I have a cabinet full of herbs that support everything from sleep to immune function. I also keep Dermabond (liquid stitches) in my purse.
But this week my son hurt his wrist while playing kickball, and after pressing his fingernails on both hands to see how quickly the color returned (to assess circulation), checking his range of motion and asking some questions about his pain, I knew he needed more than me.
So we got an x-ray. It’s broken.
I’m beyond thankful for the doctors who have cared for my family when I’m outside of my wheelhouse, and for the herbalists and nutritionists who have published research-backed recommendations for supporting bone healing naturally. With that in mind, several of you asked on my Instagram post while I’m using to support my son’s recovery, so I thought I’d write it up for you.
As always, I want to mention that none of these statements have been evaluated by the FDA, this article is not medical advice, and it is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition. As always, please talk with your healthcare provider about any supplements you are considering. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive in.
The 3 Stages of Bone Healing
When a bone breaks, the healing process takes place in three phases:
Inflammation (0-2 weeks) – Inflammation can sometimes be our friend, as Dr. Lori Rose and I explain here. In the case of acute injuries (assuming no infection), the swelling and pain we experience actually support the healing process. Localized inflammation makes blood vessels more leaky, which allows nutrient-rich blood cells to easily travel into the damaged area and support healing. (1) Also, osteoclast cells help dissolve damaged bone in order to clear the area for new bone.
New Bone Production (2-6 weeks) – During this phase, cells that build fibrous tissue and cartilage (chondroblasts) and bone (osteoblasts) begin to lay down the structure of new bone matrix (collagen and non-collagenous proteins, minerals, and water). This new growth is known as a soft callus, which is soft bone.
Bone Remodeling (6+ weeks) – During this phase, the soft callus matures into a hard callus, aka hard bone.
Best Foods & Supplements for Bone Healing
If bone healing sounds like a pretty intense process, it is. It requires a lot of energy, which is why your basal metabolic rate (aka the amount of energy you burn while just lying on the couch) goes up during the process. The nutrients needed are all present in a balanced diet, but not necessarily in optimal amounts to support fracture recovery.
That’s why in addition to our usual diet, I’m strategically including foods and supplements that supply key nutrients for healing. Some are building blocks for new bone, while others are nutrients that assist with the absorption of those building blocks. Here’s an overview of them:
1. Protein & Collagen
We usually think of bone as a bunch of minerals fused together with the help of vitamin D, but actually it’s about 30% protein (mostly type 1 collagen). (2) Think of bone as a living sponge with mineral crystals embedded throughout.
In this study, participants who were given micronutrients that support collagen production (vitamin C, lysine, proline and vitamin B6) showed “acceleration of fracture healing time” compared with participants who took a placebo.
With that in mind, I’m increasing my son’s protein intake – especially collagen protein – and the supporting nutrients needed to put it to use. Collagen protein (sometimes called gelatin), contains several amino acids – including the lysine and proline forms listed above – that serve as building blocks for collagen synthesis. Lysine also helps with calcium absorption.
Where to find collagen: Homemade bone broth is a great source, as is high-quality pre-made bone broth. Powered collagen is also a great option. This kind can be dissolved into cold or hot liquids, and this kind can be used to make strawberry jello, homemade gummies and other snacks.
Vitamin B6 – In one of the studies mentioned above, participants who received vitamin B6 and other nutrients that support collagen synthesis healed faster than those who didn’t. Since I prefer to give vitamins in whole-food form with possible, I’m opting for 1/4 – 1/2 tsp bee pollen daily which is rich in B6 as well as B1, B2, and co-factors that help with absorption. (3)
Vitamin C – Another essential nutrient for collagen synthesis, vitamin C is also an antioxidant that can help clear oxidative stress caused by the fracture. I’m using this whole food-based powdered vitamin C, which I stir into water, smoothies, or homemade gummies.
Vitamin D & Omega 3-Fatty Acids – Even though omega-3s are not a vitamin, these two are mentioned together since they’re often found in the same foods. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the absorption of many minerals (calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, and selenium to name a few) needed for bone synthesis, making it an important part of the healing process.
Omega 3-fatty acids help soothe inflammation after the initial acute period when it is helpful. For both D and omega 3’s, I opt for 1/4 – 1/3 tsp of this cod liver oil that contains naturally occuring vitamins instead of synthetic ones. Sardines are also a good option if your family enjoys then.
Vitamin K – Blood levels of vitamin K fall after a fracture, and one theory about why is that it’s drawn to the broken bone to initiate healing. Vitamin K helps the body bind calcium to bone and may play other supportive roles in recovery. It comes in two forms – K1 and K2. Vitamin K1 is primarily found in leafy greens (which we eat a lot of) and vitamin K2 is found in pastured egg yolks, liver, butter, and fermented natto.
Most of us get enough calcium via food, but we don’t necessarily get the magnesium needed to properly absorb and use it. According to the World Health Organization, only about 25% of Americans are consuming enough magnesium, leading to what CNN calls the invisible deficiency. (4)
Getting adequate levels of magnesium improves bone quality, both by assisting calcium absorption and in other ways. Other minerals are needed to build bone, too: phosphorous, zinc, copper, silica, and boron to name a few.
Because minerals found in food and drinks are typically more bioavailable than most supplements, I focus on mineral-rich herbal infusions. Another bonus with food sources is that they often contain a complementary balance of several minerals together, which helps optimize mineral balance in the body.
The herbs I selected are all categorized by The Botanical Safety Handbook as Safety Class 1A, which is the safest rating possible. Here’s what I’ll be using (recipe below):
- Nettle (Urtica dioica L.) – “Nettle is full of nutrients that are important for healthy bones, teeth, and hair. Many women have improved their bone density levels after drinking nourishing herbal infusions made with nettle . . . . Nettle has approximately has approximately 2,900 mg of calcium for each 100 grams of the dried leaf. (2) The naturally occurring calcium found in nettle is easily absorbed by our bodies (which is not the case when it comes to calcium supplements). Nettle is also high in magnesium, another critical nutrient for bone health. (3)” (5)
- Oat straw (Avena sativa) – Rich in silica, magnesium, phosphorus, chromium, iron, calcium, alkaloids, vitamins and other nutrients, oat straw is deeply nourishing. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that although oat straw is naturally gluten-free, it can sometimes be cross-contaminated with gluten during processing. For that reason, if you’re gluten-free make sure to buy gluten-free oat straw that has not been processed with the same tools as wheat.
- Peppermint, Rosehips, etc. – Although they have benefits as well, I’m mostly focusing on their ability to make the infusion more flavorful and appealing.
Bone Support Tea Recipe
Because the herbs below are nutritive rather than “medicinal,” they’re generally considered safe in significant amounts. It’s important to keep in mind that culinary plants like parsley are herbs, too, and we don’t measure them strictly before we eat them. Is it possible to get too much parsley? Probably, but it would probably take a lot of parsley.
With that in mind, here’s how I arrived at the recipe below. Dosage recommendations for herbs usually assume an adult weight of about 150 pounds. My son is just under half that, so I opted for about half the adult dosage recommendation.
The standard adult dose of nettle and oat straw for adults is 1-3 teaspoons per cup, taken three times daily. (Medical Herbalism) The standard infusion amount suggested for peppermint is 1 tsp taken as often as desired. For rosehips, a standard dose is 5-10 grams per day which is a lot more than this recipe calls for. (6)
Bone Support Tea Recipe
- Pour 1 cup boiling water over dried herbs, cover with a plate, and infuse for 10-15 minutes.
- Strain and serve. Drink 1-3 times per day.
Note: Due to soil depletion and other factors, it’s very difficult to get enough magnesium via dietary intake. That’s why in addition to the teas above I’ll also be making sure my son uses this kids magnesium lotion daily. Magnesium is well-absorbed via skin but the “oil” form can be itchy, so I prefer the lotion form.
When a bone breaks, it triggers a biochemical burst of pro-oxidants (free radical) that create inflammation. Early on this inflammation (called acute inflammation) is beneficial, but if left unchecked it can become chronic inflammation that impairs healing and damages surrounding tissues. (7)
Antioxidants are what our bodies use to counter pro-oxidants. Ideally, when the break occurs we have optimal levels of circulating antioxidants that can help “mop up” the radicals. However, depending on the severity of the break and other factors, this “mop up” process could deplete our antioxidant reserve levels below optimal amounts. For that reason, antioxidants are often recommended during the recovery process. In addition to helping with the cleanup/rebuilding process, it’s good to have sufficient amounts “on call” for any other need that comes up.
Several studies have found a link between different strains of probiotics and accelerated bone healing.
- Lactobacillus casei Shirota (8)
- Bifidobacterium adolescentis (9)
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) (10)
I’m not buying probiotics that contain these strains specifically because I think many more strains are likely to have similar effects. Instead, I’m sticking with the probiotic we’re using right now and making sure to include sauerkraut, coconut yogurt, beet kvass and other fermented foods into meals.
Here are the foods & supplements I’ll be using over the next six or so weeks to support my son’s healing:
- Collagen Protein – Via homemade bone broth and collagen powder. This kind of collagen can be dissolved into cold or hot liquids, and this kind can be used to make strawberry jello, homemade gummies and other snacks.
- Bee Pollen
- Whole Food-Based Vitamin C
- Cod Liver Oil
- Vitamin K Rich Foods
- Mineral-Rich Tea (recipe above)
- Antioxidants (Vitamin C, Tocotrienols, etc.)
- Probiotic Supplements & Foods
Other Things That May Help
Red light therapy – In this study, red light therapy improved comfort and supported healing for patients with wrist fractures. My son is currently wearing a cast right now so we’re not using this therapy right now, but when the cast comes off he’ll be doing a daily ten minute session with our Joovv Go.
Comfrey Poultice – Often called “kitbone” because of its traditional role in supporting bone healing, comfrey is often recommended as a poultice if the broken bone is accessible . . . for example, for a broken toe that is not in a splint. Click here for more information on making and using poultices.
Do you have a tried-and-true approach for supporting fracture recovery?
Please share it in the comments below!
1. Tidball, JG and Wehling-Hendricks, M (2007) Macrophages promote muscle membrane repair and muscle fibre growth and regeneration during modified muscle loading in mice in vivo.
3. Komosinska-Vassev, Katarzyna et. al. (2015) Bee Pollen: Chemical Composition and Therapeutic Application
4. World Health Organization (2009) Calcium and Magnesium in Drinking Water: Public Health Significance
5. de la Foret, Rosalee (2017) Alchemy of Herbs
6. Examine. Rose Hip.
7. Loi, Florence et. al. (2016) Inflammation, Fracture and Bone Repair
9. Roberts, Joseph et. al. (2019) Probiotic Supplements Accelerate Bone Repair and Prevent Systemic Bone Loss Following Femoral Fracture
10. Inserro, Allison (2018) Common Probiotic Stimulates Bone Formation in Mice, Study Says