Bone up on your Bone Knowledge
Most people know that bone is made of minerals, like calcium. But despite well-intentioned folks taking huge calcium pills daily, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will have an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime. Fractures from osteoporosis are more common than heart attacks, strokes and breast cancer, combined! We clearly have not given our bones everything they need. In some cases, a terrible diet is to blame. But how many of us really understand what our bones need? With that in mind, here are some things you need to know about your bones, collagen, and mineralization.
Bone is a living, specialized type of connective tissue. It consists of specialized cells, connective tissue fibers and fine substances including minerals. Some people think there is not much an adult can do about the state of their bones, but that is not true! Unlike some other connective tissues, such as ligaments or cartilage, bone is good at healing, repairing and rebuilding because it is highly cellular and vascular; its dense concentration of cells are well fed with fresh blood bringing them nutrients. Bone is on the receiving end of about 10% of our cardiac output and can therefore benefit very quickly from nutrients that we consume and which are absorbed into circulation.
Also, unlike other connective tissues, bone has substantial strength and rigidity because its extracellular components are mineralized. Mineralization refers to the incorporation of minerals into structures. That is a key factor in bone growth and sustaining strong bones. Bone has a huge capacity for remodeling. When we mineralize, we are layering minerals over a frame of bone called the bone matrix, which is built of collagen. We are capable of improving both our bone matrix and the hardness, density and quality of the mineralization on top.
If you have calcium in your blood, there is a chance it will mineralize your bone. However, there is a lot more to it. Other minerals, such as silicon, are important for building bone as well. Silicon is required not just for assisting calcium with the mineralization process, but because the other components, such as the collagen in the bone matrix, also require silicon for production. Collagen is our main structural protein and is essential for building strong connective tissues – taut skin, shiny hair and hard nails outside, and many tissues and organs inside our bodies, like our tendons, ligaments, bones, teeth, blood vessels, eyes, and spinal column.
The main confusion with collagen is that many people do not know that it is something the body makes and that there is no work-around for that process. Collagen from animals can also be something you eat or consume as a supplement, but just as muscle (meat) that you eat doesn’t just install itself in your body as muscle, collagen that you eat doesn’t just install itself inside you as collagen. Collagen supplements, like any other protein source, are broken down into amino acids and then used for building structures in the body.
It is essential to optimize our collagen production processes and mineralization in order to have a pain free body and healthy bones. These two processes require and are completely dependent on the right balance of nutrients. Osteoporosis, for example, is widely considered to be a state of micronutrient deficiency. Flora has a new Bone Health+ formula in the US (coming soon to Canada) and there is a lot of good stuff in it, because a calcium tablet won’t be enough to save your bones. Therefore, what nutrients support healthy bone mineralization and the formation of healthy collagen?
Bone Mineralization and the Formation of Healthy Collagen
Protein, with its content of phosphorus and certain amino acids, is necessary for both processes. Silicon is a mineral that’s key to making the collagen bone matrix. Calcium is a major mineral component of bone, and vitamin K helps to ensure that calcium is directed properly into the bones and does not end up elsewhere. Magnesium is another main component of bone mineralization. Other bone protective factors include vitamin D, omega essential fatty acids, potassium, a healthy microbiome, vitamin A and most B vitamins, and traces of many other minerals like iron, sodium, iodine, boron, sulfur, strontium, manganese, and zinc.
Let’s Get More Specific: Nutrients and Why You Need Them
Vitamin D3 helps guide calcium into the bones. It is found in oily fish, egg yolks, liver, and sunshine, and recently, vegan supplements have sourced D3 from lichen. Calcium and phosphorus create hydroxyapatite, the major component of bone. Silicon is a constituent of the enzyme prolylhydrolase, which helps the body produce collagen and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). These polysaccharides are essential building blocks of healthy bone. They attract water, sugar, and protein to make connective tissue, cartilage, tendons, and to lubricate joints as synovial fluid.
The need for magnesium is multifold. Magnesium regulates calcium’s entry into cells and activates the forming of calcium crystals in bone. Because magnesium suppresses parathyroid hormone and stimulates calcitonin, it helps deposit calcium into our bones and decreases bone turnover. Being low in magnesium means that bone may break down faster than if you were adequate in magnesium, so eat plenty of dark leafy greens and other sources of this mineral daily!
Vitamin K2 can prevent stunting of growth in those whose bones are growing and can help activate deposition of calcium into bone. MK-7 is a specific subtype of K2 that is critical for bones. It ensures that calcium stays out of the soft tissues in the body, like muscle and arterial walls, preventing plaque and arthritis. Vitamin K2 in the MK-7 form lasts longer in the body and has an easier time reaching out-of-the-way corners of the body than the MK-4 type. Unfortunately, this special type of K is rare in our diets. It is found in natto, liver, eel, sauerkraut and cheeses like gouda and muenster.
Protein is important as a source of phosphorus and of the main amino acids needed for collagen formation. These are the cyclic aliphatic amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. The richest food sources of these amino acids include connective tissues (the bones and cartilages) of meat and fish, and broth made from these, such as bone broth made from knuckle bones. Other animal sources include supplemental collagen protein and gelatin (the cooked form of collagen) which are made from the above sources.
Antioxidant compounds are also beneficial to include in our diet for bone health. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps make and protect collagen. It prevents the inactivation of lysyl and prolyl hyroxylase, two key enzymes in collagen biosynthesis. Flavonoids like the OPCs from grape seed can recycle vitamin C and bond with collagen strands to strengthen and protect them. This protects them from degradation by elastase and collagenase (enzymes that break down collagen and elastin). This protection improves elasticity and resiliency, for bones that bend instead of breaking.
Luckily, antioxidants and the necessary amino acids are in many of the same foods. Vegetarian sources of the amino acid proline include cabbage, soy, asparagus, beans, cucumbers, watercress, peanuts and alfalfa sprouts, and sources of glycine include spirulina, soy, spinach, kale, beans, chives, buckwheat, cauliflower, pumpkin, banana, and kiwi fruit. Veg-friendly hydroxyproline is harder to find but can be found in carob and alfalfa sprouts.
There is a lot more to our structural integrity than bone though. Different varieties of collagen make up 70% of bone and also tissues like skin and many others, making producing healthy forms of collagen essential to their structure and function. Our fascia, and our most recently discovered human organ, the interstitium, are found everywhere through our bodies, and are made of networks of collagen fibres and bundles. When we make the wrong types of collagen we can form adhesions, or scar tissue. We need our body to produce healthy forms of collagen to prevent this.
To produce healthy collagen the important components are protein, silicon and vitamin C. Silicon can be found in Flora’s Florasil. Natural vitamin C is found in food or in Flora’s Acerola powder. What about collagen supplements? They contain the glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline amino acids needed to form collagen, but these are not exclusive to collagen protein; they’re available in other proteins. Collagen products must be broken down into amino acids and used as building blocks in the body just as any other form of protein can.
FloraSil has a very concentrated amount of plant-sourced silica with proven efficacy. It is made in Italy from French horsetail herb. Its special, patented, water-extraction method uses a small amount of natural, non-GMO European corn syrup to extract the silica. This adds zero net fructose or sugars and is much cleaner than using chemical solvents. The horsetail plant provides silicon in the bioavailable form of this mineral, orthosilicic acid, as well as over 30 trace minerals that are important for the integrity of your bones.
Bone is a living tissue adept at remodeling itself. We can protect ourselves from degenerative diseases of the musculoskeletal system if we support mineralization and collagen formation. A nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory, omega fatty acid rich diet optimizes this process. The main macronutrient needed is protein, and animal sources or mindfully chosen vegetarian sources can both work. Our best, strongest most flexible bones require an array of micronutrients like calcium, magnesium, silicon, vitamin D, vitamin K, antioxidants including vitamin C, and trace minerals, which all work together.
About the Author: Dana Remedios
Holistic Nutritionist Dana Green Remedios, RHN, RNCP has a passion for helping others break through their blocks to greater health, wealth, and happiness, working with transformational mind-body tools. The Vancouver-based educator and coach answers your questions in English, French, and Spanish as a Specialist working in the Product Information Department at Flora, and is a regular contributor to the FloraHealthy blog.