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updated: 5/16/2011 8:43 AM

Safflower tea may be good for your bones

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Can a simple tea help with osteoporosis? According to one medical study using safflower tea, the answer is yes.

Osteoporosis is the result of bone loss and is a serious medical condition. Affecting about 25 million people, it is estimated that 250,000 hip and 700,000 spine fractures, related to osteoporosis, occur annually in the U.S. Direct annual medical costs for hip fractures is between $13 billion and $18 billion.

The most common form of osteoporosis occurs in women after menopause and is believed to be the results of several factors, such as lower estrogen levels, inadequate weight-bearing exercise and low levels of vitamin D and calcium. Several medical conditions, usually associated with the endocrine system, can also lead to osteoporosis. Steroids, anticoagulants and some medications lowering stomach acid may also increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.

As the baby boomers head into retirement age, the incidence of osteoporosis and the associated medical costs will only increase. Usual medications for osteoporosis can be expensive and may have significant side effects. Although these medications do have benefit in reducing fractures in those with osteoporosis, there is little evidence to suggest that if taken earlier, they prevent osteoporosis. Prevention is the goal. Safflower tea may be beneficial, especially in postmenopausal women.

Safflower looks like a tall thistle plant with pretty yellow and red flowers on top. It has been cultivated for thousands of years because of its versatility. It has numerous applications including dyes, cosmetics, cooking oil and as a tea. Safflower tea is made from the petals of the flower. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is used to improve circulation, reduce menstrual pain and may have some heart benefits.

A recent medical study, competed this year at Catholic University of Daegu, Korea, found safflower tea may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. This was a good study. It was randomized and used a placebo. Forty postmenopausal women took either safflower seed granule tea or a placebo for six months. After six months, the placebo group had a significantly lower bone mineral density and osteocalcin levels (blood marker for bone formation).

Those in the safflower tea group had no reduction in either bone mineral density or octeocalin levels. What in safflower prevents bone loss has not been defined and further research needs to be done. However, this early research is promising.

The best treatment of osteoporosis is prevention. We know that weight-bearing exercise, good nutrition, stress reduction and vitamin D are necessary. The results from this study suggest that good nutrition may include a daily cup of safflower tea.

Patrick B. Massey, M.D., Ph.D is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers Hospital Network.