Bone and joint health: bank on it

By Michelle Knott

- Last updated on GMT

Bone mass: like a bank account you want to deposit as much as possible into
Bone mass: like a bank account you want to deposit as much as possible into

Related tags: Bone health, Osteoporosis, Calcium

Maintaining calcium levels while young is crucial in helping to prevent osteoporosis in later life.

Key points

As we get older, the threat of osteoporosis focuses the mind on maintaining healthy bones. But, in truth, it’s not something that should be put off until middle age, as the origins of the disease often lie in childhood.

“You build a certain amount of bone mass during childhood, puberty and adolescence, and you reach peak bone mass in your 30s. After that, you cannot accrue more,”​ explains Pernille Frederiksen, research scientist with Arla Foods Ingredients (AFI).

“Think of it like a bank account. You want to deposit as much into your savings as possible until you’re 30.”

Growing awareness of the importance of healthy bone status throughout life is, therefore, a key market driver for functional ingredients. Across a wide variety of markets, bone health ingredients present a growing opportunity that manufacturers would be wise to exploit.

The vital role of calcium (return to top)

One of the chief players in bone health is, of course, calcium, which is such an important, multifunctional nutrient that the body will try to maintain a healthy concentration in the bloodstream at all times. If you’re not getting enough calcium in order to do that, your body will ‘make a withdrawal’ from your bones instead.

“Once it’s gone it will not come back,”​ says Frederiksen. “So, from 30 to 50, it’s about maintaining bone mass and beyond that, it’s about minimising any bone loss, so the goals are different throughout life.”

AFI points to both its whey protein products and its milk minerals ingredient, Capolac, as possible solutions for formulators looking to go for the bone health angle.

In addition to calcium, Capolac also includes magnesium and phosphorus, which are similarly crucial for bone health. For this reason, Frederiksen suggests there are few direct competitors on the market, since calcium-only players are not offering an equivalent benefit.

Dairy-based calcium supplementation has also been shown to have a long-lasting impact.

For example, Frederiksen highlights one study in which prepubertal girls, consuming milk-derived calcium-fortified foods for 12 months, showed significant increases in bone mass density. A follow-up showed that the increase in bone mass density in the girls was still present three years later.

On the other hand, fortification with non-dairy calcium can be a cost-effective alternative. What’s more, Omya, which sources its calcium-rich ingredients from mineral deposits, says the rise of milk alternatives such as soya and nut milks is a rapidly growing niche that dairy-based ingredients cannot address.

Opportunities across varied markets (return to top)

However, everyone agrees that there are opportunities for bone health products across a varied range of market segments.

“We are seeing increasing demand for natural calcium carbonates in infant nutrition, dairy alternative drinks, cereals, and nutraceuticals,”​ says Stefan Lander, vice president for consumer goods group sales and marketing at Omya International.

“And, as our population demography changes in favour of older people, we expect there to be a substantial increase in demand for calcium and related ingredients in the coming years.”

Backing this up, Lander refers to the recent International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) study that predicts the number of men and women in Europe suffering from osteoporosis will increase to 34M by 2025 (rising from 28M in 2010, according to the IOF EU27 study).

Calcium carbonates (return to top)

Omya offers a range of natural and functional calcium carbonates. The functional versions are treated using patented technology to develop a crystalline surface with carefully defined properties.

The company’s Calipur is its ‘go to’ solution for fortification, offering 40% calcium content, so that up to five times less is needed to deliver the same dose in the finished foodstuff, says Omya. This makes it cost-effective, as well as minimising any sensory impact.

Omyafood, meanwhile, is a functional calcium carbonate marketed primarily as a processing aid, but it can also be used to boost calcium intake, explains Lander.

“Calcipur is a natural calcium source and contributes to fortification with a very high calcium level. Omyafood has multiple functionalities – it can act as a carrier, an anticaking agent, a freeflow agent and a binder,”​ he says.

“Additionally, since Omyafood consists roughly of 50% calcium carbonate and 50% tri-calciumphosphate, it can definitely ‘double up’ as fortificant and functional ingredient,”​ Lander adds.

Vitamin K (return to top)

Whether it’s dairy- or mineral-based, calcium may be the star of the bone health market, but other ingredients are also increasingly showing promise. In addition to vitamin D (essential for calcium absorption), vitamin K is a growing area of study. For instance, a paper in the August edition of Open Heart​ explored the links between nutritional strategies to prevent cardiovascular disease with those that seek to optimise bone strength.

The study notes: “A meta-analysis concluded that while supplementation with phytonadione (vitamin K1) improved bone health, vitamin K2 was even more effective in this regard. This large and statistically rigorous meta-analysis concluded that high vitamin K2 levels were associated with reduced vertebral fractures by approximately 60%, hip fractures by 77% and all non-vertebral fractures by approximately 81%.”

Alternative foods (return to top)

Alternative foods, as well as specific nutrients, are also being shown to play a role in bone health. For example, recent research presented at The International Symposium on Nutritional Aspects of Osteoporosis (ISNAO) in Montreal suggests that a daily helping of prunes could help support the maintenance of healthy bones and may even contribute to maximising bone mass potential.

One study in male mice linked them to an increase in bone mass, while a second showed that around five or six prunes a day slowed bone loss in post-menopausal women, possibly because prunes are high in vitamin K and are a source of manganese.

Muscle wastage and osteoarthritis (return to top)

Of course, maintaining bone mass is just one factor in maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle in later life. Muscle wastage (sarcopenia) and joint problems such as osteoarthritis can also be extremely debilitating.

While proteins appear to provide a good approach to tackling sarcopenia through functional nutrition, joint health has largely been the focus of supplements, rather than functional foods – until now.

Nestlé is looking to change that with the announcement in June that it’s teaming up with University of Liège spin-off Artialis to run clinical trials to investigate the impact of nutrition on joint metabolism.

 “It will be proof-of-concept,”​ explains Marie-Noëlle Horcajada, bone and cartilage expert at Nestlé Research Center.

“We’ve been testing in the past using cell models. Now, the trial will be in healthy volunteers who may have some discomfort or knee pain, for example. The nutritional solution is on top of a normal and balanced diet to help maintain functionality and quality of life,”​ she says.

Nestlé will not currently give anything away about the specific nutrients it’s testing, but Horcajada stresses they are natural, plant-based and being tested at a dose that might be found in functional foods.

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