: Osteo Advice: Collagen May be More Important Than Calcium
By Michael T. Murray, ND
Bones are made up of dynamic living tissue that requires a wide range of nutrients, not just minerals such as calcium, to maintain optimum health.
While minerals tend to get all of the attention when it comes to bones, decreased collagen content is also an important factor in osteoporosis and low bone density.
Collagen is to our bones what two-by-fours are to the frame of a house. It's the compound that provides the framework upon which mineralization occurs. As our collagen levels decline with age, this becomes a problem. Because if you don't have enough collagen, it doesn't matter how much calcium you take, the mineral won't be bound within the bone.
With that in mind, it's clear that we need to include strategies for improving the collagen matrix along with traditional mineral supplementation in any bone health regimen.
The Downside of Drugs
One problem with bisphosphonate drugs used to treat and prevent osteoporosis (e.g., Boniva, Fosamax, and Actonel) is that they don't improve bone quality. Sure, they can increase bone density. But because they don't address issues with the organic collagen matrix, they can actually make bones brittle.
High-quality bone is strong and resilient, much like bamboo. In contrast, bone that's pumped up on bisphosphonates is more like chalk—dense, but very brittle. People who are on bisphosphonates need to focus on improving their collagen matrixes to help fix the problems that these drugs produce. Increasing the collagen content of the bone leads to greater strength and flexibility, thereby increasing resistance to fractures.
To help improve the collagen matrix and promote bone health, the following key nutrients—along with 800—1,000 mg per day of calcium—are recommended:
- Silica: A highly bioavailable from of silica (ch-OSA or Choline Stabilized Orthosilicic Acid, the ingredient in BioSil) has shown impressive clinical results in improving bone health and bone mineral density. In a double-blind study of post-menopausal women with low bone density, BioSil was able to increase both the collagen content of bone (by 22 percent) and bone density (by 2 percent) within the first year of use. The recommended dosage is 6—10 mg per day.
- Vitamins K1 and K2 impact osteocalcin, a protein that anchors calcium molecules within the bone. Vitamin K is required to convert inactive osteocalcin to its active form, so a lack of it in the diet is a major risk factor for osteoporosis, even among those with a high calcium intake. The best food sources of vitamin K include spinach, swiss chard, kale, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and green beans. A typical supplement dosage for vitamin K is 100 mcg daily.
- Vitamins B6 and B12, and folic acid help convert the amino acid methionine to cysteine. Any deficiency in these vitamins can lead to an increase in homocysteine levels, which has been implicated in various conditions, including osteoporosis. When shopping for B vitamins, look for a formula that contains the methylcobalamin form of vitamin B12 for optimal absorption.
- Vitamin D3 supplementation is associated with increased bone density, and studies that combine vitamin D with calcium have produced considerably better results than either nutrient alone. Most experts recommend daily doses of at least 2,000 IU of D3.
- Magnesium. Research has shown that women with osteoporosis have lower bone magnesium content and other indicators of magnesium deficiency than those without osteoporosis. A dosage of 250—500 mg daily is generally recommended.
Dr. Michael T. Murray is one of the world's leading authorities on natural medicine and the author of more than 30 bestselling books, including The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.
He is a graduate and former faculty member, and serves on the Board of Regents, of Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington.
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