By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
A funny thing happened one day while scientists were studying patterns of arthritis around the world.
Areas around the world in which people consumed low levels of boron had extremely high levels of osteoarthritis, between 20% and 70% of the people had arthritis.
In contrast, areas in which levels of boron were high experienced extremely low levels of arthritis --- from 0% to 10% of people had arthritis.
Is this a coincidence? Are these numbers accurate or based in reality? Can boron actually lower rates of arthritis? And if it can, how much boron do you need to consume each day to reduce arthritis?
What Is Boron?
Boron is a trace mineral, one of several trace minerals such as copper, zinc and iron which exist in our food supply. Boron is found in fruits, vegetables, nuts and pulses such as [lentils] and beans.
The US Centers for Disease Control estimates that we consume about 1 mg of boron per day on average.
Over the years, the Us Department of Agriculture has conducted many studies on boron and how it affects human health. In one study conducted in 1987 at the United States Department of Agriculture, Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center in North Dakota, scientists discovered that boron can elevate the amount of magnesium and calcium that your body can absorb.
The scientists tested 12 post-menopausal women between the ages of 48 and 82 years old. The women whose diets had been low on boron --- meaning they got about 0.25 mg of boron a day from their diets --- were given boron supplements of 3 mg per day.
Boron supplementation increased the amount of calcium and magnesium absorbed by the body. Boron also elevated the amounts of estrogen and testosterone in the post-menopausal women towards normal pre-menopausal levels.
Boron restored the minerals missing from bones in women with osteoporosis. Scientists measure the amount of a mineral that is "loss" after you eat a food containing that mineral by simply measuring how much shows up in your urine.
With the boron supplementation, the amount of calcium loss was reduced by 44%.
Boron Can Help You Keep Your Teeth
The ridge of bone that contains you tooth sockets and which "hold" your teeth is called the alveolar ridge. You have alveolar on your maxillae and your mandible, which are your upper and lower jaw bones.
Several studies on rats which were boron-deficient found that the alveolar bone was inadequate. The lab rats with boron-adequate diets, on the other hand, experienced bone generation.
Boron is necessary for "osteogenesis", the growth of bone. It is also necessary for normal bone healing. Live bone contains cells called "osteoblasts", cells that secrete the matrix for bone formation. Dead bone or "quiescent" bone has no osteoblasts.
Scientists have found that boron increases the amount of live, active osteoblasts relative to the amount of quiescent bone.
Boron accomplishes this feat, scientists believe, by modifying the genetic triggers which regulate the absorption of Vitamin D, calcium and magnesium.
In people who are deficient in Vitamin D, boron supplementation can boost Vitamin D levels dramatically.
In a 2009 study from the University of Craiova in Romania, scientists gave 6 mg/d of boron to men during the dead of the sun-deprived winter for 60 days. At the end of the 60 days, blood levels of Vitamin D increased by 20%.
This increase is pretty remarkable, given the fact that the study started in October during the dark winters of Serbia and ended in January, a period when we would have expected Vitamin D levels to plummet sharply.
The type of boron given to the men was " calcium fructoborate", which is a compound that occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables.
The result of the increase in calcium, magnesium and estrogen was the strengthening of bone mass.
Boron -- the Enemy of Arthritis
Now, back to that study of the patterns of arthritis. In areas with diets low in boron, the rates of osteoarthritis were as much as 7 times the levels of osteoarthritis found in areas where the diets were rich in boron.
The numbers cited were from a 1997 study on the link between boron and arthritis conducted by Rex Newnhan, a soil scientist from Perth in Western Australia.
Newman reported that Jamaica, the area of the world with the lowest boron levels, had the highest arthritis rates --- 70% of the adult population had arthritis, he found. The area with the highest levels of boron was Ngawha Island in New Zealand. It has boron levels over 10 mg per day and an arthritis does not exist there. Other low arthritis areas include the coast of Israel ( boron over 10 mg per day, arthritis rate under 1% (0.7%)) and Carnarvon, Australia, where the boron levels are between 6mg and 10 mg per day and the arthritis levels are 1%.
These numbers have been cited and re-cited by wellness experts around the internet without further investigation.
We decided to reality-check the numbers to see if they were corroborated by other, university or hospital studies.
We found a 2003 study on the prevalence of arthritis sponsored by the World Health Organization and led by Dr. Anthony Woolf, a Professor of Rheumatology at the Peninsula Medical School and with credentials at the Royal Cornwall Hospital. This study found that in general osteoarthritis occurs more frequently in Europe and in the United States than in other parts of the world. Hip osteoarthritis occurs more frequently in Europeans than in Jamaican Africans, Africans in Africa or Chinese.
There are no studies we could find to support the conclusion that 70% of the adult population of Jamaica has arthritis. In fact judging from the data collected by the World Health Organization, Jamaicans suffer less from arthritis than Europeans or Americans.
The bottom line is that there have been several, well-designed university or hospital studies which have demonstrate boron's positive effect on restoring bone health. However, to date, none have conclusively linked boron deficiency with osteoarthritis, which is a disease of the joints rather than the bones.
Is Boron Safe?
Boron is used in many chemical compounds and in industrial manufacturing. Borax is one such compound, used for cleaning.
But the type of boron found naturally in fruits and vegetables --- calcium fructoborate and supplements made from it --- have not been found to be dangerous at levels between 3 mg per day and 10 mg per day. Most of the studies which have used boron supplements considered blood levels of boron lower than 1 mg per day "low" and levels at 3 mg or above "high" or "optimal".
It's always better to try to obtain your nutrients from foods rather than from supplements. But sometimes you need a boost, especially if your bones are already in a weakened state as evidenced by osteoporosis or you're experiencing bone loss in your jaw and teeth sockets.
Look for established vitamin manufacturers if you are considering adding boron to your diet. And, as always, check with your doctor before taking this or any other supplement.