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Health November 2017

A Healthy Age

Green for Bones

By Carrie Luger Slayback

Over half of postmenopausal women will experience a bone fracture as the result of osteoporosis. Similarly, one out of four osteoporosis patients is male and 30% of hip fractures occur in men.

At 3:30 p.m., my 4th grade classroom quieted. Students, parents, staff cleared out and I collapsed behind my desk, confronting the next day’s plans and pile of student papers.

Shattering the first moments of silence, Ernie the custodian blasted in with his turbo-charged vacuum cleaner. Once finished with his nerve-jangling vacuum chores, Ernie took a break to chat. He liked casinos, horse races, and cards. He found out I drank green tea and brought me a bag of genuine Japanese Green. I miss Ernie’s rakish grin, not his clanging roaring vacuum. And he had a lasting influence on my tastes – all these years later and I’m hooked on green tea’s grassy taste, hearty vege/fresh hay aroma.

Yet, indulging in my hobby, reading health research, I gave zero credibility to the line — “tea builds bones.” No reason for disbelief except I’m naturally skeptical.

So, I expected a disclaimer when asking Google, “Does tea build bones?” Instead I ran into CL Shen’s 9000-word National Institutes of Health abstract with 185 footnotes: “Green Tea and Bone Metabolism.” The article says “Ingestion of green tea and green tea bioactive compounds may be beneficial in mitigating bone loss…In general, tea…might decrease the risk of fracture by improving bone mineral density (BMD) and supporting osteoblastic activities while suppressing osteoclastic activities. [Osteoclasts build bone while osteoblasts are involved in the breakdown of bone.]

My reading regarding bone mineral density suggests the superiority of dietary solutions to osteoporosis, over calcium supplementation. So, I was happy to read that green tea’s antioxidant effects comes in part from ascorbic acid naturally present in the drink.

Bone loss is caused by an “imbalance between bone formation and bone resorption.” Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, kidney malfunction and age-related estrogen loss contribute to bone loss. Yikes. Shen’s article states that “Over half of postmenopausal women will experience a bone fracture as the result of osteoporosis. Similarly, one out of four osteoporosis patients is male and 30% of hip fractures occur in men.”

So it is significant that, in many studies, tea drinkers had higher bone mass than non-tea drinkers. Authors quote a UK study by Hegarty in which tea drinkers showed “a decline in fracture risk of approximately 10% to 20%.”

A positive relation between tea drinking, regardless of the type of tea, and BMD has also been reported among postmenopausal women in the United States, Canada, Australia, Denmark, and Japan.

However due to some conflicting human results, perhaps from problems in study design, the “Green Tea…” article authors resorted to heavily controlled animal studies. In these studies, “Green tea polyphenols have been found to counteract inflammation-induced bone loss.” Specific compounds in green tea have been found to mitigate bone loss through anti-oxidative stress action and enhancing bone growth, and suppressing bone loss probably due to [the interface between the skeletal system and the immune system.]” The article goes on, in technical detail explains the “mounting evidence that green tea contains many bioactive ingredients that support some protection against osteoporosis.”

The NIH article describes more scientific details than I can include, supporting the interaction of green tea’s particular chemical composition with mammals’ various bone building pathways. Interested? Read it.

After Shen’s dense technical discussion, I retreated to Web Md’s Jeanie Lerche Davis’ easy to read “There’s Something to be Said for Having ‘Tea Bones.’” She begins, “Ladies, start your teapots,” selecting an English study also described by Shen. “Tea drinkers had significantly greater bone mineral density measurements. Hegarty suggests that tea has components that weakly mimic the effect of the female hormone, estrogen – documented by other researchers – and may be important in maintaining bone mineral density in postmenopausal women.”

Thanks, Ernie. Your gift of pungent loose tea leaves may have helped me stave off osteoporosis for a few years. Your love of the races, casinos and poker? I never caught on to that, which is probably explained by the fact that I’m the kind of person who reads health research for fun.


Carrie Luger Slayback an award winning teacher and champion marathoner, shares personal experience and careful research. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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