Study suggests a much earlier onset for bone problems

Apr 25, 2010

We all know that eating a calcium-rich diet is important for keeping our bones healthy and strong. This concept is clearly on display in any elementary school cafeteria where the walls are decorated with colorful posters with celebrity icons encouraging children to make sure they drink milk every day. However, emerging research suggests that urging school-aged children to pay attention to their dairy intake might actually be too late to optimize their bone health. Indeed, the idea that long-term bone health may be "programmed" or established during infancy or even earlier is gaining significant scientific support as nutrition researchers continue to study the genesis of chronic diseases such as osteoporosis.

In a presentation concerning early nutritional programming and long-term skeletal health to be presented on April 27 at the Experimental Biology 2010 meeting in Anaheim, researchers from North Carolina State University and the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine will present evidence that very early may have more impact than we previously thought. This presentation is part of the scientific program of the American Society for Nutrition, home of the world's leading nutrition researchers.

The research is led by Dr. Chad Stahl, an Associate Professor in the Department of Animal Science at North Carolina State University, who studies the nutritional regulation of growth and development and utilizes the neonatal pig as a surrogate for the human infant. Stahl and his colleagues have a long-standing interest in understanding how much calcium babies need in order to optimize and strength when they get older. Not only is this a worthy academic question, but it has special relevance to the infant food industry which currently fortifies most baby formulas with calcium at levels substantially above those found in breastmilk - considered the "gold standard" for infant nutrition. This differential level of fortification has been based largely on older studies suggesting that breastmilk's calcium is substantially more usable than that in baby formulas. However, more recent research has challenged this dogma, and Dr. Stahl and his group are committed to helping determine what is best in this regard.

To test their hypotheses, the scientists bottle-fed 12 piglets a calcium-rich diet and another 12 piglets a calcium-deficient diet during the first 18 days of life. Throughout the study, blood samples were drawn frequently from the piglets, and they were weighed daily. At the end of the study, the researchers collected samples from the animals' bone marrow, livers, kidneys, and small intestines. They also tested their hind legs for bone density and strength.

Their results were both surprising and intriguing. For instance, there were no differences between groups in terms of blood markers of calcium status and growth. These data support the previously suggested concept that, unlike what happens in adults, calcium absorption in newborns is not dependent on vitamin D. They also documented marked differences in bone density and strength such that the calcium-deficient piglets were compromised. When they looked at the bone marrow tissue which contains all the material (known as mesenchymal stem cells) that will eventually become bone-forming cells, they discovered that many of the calcium-deficient piglets' cells appeared to have already been programmed to become fat cells instead of bone-forming osteoblast cells. Fewer osteoblasts in early life may translate to a diminished ability for bones to grow and repair themselves throughout the remainder of life. Thus, it appeared as if calcium deficiency had predisposed the animals to having bones that contained more fat and less mineral.

Dr. Stahl concluded that "While the importance of calcium nutrition throughout childhood and adolescence is well recognized, our work suggests that calcium nutrition of the neonate may be of greater importance to life-long due to its programming effects on mesenchymal stem cells. It also points to a potential paradigm shift in which health professionals might want to begin thinking about osteoporosis not so much as a disease of the elderly, but instead as a pediatric disease with later onset."

Explore further: Novel marker discovered for stem cells derived from human umbilical cord blood

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Vitamin D and calcium interplay explored

Mar 12, 2010

Increasing calcium intake is a common -- yet not always successful -- strategy for reducing bone fractures. But a study supported in part by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) underscores the importance of vitamin D ...

Study shows how to lose weight without losing bone

Jun 05, 2008

A higher-protein diet that emphasizes lean meats and low-fat dairy foods as sources of protein and calcium can mean weight loss without bone loss--and the evidence is in bone scans taken throughout a new University of Illinois ...

Recommended for you

New pain relief targets discovered

1 hour ago

Scientists have identified new pain relief targets that could be used to provide relief from chemotherapy-induced pain. BBSRC-funded researchers at King's College London made the discovery when researching ...

Building 'smart' cell-based therapies

2 hours ago

A Northwestern University synthetic biology team has created a new technology for modifying human cells to create programmable therapeutics that could travel the body and selectively target cancer and other ...

Proper stem cell function requires hydrogen sulfide

5 hours ago

Stem cells in bone marrow need to produce hydrogen sulfide in order to properly multiply and form bone tissue, according to a new study from the Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Study recalculates costs of combination vaccines

One of the most popular vaccine brands for children may not be the most cost-effective choice. And doctors may be overlooking some cost factors when choosing vaccines, driving the market toward what is actually a more expensive ...

Researchers discover target for treating dengue fever

Two recent papers by a University of Colorado School of Medicine researcher and colleagues may help scientists develop treatments or vaccines for Dengue fever, West Nile virus, Yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and other ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...