When people get older, they run a higher risk of developing fractures, particularly in the hips. This is not due to an increased risk for falls, which they have, but a change in the hormones that regulate far more than just sex drive. Estrogen and testosterone in particular are important to protecting bones from weakness and helping calcium levels stay high. The weakening of bones due to age is called osteoporosis, and although it is commonly associated with women, it can happen to men in alarming numbers. Traditional modern medicine usually counteracts this process with calcium supplements and bone sparing medications.
However, for some who don’t want to take modern medicines, certain facets of traditional Chinese medicine can help to prevent and reverse osteoporosis. Although none of the herbs can help restore calcium to the bones, such as Actonel, supplements such as tongkat ali can balance hormones in the body that are responsible for leeching the calcium away. In fact, testosterone is vital in maintaining the health of bones throughout the lifespan, but many older adults of both sexes experience a decrease in this hormone. Usually associated with libido, tongkat ali can help to prevent this painful side effect of aging.
Actions of Tongkat Ali
Tongkat ali is known for its effects on the male libido. By increasing the amount of free testosterone in the body, it helps to increase sexual desire, the frequency of erections, and the length of time an erection is viable. It has a similar action to other medications that increase testosterone, such as replacement therapy, but the effect is much less pronounced. With testosterone therapy, your lab results will elevate, but significant side effects can occur, such as the possibility of hormone related cancers like prostate cancer.
With tongkat ali, the effect is more subtle. While it is true that the herb is not recommended for those with hormone related cancer, the risk of it seems to be less than with full replacement therapy. As a consequence, the increase in testosterone is less, but this may be beneficial for someone who doesn’t have a tremendous hormone deficit or for someone who merely wants to ward away osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is caused by your body’s constant need to balance the electrolyte calcium. Calcium is need for many body functions and is not just used in bones and teeth. On the contrary, it is vital to the function of muscle, some heart functions, and other hormonal processes. Lack of calcium can lead to twitching and possibly death in extreme situations. However, calcium rarely gets this low because the bones are large reservoirs that the body can tap into whenever the calcium intake is too low. When you don’t take enough in your diet, the body simply breaks down bone material into its component parts and uses it for other body functions.
The problem arises when the calcium is not replaced. The bones are rather like a credit card. If you continue to take out of the bones and don’t put anything back in, the whole substructure of the bone becomes weak. In fact, under magnification, the bones look like rigid sponges with large open spaces. Bones that are full of cavities cannot hold weight or endure stresses, and they break easily. The solution is usually to take more calcium throughout life, but sometimes the situation is already in progress. It doesn’t help that the decrease of sex hormones in older age further accelerate the leeching of calcium from the bones. This creates the perfect storm for a fracture.
Fighting Osteoporosis with Tongkat Ali
The reason that tongkat ali can help in the fight against osteoporosis is because it is so effective in increasing testosterone levels in men and women. Testosterone affects bones in two ways. First, they can directly remodel bone by interacting with bone cells, osteoblasts and osteoclasts, to either access or replace calcium. The other way it helps is by inducing estrogen – a powerful bone remodeler – by a secondary reaction known as aromatization. When the decrease of the sex hormones occur with age, the remodeling is affected, and it usually results in increased risk for weak bones. Therefore, replacing the sex hormones will help to keep bones healthy and strong.
Unfortunately, no studies are currently available in humans, although several studies support its role as potential treatment of androgen-deficient osteoporosis in rats. One review article has appeared in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal that supports the possibility for using it in humans.
Published in 2012, it is essentially a call to action and the presentation of the theory that tongkat ali can help with osteoporosis. In the meantime, a great deal of anecdotal evidence does support the use of the herb in older persons with decreased sex hormones. More research is necessary, however, before this treatment is accepted and tongkat ali becomes more than an aphrodisiac.