Micronutrient supplements at least as effective as orthodox medicine for strengthening bone density

3 March 2016  |  Editor

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Bone strength seems to be a problem not just for those with osteoporosis but also for many with chronic conditions, ranging from asthma to cancer. A new study has shown that supplementing with a certain blend of nutrients is at least as effective as a major orthodox drug treatment in raising bone mass density, and works for some where orthodox medicine has failed.

The classic medication for lowered bone density is either a high dose calcium carbonate supplement together with vitamin D, or in more severe cases, bisphosphonate therapy. Both of these treatments have their pitfalls.

Calcium carbonate is an inorganic form of this mineral, which means that it is poorly absorbed and utilised in the body. Unfortunately most prescribed and high street calcium supplements use this form. Studies have suggested a link between calcium supplementation and heart disease, and the carbonate form of calcium usually taken may be the reason why. To begin with, calcium carbonate lowers stomach acid, reducing absorption of other important nutrients, and potentially contributing to inflammation at gut level by interfering with a cascade of digestive processes. Heart disease is considered by many to be a disease of chronic inflammation, and this inflammation may be seen to start in the gut.

Bisphosphonate therapy uses substances such as alendronate and risedronate to help reduce the incidence of bone fracture when bones are weak. They are usually prescribed together with calcium carbonate and vitamin D, and may take many months to have a beneficial effect. Possible side effects include heartburn, difficulty swallowing, nausea, indigestion, mild inflammation of the stomach and/or oesophagus, joint and/or muscle pain. Occasionally more severe inflammation and narrowing of the oesophagus may occur, and/or oesophageal ulcers. In rare cases the jaw bone can start to weaken and die.

So it is reassuring to hear that scientists have been seeking an alternative treatment to bisphosphonates, and that they have met with success.

The researchers gave subjects with normal bone density readings, osteopaenia (slightly lowered bone density) and osteoporosis (pronounced bone density loss) a mixture of vitamin D3, vitamin K2, strontium, magnesium and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Strontium and magnesium are important components of bone matrix, while vitamin D, vitamin K2 and magnesium are helpful with calcium placement. Various studies have also linked omega 3 essential fatty acids such as DHA to bone strength.

Note that calcium supplements were not necessary here – most people have adequate calcium in their diet, but the calcium may be drawn from the bones into the cells to help resolves problems of excess acidity. This over-acidity may be caused by poor diet, pollution, trauma or stress. So the researchers were wise to focus on nutrients that help with calcium placement and general remineralisation instead.

The exciting conclusion was that micronutrient therapy is at least as effective as bisphosphonate therapy. In fact some who had tried bisphosphonate therapy and found it to be unhelpful, gained positive results with the food supplement approach in this study.

It is with increasing satisfaction that we are able to report studies that compare orthodox medication with a nutritional approach, and find that food supplements are just as effective, but without the side effects.

Scientists are now turning their attention to preventing stress fractures in elite athletes, with a study designed to measure the effects of nutrient intake on bone density. "Being able to keep our elite athletes free of this type of injury, particularly in an important competition year, would be a significant achievement," said Nottingham Trent University researcher Dr Craig Sale.

He said: "Not having to miss several weeks' training due to an injury such as this could have a major impact in the UK's future sporting success. Improving long-term bone health to reduce the risk of injury and speed up recovery is essential."