In her 60s, Elly Laser fell down a few steps and broke her ankle badly. Surgery to insert a metal plate and screws—and three months in a wheelchair—got her back to her psychotherapy business, with one condition: She needed treatment for osteoporosis.
Laser tried the standard regimen, oral biphosphates, but couldn’t tolerate them. A yearly infusion of the medicine was prescribed, but Laser couldn’t fathom injecting a biphosphate into her body; she also was spooked after a friend suffered a fracture while taking the drug.
Worldwide, 1 person in 10 suffers severe bone loss, or osteoporosis; most are postmenopausal women. Those numbers are rising as the population ages. At the same time, though, biphosphate treatments fell 50 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. Here’s why: Biphosphates maintain bone density, but some side effects, while rare, are gruesome, including simultaneous femur fractures and disintegration of the jaw.
An alternative healer who uses hypnosis, Laser asked around for a nondrug osteoporosis treatment. Serendipitously, she found care near her Streeterville neighborhood at Ascend CHC’s biodensity clinic on North Michigan Avenue. There Laser is guided in the use of an osteogenic loading machine, which exerts force as great as nine times body weight to stimulate bone growth. Patients push against the machine but don’t break a sweat, and the treatment is only once a week for 10 minutes.
Use of the machine at Ascend is sold in packages of three months ($900) and six months ($1,450). The treatments are not covered by insurance because they’re considered exercise. Thirty people come to Ascend for osteoporosis care; others who use the machine include athletes who overtrain or whose sport is not weight-bearing, people who have experienced sudden weight loss and anorexics. (Ascend also has biodensity sites in Northbrook and Urbana.)
The biodensity machine is a local invention. Alarmed by his mother’s osteoporosis, John Jaquish, 39, a Northbrook biomedical engineer, designed it in 2007 using Wolff’s law, which posits that bone can be regrown through specific force. After his mother’s condition improved, Jaquish patented the device. The machine is manufactured by Performance Health Systems in Northbrook, a maker of high-tech health-care products, which has sold more than 200 worldwide.
Buyers of the $44,500 device include health clubs, chiropractors and wellness centers, says CEO Lee Hillman. The company has $10 million in annual sales, employs 20 and also manufactures Power Plate, a whole-body vibration system.
So does osteogenic loading work? Ascend CEO Jason Conviser is so convinced of its worth he offers a money-back guarantee after one year. But he adds: “There’s no supercharging or short cuts. And you still have to ride a bike, go to Pilates, eat right.”
It’s also not a cure-all: Laser’s bones won’t go back to normal. But she says that after seven months of treatment, scans show her condition has moved from osteoporosis, which could kill her, to osteopenia, which she can live with and even go tango dancing.
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