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Jan 9, 2012

Osteoporosis: More than Just a Lack of Calcium

The human body is a complex and multifaceted organism, composed of elaborate and integrated systems that must work together for optimal functioning.  Just like the rest of the body, bone is a living dynamic tissue made up of all sorts of components including cells, blood vessels, nerves, and mineral deposits.  Bone is not just some hard, dry, lifeless material that can be taken for granted!

For many years now, views from the mainstream media and conventional medicine have over-emphasized the role of calcium in bone health while underestimating the importance of other vital components and functions of bone.  It turns out there’s a lot more to bone health than just taking your daily calcium.  Other minerals and nutrients, some of which include magnesium, manganese, boron, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin D, vitamin K, and protein, are absolutely necessary to building and maintaining strong healthy bones.    

A new theory, set into motion by researchers from the University of Castilla-La Mancha (UCLM) in Spain, suggests that one cause of osteoporosis may be due to a lack of manganese.  After studying deer antlers for some time, researchers suspect that poor mineral status, particularly manganese, may contribute to poor absorption of calcium.  The new theory has been published in the latest journal issue of the Frontiers of Bioscience. 

Tom├ís Landete, one of the researchers looking into antler studies, stated the importance of manganese in calcium absorption.  “Our hypothesis is that when the human body absorbs less manganese or when it is sent from the skeleton to other organs that require it, such as the brain, the calcium that is extracted at the same time is then not properly absorbed and is excreted in the urine.  It is in this way that osteoporosis can slowly strike.”

Researchers became particularly interested  in this theory after seeing  an alarming increase in antler breakages in Spain during 2005.  Analysis of these antlers revealed weakening of the tissues due to depletion of manganese.  In 2005, an intensely cold and stressful winter had caused plants to lower their manganese concentrations, which in turn led to a depletion of manganese in the deers’ diet.  "The lack of manganese was almost as if the 'glue' that sticks calcium to antlers bones was missing."
According to views expressed by experienced medical practitioners as well as the researchers involved in this study, an important correlation between bone health and brain health seems to exist in humans.  The researchers point out that when manganese becomes limited after the onset of osteoporosis, conditions affecting the brain can develop, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia.  One study supporting this connection looked at data from 113 patients who underwent operation due to osteoporosis and osteoarthritis between 2008 and 2009 at Hellin Hospital in Spain.  About 40% of those undergoing operation for osteoporosis experienced some kind of cerebral dysfunction compared with none of the 68 people operated on for osteoarthritis.  Findings of the study also showed that the percentage of those affected by cerebral degeneration increased along with age, but only in those patients known to have osteoporosis. 

Another interesting connection between bone and brain health has been pointed out by Landete.  Within rat studies, when severity of Alzheimer’s disease induced by intoxication with aluminum increases, manganese levels in bones goes down.  

The researchers will continue collecting and studying human bones to help solidify evidence confirming the relationship between manganese status, bone and brain health.  For now, it seems reasonable to acknowledge that manganese plays an essential role in keeping our bodies, particularly our bones and brains, functioning well.  

As exciting as research like this is, it’s important to keep in mind that when it comes to health, there usually is no one nutrient, mineral, or therapy that will tend to create balance from dysfunction.  Rather, optimal health requires an orchestra of players working together in harmony.  It is up to us to discover not only the individual players in the orchestra (i.e. observe the importance of calcium or manganese or some other essential mineral being present), but also to listen to music the orchestra plays.  That way we will better understand not just who the players are, but how the players work together to create their masterpiece.     

Shana McQueen, N.D.