With an aging population and a continuing decline in milk consumption, bone health is becoming a critical issue for Americans. Women in particular are worried by osteoporosis, and men should worry, too, if they want to remain active late in life, or at least walk the golf course.
No recent research has unseated the long-held trinity for bone health: adequate calcium consumption plus vitamin D and phosphate to help the body metabolize that calcium. (And don't forget some weight-bearing physical activity to optimize bone mass.)
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in January, raised the red flag a little higher than in the past over inadequate consumption of the big three. The guidelines called calcium, vitamin D and phosphate "nutrients of concern in American diets." Many processors already are responding with reformulations to address those deficiencies.
By the age of 20, the average woman has acquired most of her peak bone mass. With an average diet, she can maintain that for years, but a large decline in bone mass occurs in older adults, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. For women this occurs around the time of menopause.
So it is important for young girls to reach their peak bone mass in order to maintain bone health throughout life. That's a goal of the current "Got Milk?" advertising campaign. A person with high bone mass as a young adult will be more likely to have a higher bone mass later in life. Inadequate calcium consumption and physical activity early on could result in a failure to achieve peak bone mass in adulthood.
Osteoporosis occurs when the bones become porous; they lose mass. Throughout life there is a constant removal of calcium from the bones for other body functions, but there's also constant replacement of that bone mass, at least when there is sufficient dietary intake of calcium, vitamin D and phosphate.
Osteoporosis leads to an increase risk of bone fractures typically in the wrist, hip, and spine.
While both sexes and all ethnicities can develop osteoporosis, Caucasian women, especially after menopause, are particularly at risk.
Good sources of calcium, as identified by USDA, include dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts (especially almonds) and calcium-fortified foods. Some of the most often fortified food products include orange juice, cereal, bread, soy beverages and tofu products.
A rising star on a number of fronts is the previously overlooked vitamin K. A number of studies, including a 2008 Dutch one, indicate a link between vitamin K and improvement of bone mass, particularly among children. Some forms of vitamin K are synthesized in the human gut, while others can be acquired from green, leafy vegetables and some fruits such as kiwifruit or avocado.
The best source of natural vitamin K2 is the traditional Japanese food natto, which contains significant amounts of natural vitamin K2 as menaquinone-7 (Mk-7). PL Thomas & Co. (www.plthomas.com), Morristown, N.J., in 2008 began marketing a natural vitamin K2 (menaquinone-7) as MenaQ7, an extract of natto, available as an oil or powder for food enrichment.
Another key to calcium absorption and bone health is boron. VDF FutureCeuticals Inc. (www.futureceuticals.com), Momence, Ill., in 2005 introduced FruiteX-B, a calcium fructoborate supplement. Found in apricots, raisins, almonds, hazelnuts and avocados, calcium fructoborate is a highly bio-available form of boron. VDF says it's been proven to reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis and improving general bone health. It is a white, slightly sweet, odorless soluble white powder that can be used in meal replacements and bars and beverages.
Soy also claims a role. But for those afraid of soy's possible negative effects, DSM Nutritional Products offers GeniVida, a soy-free genistein with self-affirmed GRAS status for use in food and beverage applications intended for mature men and women. According to the company, Genistein is associated with bone and prostrate health benefits for mature men.
Lycopene is another ingredient with bone and prostate health connections. Israel's LycoRed Ltd. latched onto results of a USDA-funded study investigating the role of carotenoids and tomato lycopene in preventing osteoporosis. A January 2009 report on research from Tufts University, Hebrew SeniorLife and Boston University followed subjects that had participated in the Framingham Osteoporosis Study 15 years earlier. The subjects, 370 men and 576 women, completed a food frequency questionnaire in 1988-89 and were followed for hip fracture until 2005 and for non-vertebral fracture until 2003. Subjects with higher lycopene intake had lower risk of both hip fracture and non-vertebral fracture, leading the researchers to believe that lycopene may be protective against fractures in this population of elderly Caucasian men and women.
Consider magnesium, too. Researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine took a selection of Caucasian girls aged 8-14 and daily gave them either a 300mg supplement of magnesium oxide or a placebo. Researchers found the girls who were given the magnesium had significant increases in body mineral content in some bones.
And maybe we all just need a drink. An Australian study recently published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found red wine contributes to stronger bone health in older men. The researchers found links between improved bone mineral density (BMD) and red wine consumption in men aged 50 to 80.