How Not to Break Your Leg

A new study implicates an obscure protein in bone fractures.

Of course you want to keep running forever and not become that poor lady at the gym who’s all stooped over from osteoporosis. But the latest research says bone density alone doesn’t predict whose bones will become fragile. So how to keep yours strong?

A new study by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has unraveled the process. When you trip or take a fall, two joined proteins in your bone, osteopotin and osteocalcin, are deformed by the impact, creating a tiny hole. Over time, these holes serve as a natural defense, absorbing impact to help prevent further damage. If the impact overwhelms, though, or if your bone lacks either or both of the proteins needed to form the holes, it cracks.

The study—our own Villanova U. was one of several institutions taking part—has focused scientists’ attention on reinforcing the bond between osteopontin and osteocalcin. Abnormalities in the latter’s production have been linked in the past to Type 2 diabetes and certain reproductive problems. Now scientists plan to study how supplementing osteocalcin might aid bone strength.

Note: To ward off fractures, the protein must be absorbed into the bone, a process that requires vitamin K. While scientists explore the complex interconnections between bone strength, osteocalcin and osteopontin, adding leafy greens like spinach and kale to your diet can only help.

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