Deer antlers and osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease where the bones become more porous and brittle and therefore more prone to breaking. It generally is associated with ageing and involves lack of calcium in the bones. Exactly why calcium is not present in the bones though is less certain and now research on deer antlers has led to a new theory that may also link osteoporosis to some other diseases associated with ageing.

The theory all began with the observation that in Spain during 2005 there was a dramatic increase in antler breakages among the deer population. Some investigation into what happened that year led to the conclusion that the mineral manganese might play a role in osteoporosis.

In 2005 in Spain the winter was bitterly cold. The stress of the intense cold season placed stress on plants which reduced their manganese concentrations in response. This meant that the diet for the deer living on those plants in 2005 was severely depleted in manganese. Deer grow their antlers by transferring twenty per cent of their skeleton’s calcium to the antlers. The deer had plenty of calcium though. It was the lack of manganese that was making their antlers brittle because manganese acts as the glue that holds calcium into the antlers. Without manganese the calcium is not held and the antlers become brittle and break.

In humans manganese performs a similar function. These researchers theorise that when manganese is in short supply in the human body it might be removed from bones in favour of more vital organs like the brain. Lack of manganese in the brain could contribute to diseases of ageing like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia.

Going a step further these researchers compared patients who were operated on for osteoporosis with those operated on for osteoarthritis in a Spanish hospital between 2008 and 2009. Around 40 per cent of the osteoporosis patients showed some sort of mental underfunction whereas very few in the osteoarthritis group did.

The researchers say that the exhaustion of manganese reserves might be behind the osteoporosis and the mental degeneration. This would suggest that maintaining manganese levels might be a way to prevent all of these conditions.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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