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Arthritis and Boron

Boron has only attracted recent interest from the health community. This trace element is an essential nutrient for bone health and it is effective in the treatment of arthritis.
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What is Boron?

Boron is a rare element extracted from the earth. It is only found in nature combined with other elements as borate and borax. Another common form of boron is boric acid.

Boron is extensively used in industries for chemical syntheses; in the production of glass, ceramic and semiconductors; and in the manufacture of detergents, insecticides and bleaching agents.

While the importance of boron in animals has only been recently recognized, it has long been known to be an essential mineral for plants. As a plant nutrient, boron is needed for the protection of plant cell walls. However, boron can still be toxic to plants grown in soils with high concentrations of the element.

Dietary sources of boron include all foods derived from plants.

The importance of boron to animals has been demonstrated in rats and it is now acknowledged that boron is also an essential nutrient for humans too. However, boron is an ultratrace element. This means that it is needed in so small an amount that a true boron deficiency is non-existent. The amount of boron obtained from normal diet is between 2.1 mg and 4.3 mg per day.

Boron is known to form antimicrobial compounds such as the inorganic boric acid which is an antiseptic and the natural antibiotic, boromycin, produced by bacteria.

Although the actions of boron in the human body are not well studied, it is believed that boron has a number of biological roles.

Boron, for example, has been shown to contribute greatly to bone health.

In a study conducted by the US Department of Agriculture, boron was found to reduce the excretion of calcium by 44% in postmenopausal women who were given 3 mg of the nutrient per day.

The results of the study showed that besides preventing calcium loss, boron also activated estrogen and vitamin D which slows the demineralization of the bone and protect against osteoporosis and arthritis.

Boron: Dietary Sources, Supplement, Safety and Side Effects

Boron is naturally found in all foods derived from plants but some plants have a rich store of the mineral. Examples of such dietary sources include almonds, peanuts, pecans, grapes, avocados, raisins, prunes, soya and wine.

Meat, dairy products and other animal diets are not rich in boron because the mineral does not accumulate in tissues in appreciable amounts. This property of boron is also beneficial because it means that the threshold of boron toxicity in humans is very high.

In fact, boron is considered just as safe to consume as table salt. It will take 6 g per body weight of the mineral to achieve toxicity.

Similarly, different forms of boron including boric acid and borax are safe for human beings. However, boric acid is toxic to insects and that is why boron compounds are regular components of insecticides.

Boron is usually included in dietary supplements intended for treating arthritis.

Topical boric acid is used to treat psoriatic arthritis. This boron compound is usually supplied as 1.5% boric acid in ointments.

There are no standard doses for boron in the treatment of osteoarthritis because, while it is an encouraged treatment option, it has not been embraced by conventional medicine.

However, up to 6 mg of boron per day has been used to provide relief for osteoarthritis patients. Some experts advice an upper daily limit of 13 mg of boron. Given that boron is safe to ingest, larger doses may be tolerated although it is unsure if these doses will provide corresponding increases in efficacy. Still, high doses of boron can cause some side effects.

The side effects of boron are mild. They include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Boron may also trigger allergic reactions. Presentations of this allergy include chest pain, rashes, hives and respiratory difficulties. If any of these occurs then you need to stop your boron supplementation.

The Case for Boron

The man who championed the use of boron in the treatment of osteoarthritis is Dr. Rex Newnham who took the time to study the effect of boron on the outcome of osteoarthritis. He also demonstrated the link between the level of boron in the diet and the prevalence of osteoarthritis in different countries.

This researcher discovered that in areas where boron can easily get into the diets of the populace, the number of arthritis cases is usually low.

For example, the prevalence of arthritis in Israel is 1% compared to the 20% rate in the US. This is believed to be due to the boron-rich soil in Israel which makes for boron-rich plants and boron-rich diets. Also, the water supply of the Xhosa tribe of South Africa was found to be rich in boron. This explains why the prevalence of arthritis amongst tribe members is as low as 3%.

By contrast, countries with boron-deficient soils have higher rates of arthritis including early onset arthritis which affects the younger population.

Boron and Arthritis
  • Evidence that low boron intake increases the risk of developing arthritis. People who take less than 2 mg per day of boron are more likely to develop arthritis later in life and earlier than people who eat boron-rich diets. While boron deficiency has not been reported in humans, regular intake of boron-deficient foods can predispose and contribute to the development of arthritis.
  • Boron is known to accumulate in the synovial fluid lubricating joints and in bones especially in the heads of femur bones. People with arthritis usually have lower concentrations of these minerals at these sites while healthy people do have high concentration of boron in bones, femur heads and synovial fluid.
  • Observational evidence shows that the bones of arthritic patients using boron supplements are harder than the fragile bones of those who do not take boron.
  • In rats induced with arthritis, oral and injectable forms of boron was found to improve the symptoms and increase mobility.
  • In a clinical trial involving 20 human participants, the use of boron supplement was found to provide superior relief to placebo in the management of osteoarthritis. 50% of the boron group who were given 6 mg per day of boron showed improvements in symptoms compared to only 10% of the placebo group.

How Boron Works for Arthritis

Boron is responsible for increasing the production and activities of some hormones and prohormones.

For example, it activates estrogen and vitamin D by increasing the hydroxylation of their precursors. In fact, the highest concentration of boron in the body is found in the parathyroid gland.

Vitamin D behaves very much like hormones too. It is essential for bone health too. The parathyroid contributes greatly to the mineralization of the bones, and boron improves the activity of the hormones secreted by this gland.

The hormone-boosting action of boron is directly linked to its effect on other minerals needed for bone health.

For example, in a study to examine the effect of boron supplements in postmenopausal women, it was discovered that while boron increased the activities of the hormones, testosterone and 17-beta estradiol (estrogen), it also reduced the excretion of calcium and magnesium in the urine.

An imbalance of anabolic hormones such as testosterone and estradiol was previously identified as one of the presentations of osteoporosis and arthritis. Therefore, boron supplementation can help correct this hormonal imbalance.

In addition, by reducing the loss of calcium and magnesium, boron can help the re-mineralization of the bones by calcium. In fact, the effect of boron was found to be less significant in arthritic patients already receiving magnesium supplements.

Boron is also believed to produce another beneficial effect in humans similar to its protective effect on the cell wall of plants.

Some researchers believe that boron also help maintain the integrity of the membrane surrounding the cartilage. This protective effect is believed to go beyond a simple passive protection to an active inhibition of the autoimmune factors causing rheumatoid arthritis and the repair of damaged cartilage.

In the repair of damaged cartilage, boron acts as a membrane catalyst that selectively permits the entry of certain ions into the cells in the cartilage.

This allows the adenosine triphosphate or ATP, the chief energy molecule, to enter the cells.

Because boron increases the influx of ATP into these cells, it promotes the energy-driven cellular repair needed for cell division and the repair of cartilage tissues. 

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