Boron Builds Bone Health

In the not too distant future, nutrition experts may tell us to include boron-rich foods in our diet. This largely ignored element is being studied more intently at present, as it seems to play a key role in coordinating other nutrients involved in bone health.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D.

Few of us give any thought to boron as a potentially indispensable nutrient. But that’s what’s being reviewed by researchers as I write. Should the mineral be considered an essential nutrient in animal and human nutrition? While the answer is not official yet, it may be that in the not too distant future, nutrition experts will tell us to include boron-rich foods in our diet.

A unique trace mineral, boron holds place number five in the periodic table of elements, possessing characteristics of both metals and non metals. A small molecule, it has the ability for form complexes with many organic compounds, such as carbohydrates, vitamins, enzymes and nucleotides, as well as oxygen, which puts boron in position to influence many biological systems. Ongoing studies are investigating the effects of boron on the health of the skeleton, the immune system — even brain function.

In humans, the highest concentration of boron is found in the bones of healthy individuals, indicating one of boron’s potential benefits, the ability to protect us from osteoporosis. The role boron plays may be one of coordinating the major nutrients involved in bone health: vitamin D, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.

Many of the studies on boron have been done on chickens and rats, where low boron intake is associated with abnormal bone growth and development. In humans, taking boron if you are already healthy and athletic doesn’t seem to make any difference in bone density.

However, the real benefit of boron appears to be that it lessens the effect of deficiencies in both vitamin D and magnesium. Adequate boron intake decreases the amount of calcium and magnesium lost in urine. Studies of postmenopausal women have shown this same decrease in urinary excretion of calcium and magnesium, an effect similar to that of estrogen. Thus, a diet low in boron may exacerbate deficiencies in both vitamin D and magnesium or any condition in which these minerals are lost in urine.

The amount of boron in the diet depends on the amount available in the soil and water. In areas where boron in the water and soil is high, rates of arthritis appear to be low. Not surprisingly, the bones of patients affected with arthritis show a much lower level of boron than healthy bones. Some studies indicate boron may help to protect against arthritis, or at least slow its progress by affecting the immune system’s joint-damaging inflammatory response. Exactly how this happens is still unknown.

Boron seems to be everywhere, positively influencing motor skills, learning and memory, while enhancing our own antioxidant defenses, reducing the reactive oxygen we generate during the course of converting food to energy. Boron also may potentially modify the insulin response to what we eat, aid the immune system and even potentially reduce risk for autoimmune diseases.

Why has a nutrient with such vast influence escaped the limelight? It’s probably because boron doesn’t have much of an ego problem, doing its work subtly and silently, enhancing the effect of a variety of other nutrients, or working at the cell membrane aiding communications, entrances and exits of seemingly bigger players. And while as yet no clearly defined mechanism of boron action has emerged, that’s no reason we can’t take advantage of its myriad health benefits.

The typical American diet provides about 1 mg of boron per day, a median amount that can vary greatly with diet. Many studies that have shown therapeutic or preventative effects of boron used about 3 mg per day. So, do you need to rush out to buy the latest boron supplement? Not at all. Meeting healthy levels of boron in the diet is considerably easier than that. The trouble is, the foods that have become our staples are not very good sources.

Boron is widely distributed in fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. It’s found to a much lesser extent in animal foods and most grains. Thus, a diet that emphasizes meats, eggs, milk and bread at the expense of fruits and vegetables is highly unbalanced with respect to this potentially essential nutrient.

A radical low-carb diet could be barren with respect to boron, unless you were careful to enrich it with greens and legumes. If you’re avoiding fruits, especially dried fruits because of their carbohydrate content, then you are missing out on a potentially dynamite source of nutrition. If the diet is extremely low in fat, you’d be excluding the boron benefits of nuts.

Some of the richest sources of boron are in dried fruits such as raisins, prunes and nuts. These foods have nearly a full day's supply in just one serving. The good news is the other health benefits of these foods have driven processors of healthful foods to include more of them in their products. But some savvy crafters of wellness foods are aware of boron’s benefits and starting to add the versatile mineral to their foods.

The more we learn about subtleties of nutrition, the more we can see the real beauty in balance.

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