Osteoporosis is a condition that results in bones that are weak, brittle, and prone to fractures.1
As we age, a decline in bone-protecting hormones can cause weak bones. As a result, postmenopausal women and older men are most likely to get this condition. Other factors that increase the risk of osteoporosis include body size, ethnicity, family history, diet, medical conditions, medications, inactivity, smoking, and excessive alcohol use.
Often there are no symptoms. That is why it is referred to as a “silent” disease. Osteoporosis is a condition not often discovered until a fracture or vertebrae collapse. The delay in diagnosis plus subsequent injuries can result in back pain, loss of height, and/or a hunched posture.1
While medications can treat osteoporosis, herbs have become a popular remedy for those suffering from this condition. This article examines the research behind these natural treatments and whether they can improve bone loss and osteoporosis.
Who Is at Risk for Osteoporosis?
About 54 million people are suffering from osteoporosis and low bone mass, making them susceptible to this condition.2
This condition occurs at any age, but adults 50 and older are most at risk.
Natural Herbs for Osteoporosis Treatment
There are many natural herbs recommended for osteoporosis. They may be used in cooking or are taken as a supplement in the form of a pill, powder, or tea. Here is a list of herbs that may improve bone health and work as an alternative treatment for osteoporosis:
- Red sage
- Red clover
Talk to Your Doctor About Herbs and Supplements
Always consult your doctor if you’re considering taking an herb as a long-term supplement. Some herbs, including the ones listed in this article, may interfere with some medicines. If you have any health conditions and/or are on medications it is best to ask your doctor before taking a new supplement.
Red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza) is a plant used in Chinese herbal medicine (where it is known as danshen) that has been associated with improvements in osteoporosis. A review of 36 clinical trials found red sage treated and improved more than 80% of osteoporosis cases. However, most research consisted of only small-sized, short-term studies.3
Salvianolic acid, tanshinones, and magnesium lithospermate B are compounds in red sage that may improve bone health. Salvianolic acids have antioxidant properties that prevent inflammation and free radical production associated with the breakdown of bone. These compounds can also help bone growth.45
Red sage is also a good source of vitamin K, which is needed for healthy bones.6
This herb comes in the form of a capsule or tincture, and it can be made into a tea. Red sage should be used for only a short period due to the safety concerns with long-term use. This herb may also cause side effects and drug interactions and is contraindicated during pregnancy and in use with blood thinners.7 More research needs to be done to find the proper dosage for osteoporosis.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is a perennial herb belonging to the legume family. Historically, it has been used as a complementary treatment for menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, as well as a variety of illnesses, including cancer, respiratory problems, and skin conditions.8
Research is mixed when it comes to red clover and osteoporosis. A 2015 study had 60 menopausal women take 150 milligrams of red clover for 12 weeks and the results were compared to a group that took a placebo (a substance having no therapeutic value). Researchers found that bone mineral density was improved in the women who took red clover.9 However, other studies showed no change in bone health.10
Red clover can be consumed as an ingredient in herbal tea, as well as through capsules, tinctures, extracts, and as a topical treatment.8
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is a huge, tree-like perennial plant found throughout parts of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North America. It is a medicinal herb that dates back to ancient Rome and Greece. Horsetail has been used to treat wounds, tuberculosis, and kidney issues.11
Quercetin, oleanolic acid, and ursolic acid are antioxidants found in horsetail. These compounds may improve calcium levels and increase bone growth.12
Horsetail also contains the compound silica. Supplements made from silica have been linked to improved bone mineral density and strength.1314
Although some benefits have been associated with horsetail, it still may not be the best option for you. Getting enough calcium may be more beneficial to bone health. Taking a calcium supplement for one year improved bone density better than horsetail in a study involving 122 postmenopausal women.15
Horsetail comes in capsules, tinctures, and as a dried herb that can be made into a tea or mixed with liquid and applied to the skin.11
Warnings for Horsetail Consumption
Long-term use of horsetail is not advised. This herb can lower thiamin (B1) levels and may cause a deficiency in this vitamin. Horsetail could be harmful to pregnant women and those with diabetes, gout, heart issues, and kidney problems.11
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is an herb in the mint (Lamiaceae) family native to the Mediterranean. This small, low-growing shrub is a popular spice to use in cooking. It also is a medicinal plant that dates back to ancient times. Thyme has been used to enhance immune function and treat respiratory, nerve, and heart conditions.1617
One study examined how taking 1,000 milligrams of thyme daily for six months would affect 40 postmenopausal women. Researchers found that regular consumption of thyme improved bone mineral density better than a calcium/vitamin D3 supplement.18
Thyme may be most effective when used with sage and rosemary. Bone mineral density levels were higher with this combination than with thyme alone.
Vitamins in Thyme
Thyme also offers a good source of calcium, vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, and zinc. These nutrients can improve bone health.19
You can find thyme as a fresh and dried herb. Oil extracts of thyme are also available in liquid and capsule form.16
Thyme is considered safe when used in small amounts.20 Large doses of this herb have been associated with side effects. Thyme may be harmful to people with bleeding disorders and hormone-sensitive conditions.21 It can also cause allergies in those allergic to other Lamiaceae plants such as oregano, sage, and lavender.22
This herb shows promise as a treatment for osteoporosis, but more research is needed to know how it can help bones long term.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a yellow perennial root belonging to the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) and native to South Asia. Its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties have made it important to herbal medicine for the past 4,000 years. Turmeric has been used to treat menstrual symptoms, arthritis, and digestive issues.23
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, may help with low bone density. A preliminary study found taking a curcumin supplement for six months showed significant improvements in 57 people with low bone density.24
Turmeric comes as a dried powder that can be used in cooking. It is also available in a tincture, liquid, or capsule form.25
Side effects have been seen when using large doses or taking turmeric for more than 12 months.26 Turmeric may also cause allergies and complications in those with bleeding disorders, diabetes, and gallbladder issues.2728
Longer studies need to confirm the overall safety and effectiveness of turmeric and curcumin for treating osteoporosis. Caution should be taken when trying this herb.
Herbal remedies have been seen as a natural alternative to osteoporosis medications. These plants contain bone-strengthening compounds that may improve bone growth. The research shows promise, but we need more extended large-scale studies to find the long-term effects of these herbs on osteoporosis.
A Word From Verywell
There is still a lot we don’t know about these herbs and their effects on osteoporosis. If you are looking for help with your osteoporosis, these plants may be a good complement to your medical treatment depending on your health status. Be sure to talk with your doctor before adding any supplements to your care routine.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- What are some other natural remedies for osteoporosis?
Exercise, diet, acupuncture, and tai chi are other natural remedies for osteoporosis.2930
- What are the risk factors of osteoporosis?
The factors that increase your chance of getting osteoporosis include:31
- Gender: Postmenopausal women
- Age: Being 50 years and older
- Body size: Having a slender and thin boned body
- Ethnicity: White women, White men, and Asian women
- Genetics: Having a family member with osteoporosis
- Changes in hormones: Low estrogen in women and low testosterone in men
- Diet: Low intake of vitamin D and calcium, excessive dieting, not enough protein
- Medical conditions: Endocrine, hormonal, and gastrointestinal diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, certain cancers, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS, anorexia
- Medications: Glucocorticoids, adrenocorticotropic hormone, antiepileptic medicines, cancer medications, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), thiazolidinediones
- Poor lifestyle choices: Not enough physical activity, too much alcohol, and smoking/tobacco use
- How can I prevent osteoporosis?
Tips to prevent osteoporosis include the following:1
- Eat more foods that promote bone health.
- Stay physically active.
- Drink less alcohol.
- Avoid tobacco.
- Kleerekoper M, Al-Khayer F. Osteoporosis, overview. In: Encyclopedia of Endocrine Diseases. Elsevier; 2004:425-431. doi:10.1016/b0-12-475570-4/00952-5
- National Osteoporosis Foundation. Learn what osteoporosis is and what it’s caused by.
- Guo Y, Li Y, Xue L, et al. Salvia miltiorrhiza: an ancient Chinese herbal medicine as a source for anti-osteoporotic drugs. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;155(3):1401-1416. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2014.07.058
- Ma L, Tang L, Yi Q. Salvianolic Acids: Potential source of natural drugs for the treatment of fibrosis disease and cancer. Front Pharmacol. 2019;10:97. doi:10.3389/fphar.2019.00097
- Domazetovic V, Marcucci G, Iantomasi T, Brandi ML, Vincenzini MT. Oxidative stress in bone remodeling: role of antioxidants. Clin Cases Miner Bone Metab.
- Hao G, Zhang B, Gu M, et al. Vitamin K intake and the risk of fractures: A meta-analysis. Medicine. 2017;96(17):e6725. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000006725
- Wang L, Ma R, Liu C, et al. Salvia miltiorrhiza: A potential red light to the development of cardiovascular diseases. Curr Pharm Des. 2017;23(7):1077-1097. doi:10.2174/1381612822666161010105242
- Mount Sinai. Red clover.
- Thorup AC, Lambert MN, Kahr HS, Bjerre M, Jeppesen PB. Intake of novel red clover supplementation for 12 weeks improves bone status in healthy menopausal women. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:689138. doi:10.1155/2015/689138
- Clifton-Bligh PB, Nery M-L, Clifton-Bligh RJ, et al. Red clover isoflavones enriched with formononetin lower serum LDL cholesterol-a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015;69(1):134-142. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2014.207
- Mount Sinai. Horsetail.
- Słupski W, Jawień P, Nowak B. Botanicals in postmenopausal osteoporosis. Nutrients. 2021;13(5). doi:10.3390/nu13051609
- Bessa Pereira C, Gomes PS, Costa-Rodrigues J, et al. Equisetum arvense hydromethanolic extracts in bone tissue regeneration: in vitro osteoblastic modulation and antibacterial activity. Cell Prolif. 2012;45(4):386-396. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2184.2012.00826.x
- Arbabzadegan N, Moghadamnia AA, Kazemi S, Nozari F, Moudi E, Haghanifar S. Effect of equisetum arvense extract on bone mineral density in Wistar rats via digital radiography. Caspian J Intern Med. 2019;10(2):176-182. doi:10.22088/cjim.10.2.176
- Corletto F. Female climacteric osteoporosis therapy with titrated horsetail (equisetum arvense) extract plus calcium (osteosil calcium): randomized double blind study. Minerva Ortopedica e Traumatologica. 50(5):201-8.
- Encyclopedia Britannica. Thyme. In: Encyclopedia Britannica.
- Salehi B, Mishra AP, Shukla I, et al. Thymol, thyme, and other plant sources: Health and potential uses. Phytother Res. 2018;32(9):1688-1706. doi:10.1002/ptr.6109
- Abu-Raghif AR, Alkazzaz AM, Fadheel QJ. A comparative study of the effect of thyme and calcium with vitamin D3 in treatment of postmenopausal women with osteoporosis. International Journal of PharmTech Research. 9(5);260-268.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Thyme, fresh.
- Basch E, Ulbricht C, Hammerness P, Bevins A, Sollars D. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris L.), thymol. J Herb Pharmacother. 2004;4(1):49-67. doi: 10.1080/J157v04n01_07
- Zava DT, Dollbaum CM, Blen M. Estrogen and progestin bioactivity of foods, herbs, and spices. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1998;217(3):369-78. doi:10.3181/00379727-217-44247
- Benito M, Jorro G, Morales C, Peláez A, Fernández A. Labiatae allergy: systemic reactions due to ingestion of oregano and thyme. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 1996;76(5):416-418. doi:10.1016/S1081-1206(10)63456-4
- Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. Turmeric, the golden spice: From traditional medicine to modern medicine. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, eds. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. CRC Press/Taylor & Francis.
- Riva A, Togni S, Giacomelli L, et al. Effects of a curcumin-based supplementation in asymptomatic subjects with low bone density: a preliminary 24-week supplement study. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 21(7):1684-1689.
- Mount Sinai. Turmeric.
- Lee SW, Nah SS, Byon JS, et al. Transient complete atrioventricular block associated with curcumin intake. Int J Cardiol. 2011;150(2):e50-2. doi:10.1016/j.ijcard.2009.09.530
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Can spices cause allergic reactions?
- Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Possible interactions with: turmeric.
- Guo T, Chen X, Wu X, et al. Acupuncture for osteoporosis: a systematic review protocol. Syst Rev. 2016;5(1):161. doi:10.1186/s13643-016-0330-5
- NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Tai chi and qi gong: In depth.
- NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. Bone health for life: Health information basics for you and your family.
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