Protect Your Bones with Herbs

Increased consumption of herbs may be a useful approach to reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Researchers have found that common herbs, including sage, rosemary and thyme, can inhibit the breakdown of bone that contributes to osteoporosis.

Because these herbs are rich in essential oil components, the researchers also looked at essential oils and specific components of these essential oils to inhibit bone breakdown. We have known for some time that minerals found in plants, such as calcium, potassium and magnesium, are important to bone health. Plants also contain vitamins K and C, as well as phytoestrogens, that may contribute to bone health. But substances other than these that are found in essential oils may be equally important.

Testing the Theory

In their experiments, researchers from the University of Bern in Switzerland used a model of osteoporosis in rats. Rats were fed a diet containing powdered herbs, essential oils or purified monoterpenes from these essential oils for a period of 10 days. Bone breakdown during this time was measured by the release into the urine of bone breakdown markers.

Besides the powdered whole herbs sage, rosemary and thyme, the essential oils that inhibited bone breakdown included sage, juniper, pine, dwarf pine, eucalyptus and rosemary. Pine oil was discovered to be the most potent. Protective effects were seen as early as two days following treatment. Orange peel, fennel and cumin were the only oils tested that did not inhibit bone breakdown.

Researchers investigated further to determine what components of essential oil were responsible for this inhibition of bone breakdown. They found that the essential oil components thujone, eucalyptol and camphor all had inhibiting activity. Borneol had limited activity and only at a higher dose. These components are all monoterpenes found in sage oil. Components of pine oil — alpha-pinene, beta-pinene and bornylacetate–also were inhibitors of bone breakdown. Additionally, menthol, thymol and medicinal turpentine were found to inhibit bone breakdown.

Take Them or Cook Them

In the study, the dried herbs were given in the food at a dose of 1 gram per day. To scale this up to human proportions, this would mean about 150 grams per day, or 10 tablespoons of dried herb. The essential oils were active between 30 to 100 milligrams per day, pine being the most active. Again, to scale this to proportion for a human would mean about 15 grams of oil, or about 3 teaspoons per day. It is not advised that you take these very large amounts because toxicity studies and clinical trials have not been conducted on their safety. However, since these are culinary herbs, there is no reason not to increase the use of sage, rosemary and thyme in cooking or in teas.

Bone breakdown that leads to osteoporosis is, unfortunately, a normal event that occurs in humans as we age. To slow its progression, medical science has suggested a regular exercise routine and ingestion of calcium-containing foods or supplements. A diet rich in vegetables, including onions, has been found to decrease bone loss, as well. This research further expands the list of foods known to prevent bone loss.
Reference Muhlbauer, R.C., et al. “Common herbs, essential oils, and monoterpenes potently modulate bone metabolism.” Bone 2003; 32: 372 – 380.

Cindy L. A. Jones, Ph.D., Sagescript Institute (

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