Manganese deficiency may lead to osteoporosis

Spanish researchers suggest calcium deficiency,usually associated with the disease,may actually be the effect and not the cause

Written by Abantika Ghosh | New Delhi | Published: January 6, 2012 1:09 am

Broken deer antlers in Spain have led researchers to suggest that it may be time to change the hypothesis on osteoporosis as being a result of calcium deficiency. In a study published in the journal,Frontiers of Bioscience,researchers at the University of Castilla-La Mancha (UCLM) have said manganese,which has a role in fixation of calcium in bones,could be the real culprit.

In fact,they suggest the calcium deficiency usually associated with osteoporosis may actually be the effect and not the cause.

Manganese is a micronutrient — nutrient needed by humans in small quantities throughout their lives to maintain physiological functions — that plays a vital role in several enzymes of the body and thus is crucial for normal performance of almost all systems. Some of its common sources include grapes,cloves,garlic,spinach,eggplant,pineapple,strawberries and brown rice.

According to Tomás Landete,one of the researchers at UCLM,“Previous antler studies show that manganese is necessary for calcium absorption. Our hypothesis is that when the human body absorbs less manganese or when it is sent from the skeleton to other organs that require it,such as the brain,the calcium that is extracted at the same time is then not properly absorbed and is excreted in the urine. It is in this way that osteoporosis can slowly strike.”

The theory must now be validated with more studies and medical trials but he believes it is a “step in a totally new direction in osteoporosis research as it considers calcium loss to be a consequence of the disease,not the origin”.

The research started in 2005 when deer in the Spanish forests started having a lot of antler breakages. When researchers started analysing,they found that because of the harsh winter that year,the manganese concentration in plants had waned and the amount of manganese in the deer’s diet had gone down,causing breakages.

The findings,according to former AIIMS director Dr P K Dave,are significant as there is now an increasing realisation that more elements than calcium could be involved in the genesis of osteoporosis.

“There are some theories also about the involvement of magnesium in the process of calcium fixation. The role of some drugs in delaying the absorption of calcium is also being debated,” says Dr Dave,who currently heads the advisory board of Rockland Hospital.

UCLM researchers,meanwhile,have gone a step ahead and said that given the important role manganese plays in neurological functions,osteoporosis could even be treated as one of the markers to screen people for brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The theory for this is that when manganese is in short supply,it is extracted from bones to maintain brain functions which are more vital for the body.

To put this theory to test,they analysed data from 113 patients who were operated upon for osteoporosis and osteoarthritis (wear and tear of joint cartilage) at Hellín Hospital in Albacete,Spain between 2008 and 2009. Nearly 40 per cent of those operated upon for osteoporosis showed some form of cerebral dysfunction whereas this was not the case in the 68 patients operated upon for osteoarthritis.

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