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
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.