My old bones


OSTEOARTHRITIS and osteoporosis are both common conditions associated with ageing. The word “osteo” means bone in Greek.

Brittle bones associated with osteoporosis have long been recognised as a risk factor for osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the wearing out of the normal smooth cartilage which covers the ends of the bones as they come together in joints.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It usually develops gradually, over time. Several different joints can be affected, but osteoarthritis is most frequently seen in the hands, knees, hips, feet and spine.


Glucosamine and chondroitin are natural components of healthy joint tissue. They work by supplying the natural raw ingredients cartilage needs to repair and rebuild itself and by suppressing the natural enzymes that breakdown cartilage in the first place.

Glucosamine is a precursor to a molecule called a lycosaminoglycan – this molecule is used in the formation and repair of cartilage.

Chondroitin is the most abundant glycosaminoglycan in cartilage and is responsible for the resiliency of cartilage. It acts as a “water magnet”. The ability of chondroitin to hold water gives rigidity to the cartilage and also allows it to act as a “shock absorber”.

Supplementation with glucosamine and chondroitin helps to:

  • Slow the progression of OA
  • Lubricates the joint
  • Decreases joint pain and stiffness
  • Improves ease of movement

In recent years, both glucosamine and chondroitin supplements have gained such a following that the US authorities have undertaken the largest-ever clinical study on glucosamine and chondroitin to test its effectiveness. Full details of the (GAIT) trial have been published in the New England Medical Journal (Feb 23, 2006).

The GAIT trial
The GAIT trial is described as “the most rigorous trial to date assessing the effects of glucosamine and chondroitin on knee pain associated with osteoarthritis (OA)”. The GAIT trial has shown that these two supplements (glucosamine and chondroitin) in combination are even more effective in treating moderate-to-severe OA knee pain than an anti-inflammatory drug used in the study.

Osteoporosis prevention
Osteoporosis literally means “porous bones” and it is a condition characterised by calcium depleted bones that become fragile and weak. Between 2-4% of a person’s skeleton is remodelled every year. This means that calcium and other minerals (magnesium, zinc, copper, boron, manganese) leave the bone in a process called resorption and then must be “remodelled” or replaced.

If not prevented or if left untreated, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks. These broken bones, also known as fractures, occur typically in the hip, spine, and wrist.

The importance of calcium supplementation has long been recognised in bone health. However, as important as calcium is to bone health, it is found that in the US, only 25% of women with osteoporosis are calcium deficient.

New evidence clearly shows that Vitamin D, magnesium, copper, zinc, boron and manganese are also vital for maintaining strong and healthy bone. These nutrients should all be consumed together for optimal bone metabolism. Even the absence of one nutrient can result in weak bones and osteoporosis.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium . Low levels of vitamin D are common in women, especially the elderly. Deficiencies of vitamin D can lead to calcium deficiencies, leading to soft bones (osteomalacia). Experts recommend a daily intake of between 400 and 800 international units (IU).

Magnesium is essential for both the preservation and mobilisation of calcium in the bone and is required for the utilisation of vitamin D. Magnesium deficiency is common and is a leading risk factor for osteoporosis.

The US RDA for magnesium is 400mg per day. (The US RDA given is for adults, except pregnant or lactating women, and children over four years of age.)

Manganese is a trace mineral required for the synthesis of connective tissue that form the matrix upon which mineral deposition occurs. The recommended daily intake for manganese is 2mg.

Boron is needed to convert vitamin D into its active form, which explains why boron deficiency affects calcium metabolism and bone formation. Boron reduces calcium loss from bones. Although there is no official RDA for boron, a dosage of 1.5 to 3.0mg daily is safe and adequate.

Zinc supports bone formation by enhancing the action of vitamin D. Zinc helps maintain bone structure and is involved in bone development.

Copper deficiency may lead to abnormal bone deposition. Copper helps form the building blocks of bone.