An aging populace should be good news for suppliers of bone-health ingredients. Osteoporosis (and Alzheimer's disease) stand head and shoulders above the rest in the rogue's gallery of health conditions that degrade quality of life in what should be one's golden years.
From a biochemical standpoint, three ingredients stand out here: Calcium and vitamins D and K. Bones are made of collagen, which provides the elastic framework, and calcium, which stiffens the structure. The skeleton also provides a repository for calcium — 99 percent of the body's calcium resides in the bones at any one time.
One calcium ingredient of note is eggshell calcium, which is said to avoid the digestive problems of other calcium sources.
Vitamin D has garnered a lot of press lately; the updated Dietary Guidelines are in the offing and many in industry and academia anticipate that the recommended level of the sunshine vitamin will rise significantly from its current level of 400IU/day. Will it provide a similar boost to that ingredient as fiber enjoyed after the last update of the guidelines in 2005? Our Magic 8-Ball says, "Yes."
But that uncertainty hasn't stopped researchers from delving into the link between vitamin D and mother-child HIV transmission, its role in cognitive health and its interaction with gut receptors, to mention just a few recent studies.
All of which make Gary Vannorsdel, president of AGD Nutrition, nervous about the potential for overselling the substance's benefits. "Vitamin C was the hot vitamin for years, then vitamin E. Now vitamin D is the hot vitamin and I think that people have a jaundiced eye," he said.
Nevertheless, vitamin D, which is not actually a vitamin but falls under the aegis of a prohormone, has a well-documented and crucial role in the movement of calcium into and out of the skeleton. Osteoporosis is difficult to diagnose in its early stages and difficult to treat in its latter, but more and more research is available to show that vitamin D supplementation in midlife can greatly slow the condition's advance, and that supplements taken early in life can lower the ultimate risk.
There is a vegan source of vitamin D2, which accounts for a tiny fraction of the market. But almost all of the rest comes from factories in China where cholesterol from wool grease is irradiated to produce the substance. Vannorsdel estimates that these factories have an overcapacity of as much as 150 percent, meaning they will likely be able to soak up any worldwide increase in demand without much of an increase in the price of this ingredient that's already inexpensive to begin with.
Vitamin K, a true fat-soluble vitamin, also plays a critical role in bone health. Like vitamin D, evidence exists for the prophylactic benefit of vitamin K in maintaining healthy bones. Long-term epidemiological studies have linked low levels of vitamin K to increased risk of fractures among patients suffering from osteoporosis. This was noted especially in postmenopausal women, but also in older men. And vitamin K supplementation in women with osteoporosis has generated blood markers associated with bone growth.
Vitamin K2, a natural ingredient derived from nattokinase, has a documented role in removing excess calcium from the arteries and moving it to the skeleton. This excess calcium has been associated with cardiovascular disease (arterial plaque is comprised mostly of calcium) and has been a dark cloud on the calcium supplementation horizon.
But that's not all
Along with this holy trinity come other ingredients jostling for a place in the bone-health pantheon. Among them is inulin, a prebiotic fiber derived from chicory roots or Jerusalem artichoke. A recent study by Kyung Hee University in Seoul, South Korea, showed two daily 4g servings of this ingredient, in this case Oliggo-Fiber from Cargill, may increase calcium uptake in postmenopausal women by as much as 42 percent.