What is boron and will it cure my osteoarthritis?
Boron and Osteoarthritis
Boron is a trace element that occurs naturally in soil, plants and metal deposits. Trace elements are also present in very small quantities in the body. Studies have shown a correlation between the amount of boron in the soil and the prevalence of arthritis. For example, in Israel, high levels of boron are found in the soil and the incidence of arthritis is less than 1%. Compare that to Jamaica and Mauritius where boron levels are low and the arthritis rates have been reported to be as high as 50 to 70 percent.
Carnarvon is a large town in Western Australia. People with osteoarthritis have been known to travel from as far as 1,000 miles away because “the climate” in Carnarvon is said to help arthritis symptoms. It turns out that Carnarvon has very high boron soil rates. Could these arthritis sufferers really have found relief in Carnarvon because of the boron-rich foods grown in that soil?
In science, it is very important to recognize that correlation does not equal causation. That is - there appears to be a significant correlation between low boron levels in the soil and high arthritis rates; and a correlation between high boron levels in the soil and low arthritis rates. However, the fact that these correlations exist does not mean that low levels of boron in the soil cause people to develop arthritis, or that high levels of boron in the soil stop people from developing arthritis.
In order to scientifically evaluate whether boron helps to treat arthritis, researchers in Australia recruited 20 arthritis patients to take either 6 mg of boron per day or a placebo (sugar pill) for 8 weeks. At the end of the 8 weeks, 50% of the people who took the boron had improvement in their symptoms as opposed to only 10% of those who received the placebo. Unfortunately, this was only a very small study and, statistically speaking, was not able to prove that the results were not simply due to chance. Certainly, though, the results were tantalizing. Perhaps surprisingly, there have not been further large research studies evaluating whether boron supplementation helps the symptoms of arthritis.
Boron Supplements Are Not Recommended for Osteoarthritis
So, should you take boron supplements? There are some potential health risks to boron supplementation. Two small studies have shown that boron supplementation can increase the level of estrogen in the body, particularly in women already on estrogen replacement therapy. Elevated estrogen levels increase the risk of breast cancer and uterine cancer. Other studies have shown that boron may increase testosterone levels (which is why some body-builders sometimes take boron supplements). Further studies are needed to determine the precise health risks, as well as potential benefits involved in taking boron supplements.
For now, because we don’t know for sure if boron supplementation improves arthritis symptoms, and because there may potentially be serious health risks involved with taking them, it is not worth the risk of taking the supplements. This is especially true when you consider that, luckily, fruits, vegetables, and nuts are excellent sources of boron While a typical American diet provides only between 1.5 and 3 mg of boron per day, you can increase your boron intake effortlessly by increasing your daily consumption of fruits and vegetables. Avocados, almonds, dates, apples, green leafy vegetables and raisins are all significant sources of boron.
Grant Cooper is a board certified, fellowship-trained physician who specializes in the non-operative treatment of spine, joint and muscle pain. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Osteoarthritis.