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The Bone Zone
By Sandy Almendarez
March 01, 2010 - Article
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In October 2009, scientists announced the discovery of “Ardi” in the journal Science. When they uncovered her fossil skeleton, they discovered the oldest human ancestor to be found to date. The bones of this small-brained, 110-pound female of the Ardipithecus ramidus species offered a clue as to what the last common ancestor of humans and living apes might have been like. She walked the earth 3.2 million years ago and her bones told scientists that humans did not evolve from chimps, but that they shared a common ancestor.

Her bones are a window to the prehistoric world; and it’s a good thing they survived these millions of years, or at least fossils of her bones did. While it might be said her diet was a natural one (wear patterns on her teeth suggest a diet that included fruits, nuts and other forest foods), she did not have access to the numerous natural product supplements and fortified foods that can help preserve current consumers’ bones today. But, then again, she also didn’t have the choice of fast food or an unhealthy microwave meal for lunch. And, it’s certain she got more exercise than the average television-loving American as she traversed Ethiopia's harsh Afar desert.

Besides for walking on two legs, current humans and Ardi also shared the same bone characteristics. Bone is a living, dynamic tissue made of a hard outer shell and spongy inner tissue. It is continually being remodeled; this is how the body repairs small fractures, be they from knocking shins on the coffee table or foraging for food in the desert. Bone is constantly reforming and resorbing, and this delicate balance allows the body to remodel the bone. Resorption breaks down bone tissue before it is reformed. Osteoclasts are cells that break down the skeleton and osteoblasts are cells that build bones. In present-day humans, the entire skeleton is replaced about every seven years or so; but, with age, the balance shifts from formation to resorption, which means more bone is broken down than built. Peak bone mass, when bone density is at its maximum, is usually reached between the ages of 18 and 25, after that, bone loss occurs. For women at about age 30 and men a bit later in life, bone resorption will begin to outpace bone formation. When women hit menopause, bone resorption significantly exceeds formation, due to shifts in hormones.

The weakening of bones can lead to osteoporosis, which can develop without symptoms until a fracture occurs. After the first fracture, the risk for subsequent breaks is much higher, and all osteoporotic fractures increase patient morbidity.1 Osteoporosis usually occurs in people aged 50 and older, when loss of muscle strength and mass can also reduce bone strength and density. The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) estimates it affects 44 million Americans, or 55 percent of the people 50 years of age and older, and almost 34 million more are estimated to have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis. It is expected the number of osteoporotic fractures will double during the next 50 years, due in part to the aging population.

While osteoporosis is often thought of as an older person's disease, it can strike at any age, according to the NOF; and that means supplementing with bone health nutrients can benefit many segments of the population. Post-menopausal women have traditionally been the largest consumers of bone health supplements, but younger women seem to be realizing establishing a higher peak bone mass earlier in life can reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. Other bone health consumers may include those with bone-related illnesses or those who are suffering from a bone injury and are looking for temporary support to aid recovery. Sports players and athletes may also be looking for bone health support to complement their high-impact lifestyles, as well as teenagers who are at a critical time in their bone-building process.

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