The Little-Known Link Between Bone Health and Total HealthAugust 2011
By Ron Perez
While calcium and vitamin D have been considered the mainstays of bone nutrition and osteoporosis prevention, several other minerals are also essential to good bone health.51,52 Magnesium is an element that is involved in more than 300 essential metabolic reactions. Magnesium is also vital to human nerve and muscle cell function. Fully one-half to two-thirds of the total body content of magnesium is stored in bone—another example of the skeleton’s substantial role as reservoir for important minerals.53,54 While blood levels of magnesium remain virtually constant throughout life, the total body content diminishes with aging, leading to depletion of the skeletal stores.55 Magnesium deficiency is therefore common among older adults, who typically consume inadequate amounts of magnesium-rich foods and whose physiology may contribute to increased losses of the element from the body.55
Magnesium deficiency is a risk factor for osteoporosis and is also associated with a long list of other chronic ailments, many of which are themselves age-related. These include virtually all forms of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and diabetes, lipid disturbances, increased inflammation and oxidative stress, asthma, chronic fatigue, and depression.55
Plentiful consumption of magnesium is an important part of good bone nutrition. Higher dietary intakes are associated with higher bone mineral density.53,54,56,57 While the mechanisms of this effect are not entirely clear, it is known that magnesium supports a more alkaline environment in bone and other tissues, which helps to reduce calcium losses in the urine.51,56 Magnesium also reduces markers of excessive bone turnover, helping bones retain their vital mineral mass.58
Increasing magnesium intake improves bone mineral density and bone strength in both animal and human studies.57,59 Conversely, magnesium deficiency may impair the beneficial effects of calcium supplements. In magnesium-deficient rats, calcium supplements suppressed bone formation, a worrisome finding.60 That study serves as an important reminder of the importance of comprehensive bone nutrition that includes more than simply calcium and vitamin D.51 Simultaneously increasing calcium and magnesium intake helps promote a favorable change in cytokines that can promote bone formation.61
Potassium is one of the predominant ions in the human body, and it is essential to maintaining health at the cellular level. Even apparently minor potassium disturbances can produce significant cardiovascular disorders. Americans consume an average of only 2,600 mg of potassium daily, compared with the 4,700 mg recommended by the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.62 Older adults are at substantially increased risk for having low potassium levels, in part because of lower dietary consumption of potassium-rich fruits and vegetables and also because of the side effects of many common medications such as certain diuretics like furosemide, thiazides such as hydrochlorothiazide, asthma medications such as albuterol inhalers, and the cancer chemotherapy drug cisplatin.63,64
Potassium helps maintain a more alkaline or non-acidic tissue environment, which benefits bone health by reducing calcium losses in urine. People with higher potassium intake boast higher bone mineral density, reducing their risk of osteoporosis and potentially life-changing fractures.56,65 Animal studies show that increasing potassium intake in combination with exercise improves both bone density and bone mineral content.66 A modest amount of potassium, therefore, is a wise addition to a bone-health regimen.
Boron is a trace mineral that is essential to healthy bones since it supports the functions of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D.79-82 In a revealing study, postmenopausal women consumed a boron-deficient diet for 17 weeks, followed by 7 weeks of boron consumption. While on the boron-deficient diet, the women showed increased urinary loss of calcium and magnesium. When boron was re-introduced to their diet, urinary loss of calcium and magnesium declined, and hormones linked with healthy bone mass increased. These findings suggest that boron is crucial in helping maintain the body’s optimal stores of bone-building calcium and magnesium.81
Modern eating habits make it difficult to obtain adequate amounts of boron from the typical diet. Scientists have discovered a plant-based form of boron called calcium fructoborate. Naturally found in fruits, vegetables, and other foods, this form of boron is highly stable and bioavailable and may provide antioxidant capabilities in addition to bone-building benefits.83,84
If current health trends continue, nearly half of all Americans over 50 will suffer from osteoporosis by the year 2020. Osteoporosis is just one of the consequences of inadequate bone nutrition. New research reveals that weak bones contribute to increased fat mass, decreased insulin sensitivity, inflammation, and greater risk of cardiovascular disease, among other conditions. While most maturing individuals know they need calcium for healthy bones, many remain unenlightened of the critical need for vitamin D3, vitamin K, magnesium, potassium, and boron.
As a result, nearly half of older Americans do not get enough bone health-promoting nutrients.
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