Down to the Bone
What happens when osteoporosis strikes? A better question for most of us is, how do we prevent it? Most physicians will tell us that a diet that supports our bone structure over the long term is our best defense. Turns out that boron is an essential part of that bone-healthy diet.
Bones: A Living Structure
Healthy bone is immensely strong for its size and weight. It's made of mineralized calcium bound up in an organic matrix. Despite its hardness, bone is a living tissue—as anyone who has broken one will testify.
Throughout life, cells called osteoblasts in our bones continually generate bone tissue; and other cells, osteoclasts, reabsorb bone in response to mechanical stress and physiological demands. Our bones are far from being as biochemically stable as they seem.
The problem comes later in life, when factors controlling our bone maintenance equilibrium go awry and loss overtakes replenishment. By the age of 70, a woman will probably have lost a third of bone mass; by 80, as much as 40%.
Dietary Support for Bone Growth: Make Boron Part of Your Day
Principal among these factors are diet, the intake of vitamin D, and the reduction of estrogen after menopause. Both estrogen and vitamin D are vital to the generation of bone. Estrogen helps in the transfer of calcium and other important trace bone minerals like magnesium and phosphorus from the bone's blood supply. Vitamin D enables the body to absorb calcium from food and the convert it to hard mineral in the bone.
So, where does boron come in? Experimental evidence shows that estrogen and vitamin D functions are profoundly influenced by tiny amounts of boron—and don't work properly without it. Studies have shown that if there is enough boron in the diet of post-menopausal women, their reduced estrogen activity can to some extent be taken over by boron. Boron also appears to enhance the benefits of hormone replacement therapy. In addition, evidence indicates that boron is responsible for converting vitamin D to its “active” form, which is essential for bone maintenance.
Major sources of boron for humans are fruits, vegetables, coffee, wine, breads, and cereals—or most foods that derive from plants. Boron has long been known to be essential for plant life, and there is growing evidence that this may be true for us, as well.
Current research points to boron's being the equivalent of a biochemical helper in bone health, rather than a front-line soldier. But scientists also cite evidence that boron somehow prevents calcium from being excreted, plays a part in the correct balance of other minerals, and helps the body to avoid osteoporosis in the first place. It certainly seems to be central to the biochemical equation.
Boron's Support Goes Deeper
Boron may also have a role in another debilitating bone condition: arthritis. Arthritis is almost unknown in Israel, where levels of boron in the soil—and therefore in foods—are high. In Jamaica, however, it's the reverse situation; boron levels are low and arthritis rates are correspondingly high. The theory that boron may have a role in the prevention or modification of arthritis is supported by research done with arthritis-susceptible rats by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. From this research, USDA scientists hypothesize that boron may modulate the immune system and protect against inflammatory disease. However, much work must be done before scientists can say that boron can help reduce the human suffering caused by arthritis.
Until the final results come in, the best approach to building strong bones and reducing arthritis is to eat a healthy diet, rich in plant-based (and boron-rich) foods—a piece of medical advice that has never gone out of style.