When you think of your skeletal frame—and bones in general—you most likely think of them as inanimate structures that simply keep you together. Those views have changed, however.
Newer research from Columbia University Medical Center published in the scientific journal Cell shows just how dynamic bone structure is to our immune, endocrine and nervous systems. For example, researchers now believe that a bone-released hormone—osteocalcin—is one of the most significant players in maintaining healthy levels of blood sugar and inflammation. Additionally, bones play an essential role in the communication process involved in energy metabolism.
You may already recognize osteocalcin. It’s known to increase bone density by helping to channel calcium and other important minerals from the bloodstream into the bone matrix. These researchers have discovered even more about it, though. Bone cells release this hormone called osteocalcin, which controls the regulation of blood sugar and fat deposition through synergistic mechanisms that were previously undiscovered. What typically happens is that when there’s an increase in insulin secretion, there’s also a decrease in insulin sensitivity. Osteocalcin, however, increases both the secretion of and sensitivity of insulin and boosts the number of insulin-producing cells while reducing fat storage.
In short, the published research showed that an increase in osteocalcin activity prevented the development of unhealthy blood sugar and unhealthy weight in mice—even when those mice ate a diet high in unhealthy fats. Their findings were so significant that they’ve begun similar studies with humans.
Gerard Karsenty, M.D., Ph.D., and chair of the department of Genetics and Development at Columbia University Medical Center and senior author of the paper, said, “The discovery that our bones are responsible for regulating blood sugar in ways that were not known before completely changes our understanding of the function of the skeleton and uncovers a crucial aspect of energy metabolism. These results uncover an important aspect of endocrinology that was unappreciated until now.”
In the past, osteocalcin was believed to be a structural protein made only by bone-forming cells called osteoblasts. Now that researchers know that osteocalcin is a hormone, they’re mesmerized by what it does. Osteocalcin directs the pancreas’ beta cells, which produce the body’s supply of insulin, to produce more insulin.
At the same time, osteocalcin directs fats cells to release a hormone named adiponectin, which improves insulin sensitivity. That’s not all, though. Osteocalcin also enhances the production of insulin-producing beta cells, which is considered one of the best, but currently unattainable, strategies to treat unhealthy blood sugar levels.
All this positive action comes from the skeleton!
On the flip side, mice lacking in osteocalcin had unhealthy blood sugar levels and fat mass; a decrease in insulin and adiponectic expression; and decreased beta-cell proliferation.
You’ll probably also be interested to know that adequate osteocalcin activity depends on regular exercise as well as adequate levels of vitamin D3 and vitamin K2—both of which most people come up short on. The good news is that you can get vitamin D3 through prudent exposure to sunshine and/or with sufficient dietary intake or supplementation. Vitamin K2 can be found in fermented soy foods such as natto and tempeh as well as grassfed beef and dairy. In fact, approximately 4 ounces of raw, grassfed cheese provides a great daily source of K2 as well as calcium.
The bottom line is that your bones do more than keep you together, so feed them right. It’s a frame game you must win.