Attention to bone health typically centers around the elderly (those in their 80s), whose population is expected to more than triple, to above 20 million, by 2050. Then there are the baby boomers, that 80-million strong contingent that will enter its 70s next year.
But as anyone over 40 who got up after a few hours in a chair can tell you, the aches and pains of bones and joints don’t wait for the AARP card to arrive in the mail. In fact, 45-64 year olds now make up nearly a third of the U.S. population, coming close to the 100 million mark.
Nothing’s changed about the importance of calcium and vitamin D to maintaining one’s skeleton. According to numerous reports over the years, the U.S. population is woefully deficient in vitamin D, with estimates as high as three-quarters of Americans lacking sufficient D to meet even the minimum daily needs. It should be stressed that these minimum requirements are what is necessary to prevent disease, primarily the disease rickets. Health and nutrition experts, recognizing this, recommend adults get upwards of 1,200 IUs of vitamin D daily.
Calcium, too, has been in short supply in American diets, affecting about the same number as vitamin D deficiency. As with D, calcium performs other vital functions in the body, such as regulating muscle contraction, heart rhythm and neurotransmissions. It’s so important that in order to get sufficient amounts of this mineral to run the physical machine, the body will fill the need when necessary by drawing on its bank: the skeleton. The combination of reduced outside activities that allow the body to make its own vitamin D from sunshine coupled with a decline in consumption of milk are primary causes of these deficiencies.
For processors, challenges have been in providing these ingredients in forms other than dairy and other animal sources. The discovery that mushrooms can be a significant non-animal source of vitamin D has opened a number of options for processors. So, too, vitamin D derived from UV-treated bakers’ yeast. This latter source has proven excellent for baking applications. Yeast also can be used to enhance savory flavors and provide some of the umami meatiness to vegetarian products.
Vitamin D from the former source recently was enhanced when it was shown UV light boosts mushroom D sufficiently to provide 100 percent of the daily requirement in about 3 oz. This means that in savory products, D-enlightened mushrooms as dried, powdered or fresh ingredients can bring more of the critical hormone-like vitamin into the diet. Mushrooms also are high in copper, another important bone health mineral.
As mentioned, however, bone health means more than calcium and vitamin D. Among minerals, magnesium is another nutrient Americans are not getting enough of and is sometimes drawn out of skeletal stores. Magnesium is essential to hardening bones, plus it functions as a “bridge” between vitamin D and calcium, converting D to its active form and also activating the enzyme that allows the body to manufacture new calcium crystals. Other minerals necessary for bone health are potassium, as well as manganese zinc and the aforementioned copper.
Vitamins other than D have gained notice for their role in bone health. Among these, research shows that low vitamin B status correlates with increased risk of osteoporosis. Yet the most significant research into vitamins and bone health reveals that vitamin K, specifically in the K2 menaquinone-7 (MK7) form, is indispensable for the activation of the protein osteocalcin that osteoblasts -- bone-building cells -- use to bind calcium to the network of cells that makes up bone. In other words, without vitamin K, the body can’t adequately make the calcium “cement” needed to build up bone.
Focusing on the nutritional needs for bone health beyond -- but not excluding -- calcium and vitamin D will allow processors to develop the next generation of bone health foods and beverages. Considering how fast that next generation is aging, any new bone-boosting products will be arriving not a moment too soon.