the lifesaving mystery ingredient had been isolated and named. From that day on vitamin C tablets were on our breakfast table.

Over the twentieth century, medical science went on to confirm that vitamin C serves many functions in the body, first as a powerful antioxidant. Since cell oxidation is a primary mechanism of all disease, this means it’s vitally important to our health. Vitamin C is also an antihistamine, antitoxin, and antibiotic with antiviral properties. Essentially, it’s against everything we’re against.

More recently, some researchers have begun to recognize diseases as “focal scurvies”, in which certain tissues break down for lack of vitamin C. And osteoporosis is one of those! Our bones need vitamin C to activate the bone-building cells – the osteoblasts – as well as for collagen formation. Dr. Tom Levy, a cardiologist and attorney, explains much more in his 2002 book, Curing the Incurable, and on his website.

So…can he be right? I have scurvy that’s localized in my bones, rather than generalized in my body? If so, what can I do about it?

Not surprisingly, the solution is consistent with what my mother believed in: more fruit and vegetables, and extra vitamin C. But since my diet has always contained these, there must be more involved in the absorption or retention of vitamin C in the appropriate parts of the body, or perhaps a higher dosage needed for optimal health. For now I’m working at increasing my intake of vitamin C to bowel tolerance, following guidelines set by Dr. Robert Cathcart and further explained by Dr. Andrew Saul on his website, in That Vitamin Movie, and in various lectures. Bowel tolerance allows the individual’s body to dictate how much it can use. And the amount a person needs when sick is much much more than what’s needed when healthy.

At first I was alarmed at the megadoses these experts recommend; yet vitamin C is entirely safe – water soluble and with no toxic limit – and there is a century’s worth of evidence of that it can cure serious diseases. So what’s to lose? In That Vitamin Movie Dr. Saul takes 17 or 18 g of vitamin C – his daily dose – on camera, while also explaining that your needs or mine are likely different. There are many forms of vitamin C supplements, but Dr. Saul recommends the cheapest that we will actually take, and of course a diet rich in fruits and vegetables must always be our starting point.

I love a good experiment, so on a day I was well and working at home I spread out 12 g of vitamin C over the day and that proved to be slightly too much. My bowel tolerance seems to be more like 10 g most days. Without burdening you with T.M.I., I’ll mention that in a later experiment I fully cured a UTI without antibiotics by taking 75 g of vitamin C three days in a row. The only challenge was remembering to take all those capsules, and counting them as I did; my bowels didn’t make a single complaint. I’m quite likely to experiment further if I have future infections, and meantime I’m getting at least 6 g of supplemental C each day.

So what do my bones think of this? Of course most victories are hidden inside at the cellular level, so I don’t get to see the immediate results. And when those early sailors headed off across vast oceans, they devoted themselves to long weeks and months using their best navigational tools in order to one day reach land. In the same way, building and maintaining my bones is my longterm quest.












Your nose knows.

The display of supplements is bewildering. Claims on the bottles lure me in, then I wonder: “Is this just marketing, or is it what my body really needs?”

Finally there’s a simple at-home method so you can know what you need. No more guessing, or chasing every bandwagon. As unbelievable as it may sound, your nose can help you identify what nutrients you, personally, are lacking. Diane Dawber’s new book explains everything.

Through decades of experience helping herself and others to wellness, Diane Dawber learned how to interpret the smell of a nutrient. Her book lays out the published science underlying this, and teaches the reader to make sense of the results. It’s called The Nutrient Scent Test, and you can order it here. 

Until I met Diane I had no idea that how a nutrient smells to me may be entirely opposite of how it smells to you. My nose might tell me I’m sniffing dog food, while you might detect cherry candy – within the very same bottle. And with Diane’s careful instruction I was able to determine what my nose was trying to tell me, and find my way to the excellent health that had eluded me. As I responded to my diagnosis of osteoporosis, this approach proved invaluable.

If you’ve read this blog from the beginning, you know that the only advice my doctor offered was to take an industrial corrosion inhibitor internally along with lots of calcium, and to scale back my life to prevent any possibility of falling. I’m inherently logical, and to me none of this made sense. Nor did it sound like fun.

Along came Diane Dawber, who patiently taught me what the medical system couldn’t. I shouldn’t really brag about how strong my bones are now, because to do that I’d have to disclose how many hard falls I’ve had in the past seven years, and that may be embarrassing. I did post about the first one – which convinced me it was safe to get back on a bicycle. And when my bike threw me into a Tokyo street a few months ago I wiped up the blood and continued on my way. Impressive bruises, but no broken bones!

If you’re trying to decode your own health issues, and you suspect nutrients may be part of your solution, if you’re gripped by fear of not taking the right supplements, or tired of feeling tossed about by the whims of marketing or online claims, this book can equip you with the facts you need next. I highly recommend The Nutrient Scent Test to you. Now, because I’m committed to full disclosure I will tell you that I helped edit the book, thus my name is in the credits. But I offered my time and skills because I so wanted this information to get to you, and I don’t profit in any way from sales of the book. I don’t sell supplements or benefit in any way from recommending them. My commitment is simply to sharing what I’ve learned.



Danshen: Chinese medicine for strong bones

My vocabulary has a new word: danshen. That’s the name of an old herb, used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for over two thousand years to treat such diverse issues as hypertension, stroke, angina, heart attacks, diabetes, chronic renal failure, and bone healing. The plant, also known as red sage, is the Asian cousin of the common sage in western kitchens.

I’ve never explored traditional Chinese medicine; however, I’m convinced that a nutritious diet from healthy soil must be our foundation for good health. And it’s clearly no accident that our food supply is enhanced by flavourful ingredients – like onion, garlic, ginger, chilli, and many herbs – that bring us significant healing benefits in small doses… like good medicines. So why shouldn’t some of the Chinese herbs – perhaps even all of them – be in that group? As a wise man said in Sirach 38:4, “The Lord created medicines from the earth, and a sensible person will not despise them.

I find it very exciting, then, when the pharmaceutical world takes cues from what grows in the soil, and that’s what this story is about. For awhile drug companies have tried to develop osteoporosis drugs that block an enzyme called Cathepsin K (CatK), because that enzyme has the effect of breaking down collagen to weaken our bones. But to date the clinical trials have failed because of disturbing side effects like stroke, skin fibrosis, and cardiovascular issues. Serious fails.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia guessed that the root problem was these drugs were blocking all the effects of CatK – both the bone disease-relevant functions as well as its benefits throughout the body. That’s why the side effects were so severe. So they extracted a compound from danshen that they found can block CatK only in bone tissue, while allowing it to work in other parts of the body.

So far, this danshen extract has just been tested in mice, but early results are excellent: the treated mice gained 35% bone density, compared with the control group, without the troubling issues that have stymied the drug companies.

OK, I’m not a mouse, and neither are you. It’s really your bones and mine that I’m concerned about. But this is a very promising development that points to good news ahead. In the meantime, if western medical researchers are interested in what the Chinese know, why shouldn’t I be? Maybe I should find out what danshen can do for my bones…the way the Chinese use it.

There’s an old expression: “You learn something new every day.” In my experience, that’s not universally true. There are dull days when nothing new comes along. There are also people who appear to have stopped exploring new ideas long ago. But my good days – the truly lovely ones – always feature learning something new. Today that is the word danshen, which is infused with hope and promise.


Misplaced Calcium on the Brain

Why are so many people struggling with anxiety and depression these days – more than ever before? Among young adults in particular there seems to be an epidemic. Clearly, something’s changed in the last decade! A recent study by Dr. Martin Pall suggests that EMFs (electromagnetic fields) are causing neuropsychiatric effects, producing these symptoms and others. And the increase in incidence coincides with the rise of smartphones, smart meters, and home WIFI – all potent household sources of EMFs.

I stumbled on the Pall study as I waited – smartphone in hand – to meet a young friend in a café. I couldn’t wait to tell her about it; I know that anxiety stalks her, despite careful attention to her diet and nutrients. I’ve long puzzled over the missing piece in her health story. When I blurted out the study results, she quickly made the connection with her initial experience of anxiety around nine years ago, when she was in her mid teens, and its meteoric increase over recent years after she got her first smartphone with a data plan. Today, her ever-present smartphone supplies her music, media, communication link, study assistant, entertainment, alarm clock, and boredom buster. It’s what she turns to for support during anxiety assaults. (Seeing the battery level drop even triggers anxiety!) Like many, she sleeps with it beside her in bed, and she lives, studies, and works bombarded by WIFI.

Martin Pall’s study explains the mechanism by which EMFs produce histological and functional changes in our central and peripheral nervous systems. And here’s the link to our bones: EMFs act on the voltage sensors of the brain’s voltage gated calcium channels (VGCCs), which are in charge of releasing neurotransmitters and neuroendocrine hormones. Intracellular calcium increases, causing widespread disruption of chemical balance, leading to faulty signals.

We don’t want excessive intracellular calcium in our brains! We want our calcium to settle decisively in our bones. And of course we all want to enjoy good mental health. Because of our genetic uniqueness, EMFs affect some of us more acutely than others, which explains why we don’t all experience depression or anxiety at the same level of exposure. Yet, it’s quite likely that there are still brain effects at the cellular level for the rest of us, and quite possibly an impact on our bones.

So what’s to be done to restore some balance? It’s too late to put the WIFI genie back in the bottle. But here are some steps we can all take:

  • Test your nutrient status. The very nutrients that affect calcium utilization are key in managing EMF sensitivity. These are vitamin D, magnesium, boron, and vitamin K2. All are vital for bone health. If you need more than your diet can supply, take some as supplements.
  • Put some distance between yourself and your smartphone. It’s become a vital communication link, but it doesn’t have to be on your body at all times. Leave it a few feet away, rather than in your pocket, while you’re not actively using it. Find a charging spot away from your bedroom at night.
  • Look to old ways for new habits. Remember when we used to read books? Waken to alarm clocks? Watch movies on TV? Speak face-to-face?
  • Turn off your household WIFI at night. Even small steps can reduce your exposure.

Bone Weary

Bad sleep? I understand. For many years my typical night was really a series of short naps, with lots of thinking time in between. I welcomed the morning light, not because I felt rested, but so I could call an end to the futility of trying to sleep. My days were foggy, my head ached, my immune system was low, and the irritating people around me thought I was the grumpy one! I really understand the disability of poor sleep.

Dr. Stasha Gominak is an American neurologist whose practice developed around poor sleepers like I was. In the course of treating chronic pain, she discovered that for most of her patients the root cause of their pain would heal if they could sleep well. Although her starting point to improve their nights was sleep apnea machines and sleeping drugs, she found that optimal healing only followed when she could restore natural sleep – which means the right amounts of time in the proper cycles, without drugs or breathing aids. How did she accomplish that?

First, she identified, to her surprise, that all her patients with abnormal sleep were deficient in vitamin D. She discovered that by raising their vitamin D levels she improved their sleep. What’s not to love about a vitamin that helps us sleep?

Her patients didn’t heal right away, though. Then she found the next missing piece: these same patients were also deficient in B vitamins! What was the link to vitamin D? It turns out that the healthy bacteria in our intestines rely on vitamin D in order to make the B vitamins we need. Not enough D? We run out of the B family, and end up with a secondary B deficiency.

What do B vitamins do? The family of B vitamins are needed throughout the body, acting as cofactors for countless metabolic and neurologic processes. They’re essential for the widespread repair work that is supposed to happen while we sleep. We need good D levels in order to sleep deeply, but we need the B family to heal. The more our bodies are affected by inflammation and disease, the more support we need from B vitamins. Not enough B vitamins? Our bodies will succumb to pain, autoimmune conditions, and even mental decline.

Which brings me to osteoporosis. As I’ve written before, we must have optimal D levels in order to properly mineralize our bones. In fact, Dr. Gominak calls osteoporosis a vitamin D deficiency state! Calcium and magnesium, along with the other minerals, won’t settle into their proper places without the support of vitamin D. But a shortage of B vitamins will throw off the delicate dance of the osteoclasts and osteoblasts – cells that clean away old bone while building new bone – and our bones won’t be able to maintain or repair. There really is a scientific explanation to feeling tired right to the bone.

As I’ve described in earlier posts, I made some major nutritional changes in response to my osteoporosis diagnosis. These included raising my vitamin B and D levels, as well as eliminating foods that inhibited my nutrient absorptions. I expected my bones to fare better, but it was an incredible surprise and blessing when I found I was also sleeping well – every night!

So following the cues from Dr. Gominak – and countless other researchers – have a blood test to check your vitamin D level. If your level is low, you can take steps to raise it into a healthy range with a combination of supplements and safe sun exposure. That should improve your sleep. Next, consider taking a vitamin B complex supplement. Your whole body will thank you.

In Defense of Vitamin A

In the bone health world, vitamin A has a bad reputation. Some studies have suggested that it’s toxic to bones because it increases the activity of the osteoclasts. These are the cells that do the important work of cleaning away old bone. If they get carried away, though, there can be a net loss of bone if they outpace the osteoblasts that are working to build new bone.

But recent research has found that this isn’t actually the fault of vitamin A itself, but of a failed partnership. If there’s a shortage of vitamin D or vitamin K2, then A can’t do its job properly; the three fat-soluble nutrients are meant to work together for bone care. If we absorb too much of one of them, that creates a corresponding need for more of the others. Since a huge percentage of people are deficient in both D and K2, this means that for the bones of some people, taking preformed vitamin A can be detrimental.

Too little vitamin A, though, is also a problem. A deficiency can also cause bone loss, as well as impaired vision, dry eyes, and a pre-disposition to a host of diseases, including cancer. The key is having good nutritional balance.

As for my story, I was able to bring my vitamin D level into a healthy range with supplements. Check. And I added vitamin K2 to my diet by eating natto three times a week. Check. My vitamin A, though, persistently tested low, even though I eat a lot of foods with beta-carotene, which is supposed to convert to vitamin A. What was that about? Why couldn’t I raise my level of vitamin A?

It turns out that many people can’t process beta-carotene much or at all, for a variety of reasons. For some, the problem is a diet lacking the healthy fats needed to stimulate absorption. For others, it may be that they drink too much alcohol, or that they have inadequate bile flow. Or their gut ecology may be out of balance, perhaps because of low stomach acid levels, celiac disease, or parasites. And to complicate the issue, a large percentage of the population were just born with a genetic variation that prevents them from absorbing beta-carotene or converting it into the active form.

So what can we do to get enough vitamin A in our systems? First, get tested to determine whether you’re in the majority who need some more. If you are, then make sure you eat plenty of retinol foods. The top of this list is cod liver. The second, third, and fourth options are other kinds of liver. If this makes you shudder, then you may benefit from taking preformed vitamin A, or retinol, as a supplement. It often comes in tiny capsules made from cod liver oil, but you won’t taste a thing. It’s also available in dry tablets. But since vitamins A, D, and K2 are fat-soluble, which means they can build up in our tissues, it’s important not to overdo them.

And here’s a side note if you’re hoping to see your hundredth birthday: vitamin A sufficiency is now recognized as a key contributing factor to longevity.