Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Macrobiotic Approach to Prevention of Osteoporosis


Osteoporosis is a thinning and loss of bone tissue that can result in gradual loss of height, weakness and/or acute or chronic pain in the lower back, loss of teeth due to weakening of supporting bone, stooped shoulders and increased risk of fracture from falls.  These fractures occur primarily in the spine, wrist and hip.   In the U.S. an estimated 1.3 million fractures occur each year as a result of osteoporosis.  Of those who suffer hip fractures, some die shortly after the fracture while as many as 30 percent die within one year.  (These deaths may not be directly due to osteoporosis but rather to other health-related problems including being confined to bed following the fracture.) 

            The most commonly used medical diagnostic technique is a DEXA scan (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry).  The person being scanned lies down on a table while a technician operates a scanner that passes over the bones to measure their density, particularly of the hips and spine. These scans are then interpreted by an x-ray technician and the results sent to the referring physician.  In the Planned Parenthood Women’s Health Encyclopedia, the author states, “Once osteoporosis has resulted in significant bone loss, no known treatment can undo its damage, but treatment can prevent further damage.” 

            The approach of modern medicine to preventing further deterioration of the bone may include hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – which usually consists of estrogen or along with some form of progesterone—but may include Calcitonin (to slow the breakdown of bone), Fosamax (a drug that stops osteoclasts from dissolving new bone formed by osteoblasts) as well as various calcium supplements and dairy products considered high in calcium.  It’s mind boggling to pour over the many studies showing the efficacy of these approaches and there are many different opinions as to what kinds of estrogen or progesterone to take as well as when to take them, how much to take, and so on. 

            At best this approach is symptomatic and lacks a unifying principal. The macrobiotic approach offers a clear understanding of the cause of bone loss and an approach that takes the healing of the body as a whole into consideration while emphasizing foods specific to bone health and minimizing those that are detrimental. 

            The bones and skeletal system are hard, dense and compact relative to other systems in the body and are therefore considered yang.  Whole cereal grains, beans, vegetables from land and sea and other foods high in minerals such as miso, good quality shoyu and sea salt nourish them.  Being yang, bones attract strong yin and are easily weakened by sugar, dairy, chocolate, alcohol, vinegar, fruits and juices (especially citrus), alcohol, drugs and other expansive items. Coffee, caffeinated teas, white flour, honey, oatmeal, potatoes, tomatoes, tropical fruits, and artificial sweeteners are also damaging. These extreme yin foods make the bones expand and fuse and the tissues become tight.

            The bones are governed by the kidney and bladder and are specifically nourished by beans and bean products, dried vegetables, pressure cooked grains and a moderate use of sea salt and other condiments.  They are damaged by excessive yang such as meat, eggs, poultry, all types of cheese, and  hard baked flour products including bread, cookies, crackers and chips.

            If you are new to macrobiotics, you can begin to protect your bones by following the standard macrobiotic diet with emphasis on whole cereal grains, rather than refined or cracked grains, as the center of every meal.  Buckwheat is considered to be strengthening to the bones but in my experience the main grain should be short grain, organically grown brown rice with millet and barley as secondary grains. Non-genetically engineered corn-on-the-cob may be eaten daily when in season.  The occasional addition of a side dish of buckwheat cooked with vegetables or in soup or buckwheat noodles is nice but as I find this grain too contracting to be used frequently.   Black rice (such as wild rice) may also be used occasionally.

            Flour products should be reduced as much as possible.  Noodles may be taken several times a week in broth or occasionally fried.  Simple sugars should be avoided and fruits should be chosen from those in season and prepared by baking or stewing rather than eaten raw.  Animal food should be avoided with the exception of white meat fish such as cod, haddock or sole.  The problem even with white meat fish is that the portion that is usually served is the part with the protein and fat (without the head and bones).  Which of us would know where to begin to eat a whole fish served on a plate!  (I am currently using a condiment made of chirimen-iko, a small, dried sardine, and roasted sesame seeds since the sardines are in whole form and it seems that their high mineral content will be more easily absorbed if taken with the seeds.  I roast both the chirimen and the seeds and grind them in a serabachi as I would in making gomasio.)

Smaller beans such as aduki, lentils, chickpeas and black and yellow soybeans are particularly strengthening to the bones and joints.  Dried tofu and okara (from making tofu) are high in calcium and may be eaten regularly as well. I’m currently using small amounts of sweeteners in the beans, particularly barley malt and amesake since they both have a more upward energy and help balance the salt in the beans.

A small side dish of sea vegetables cooked with land vegetables (to moderate the contracting quality) can be served twice a week.  Wakame can be used often in soups and small pieces of Kombu can be cooked into beans and nishime style vegetable dishes.

Collard greens, kale, turnip greens, watercress, bok choy and other leafy greens are good sources of natural calcium and should be eaten daily.  Quick stir-fries and sautéed greens can be beneficial in preventing osteoporosis.  My current favorite is sautéed watercress though I try to include a variety of vegetables in stir-fries.  Nishime style cooking (cutting in large cubes and simmering for 20 minutes or longer over low flame) is also helpful.

Among people who have practiced macrobiotics for a while and still have weak bones, I think the main problem is with the overuse of salt in all forms is a factor – but especially the overuse of umeboshi paste and plums in dressings and sushi.  Also the excessive use of vinegar, even of good quality vinegars made from rice or hato mugi, and lemon juice in pressed salads and salad dressings depletes minerals and is best minimized or avoided.  And while some macrobiotic practitioners recommend raw oil, I disagree and feel that oil should be used only in cooking.

While I have not emphasized the way of life suggestions in this article, they are part and parcel of a healing program.  Moderate forms of exercise such as walking, chi gung, yoga, some group sports as well as cleaning house, sweeping the walk, cleaning the windows, etc. are necessary to improve circulation and keep the energy moving in the body. And, of course, chewing is the best exercise of all and the reason why it’s really important to keep our bones and teeth strong.

Macrobiotics is, in a sense, a straight and narrow path.  It is a study of our physical limits and it is by understanding those limits and honoring them that we ultimately attain maximum freedom.  Some people look at older macrobiotic teachers and feel that we are not healthy and have nothing to offer.  I think we have a lot to offer; we can teach you our mistakes.  We have crossed a bridge from the modern way of eating to the macrobiotic way of eating and have now turned back to build a stronger bridge. One may ask, “Why are you building that bridge?”  We know that one day you will want to cross this chasm and we are building this bridge for you.


  1. Wang

    With the increase in number of old people, more and more of them are suffering from osteoporosis. When the bone gets weaker from this, the fracture may easily and frequently occur with just a little shock. It eventually leads to the lower quality of life. Then, how can we keep the bone strong?

    Lots of calcium intake and physical exercise are mandatory in the young ages. In doing so, the relative osteoid volume can be saved for use in the old ages. The foods that contain much calcium are dairy products, fish with edible bones, tofu, seaweeds; the exercises helpful in toughening the bones are jogging, dance, rope jumping, running up the stairs. The exercises should last over 20 minutes, more than 3 times a week.

    There are many medicines for this disease: calcium, vitamin D, female hormones, bisphosphonates, calcitonin. The type and dosage of medicines are varied with the bone density test. Regardless of the figure from the test(the lower, the worse), followings are the cases of people who should be treated: hereditary transmission, old age, the history of bone fracture, small and skinny physical constitution, lack of exercise.

    The most commonly used treatments in the western medicine are female hormone and bisphosphonates. Female hormone does preventive role against heart/cerebrovascular diseases, depression, dementia and urinary organ disease after menopause. However, for those who have the experience of breast cancer and thrombosis, bisphosphonates is recommended.

    In the oriental medicine, a medicine called ‘ga-mi-gui-ryong-jun’, Modified Decoction of Chinese Angelica Root and Deer Antler) which is made of deer antler and horn is usually used. Deer antler and horn are clinically proven to generate bone marrow.

  2. Helen

    It’s been a rough few days, but rather than dwell on the depressing aspects of depression, I’d rather write about antibiotic resistance. Perhaps that seems strange, but often getting outside of myself helps my mood, as well.

    I was talking with a dear friend who has a severe infection that started in her foot. The antibiotics weren’t working as well as the doctor expected. We ended up talking about antibiotic resistance and I got on my soap-box about how rotten I thought it was that meat producers give antibiotics just to fatten up the animals faster, not just to combat disease. It is an economic issue that the worshippers of a faster fatted golden calf put the almighty dollar before public health.

    The animals fed antibiotics of course develop strains of resistant microbes that they can pass on to humans. I remember reading that an important health organization’s (perhaps it was the World Health Organization) number one world concern is antibiotic resistance. It makes me want to make sure I drink my miso soup everyday, that’s for sure. It’s a microbe-jungle out there if you aren’t macrobiotic…

  3. KS

    I had a glorious day, attending an inspirational event tonight. It was a real boost to my spirits. I am reminded that macrobiotic recommendations for depressed people include being around uplifting people and situations.

    A macrobiotic lifestyle is about far more than food. I remember long-time macro counselor David Briscoe saying that all that we take in from our environment, including our senses, is nourishment of a sort and it affects us, whether it is high quality nourishment or not. (I am really paraphrasing him here.) That, for me was so true tonight. It was a banquet event and served chicken cordon bleu, mashed potatoes with bacon, and string beans, as well as salad and chocolate cake. I just had salad without dressing and the string beans, as well as two whole wheat rolls. Was it perfect macro? No. But the evening was highly nourishing for me and to me, that is what macrobiotics is all about.

    I am grateful to the Spirit of the Universe for enabling me to attend the banquet, which was feast of light for my soul.

  4. Julie

    Surrendering to the Order of the Universe, to one’s Higher Power and living in accord with the natural laws of this planet is not easy. Living a macrobiotic lifestyle goes against much of what current popular culture espouses. That is alright. It is healthy to be in the vanguard of a new and emerging movement towards embracing macrobiotic principles.

    I never did have a cholesterol problem. My cholesterol was 158 before attending the Kushi Institute “Way to Health” program. My physician was amazed that just a few months later my cholesterol was 109. These tangible effects can induce the medical profession to do a double take on the macrobiotic diet. I know it did my doctor.

    I am grateful to have also lost over 80 pounds, as well. It is a step towards health for me, but more important is the serenity the macro eating brings to me. I feel a peace that reminds me that healing is indeed possible–and I am so thankful.

May Ling
Macrobiotics & natural health practitioner of Chinese decent. May Ling provides a Yin-Yang perspective to holistic health and natural healing. Contact:

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