It is estimated that more than ten million Americans are in danger of bone fractures because they have osteoporosis – a serious decrease in bone strength that often takes place as you get older.

Most people think of osteoporosis as a women’s disease, but it can be a serious danger for men. Studies show that fractures linked to osteoporosis in men more frequently lead to death than they do in women.

Fortunately, the latest research demonstrates that there are ways to significantly lower your risk of this debilitating disease of aging, including a little-known Chinese herb.

Red sage is an important herb long used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for helping improve bone health.

Today studies are beginning to uncover exactly what compounds in this herb are key to strengthening bone tissue. For example, a review study in Asia shows that in clinical trials, red sage has been demonstrated to limit bone breakdown while amplifying the creation of new, stronger bone. The researchers concluded that an important part of this effect is linked to the way red sage inhibits the bone-destroying action of an enzyme in the body called cathepsin K.1

In conventional medicine drugs have been designed to protect bones by restricting the action of cathepsin K. But because this enzyme provides other important functions in the body, the side effects of these drugs can cause major problems.

As an example, when these medications inhibit the function of cathepsin K this can increase your risk of suffering a stroke. In addition, cathepsin K is needed to protect heart tissue after a heart attack. And other research shows that this enzyme plays a key role in lung health.2

Red Sage Works Selectively

The good news is that, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia, the compounds in red sage are safer than drugs in protecting bone from the effects of cathepsin K because they don’t affect the other functions of this enzyme. They selectively keep this enzyme from weakening bones without other significant side effects.3

“All clinical trials (of pharmaceuticals) to date have failed due to side effects ranging from stroke, skin fibrosis and cardiovascular issues,” says researcher Dieter Brömme. “We’ve found a way to block Cat-K only in bone tissue that we think will prevent these other negative effects.”

Feeding Your Bones

Another way to lower your risk of osteoporosis is to eat a Mediterranean diet while taking a daily vitamin D supplement, according to a study at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.

This year-long study involved a thousand people in their sixties and seventies and focused on the effects of eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, nuts, unrefined cereal, olive oil and fish (along with taking a vitamin D supplement). The research showed that eating like this for a year lowered the rate of bone weakening.4

“Bone takes a long time to form, so the 12-month trial, although one of the longest to date, was still a relatively short time frame to show an impact,” notes researcher Susan Fairweather-Tait. “So the fact we were able to see a marked difference between the groups (one group eating the diet, the other eating a conventional western diet) even in just this one area is significant.”

Exercise Has Bone Benefits

When it comes to exercise, you may have read articles pointing out that weight-bearing exercise – like weight lifting – improves bone strength. It’s true, putting stress on bones does encourage them to strengthen. However, as researchers in Asia pointed out, if you’re older and you haven’t worked with weights recently, you have to be very careful about jumping into a weight lifting program. Overdoing it when your bones are already weakened could cause a fracture.5

But there’s other evidence that if you do any exercise, even walking, the resulting improvement in your mitochondrial function (the little organelles that supply cells with energy) might benefit your bones.6

A study at the University of Pennsylvania indicates that when older mitochondria malfunction, the malfunction releases signals in the body that can lead immune cells called macrophages to dismantle your bones. Along with not getting much exercise, smoking and over-indulging in alcohol might cause this sort of mitochonddrial problem.7

The Penn researchers also note that being exposed to air pollution and other toxins might also cause difficulties with your mitochondria that could negatively impact your bone strength.

Watch Out For Statin Drugs

And one last tip for better bones: A study at the University of Virginia has found that taking a high dose of a statin drug can lead to osteoporosis.8 As many of you know, I’m not a fan of using statin drugs to lower cholesterol. I believe that the drugs have a wide range of negative side effects that make them too problematic to be worthwhile for their alleged benefit of protecting heart health.