Osteoporosis affects over 10 million Americans, 80 percent of which are women. The disease makes bones weak and thin, and causes fractures and breaks. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that another 34 million people have low bone mass, which means they'll be at risk for osteoporosis in the future.

The disease is often referred to as a "silent disease" because there are no symptoms-you can't feel your bones becoming weak or thin. Considering the physical and economic cost of the disease (about $19 billion a year), health professionals and scientists are always looking for ways to prevent and cure it. These breakthroughs are just two of the latest:

A New Chemical Mediator that Breaks Down Bone

A study conducted at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), showed that a chemical mediator in the blood that influences immune cell migration is a key player in maintaining the balance between build-up and breakdown of bone.

Specialized cells called osteoclasts are responsible for bone degeneration or resorption. Immature osteoclasts circulate within the blood and migrate to the surface of the bones, where they mature and start to degrade bone matrix. This activity is usually counteracted by cells that form bones called osteoblasts. However, in people with osteoporosis and low bone mass, osteoclast activity overwhelm osteoblast response.

Most current treatments target mature osteoclasts, but in this study, researchers investigated how immature osteoclasts are recruited to the bone in the first place and how targeting the signals that control that migration could provide new treatments. These signals include chemical mediators in the blood called chemokines or chemoattractants influence cell migration. One chemoattractant, sphingosine-1-phosphate, causes immature osteoclasts to mobilize.

According to Dr. Masaru Ishii, M.D., Ph.D., a visiting fellow from Osaka University in Japan who conceived the project, these findings, combined with previous data, indicate that it may be possible to use combined therapies that target immature osteoclast migration and mature osteoclast function to treat and prevent bone-resorptive disorders.

Bone-Building Greens

When most of us think of building strong bones, the first things that come to mind are dairy for calcium and sunshine for vitamin D. But there's more to healthy bones than these two nutrients.

Vitamin K1 found in green foods such as kale and broccoli play a key role in building strong bones. This nutrient, found in foods with the green pigment chlorophyll, converts into vitamin K2 in the intestine. K2 plays a role in activating three proteins critical to driving calcium into osteoblast cells that build bones.

But that's not all. Vitamin K1 can increase bone mineral density in people with osteoporosis and actually reduce fracture rates. Other good green sources of vitamin K include spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, watercress, endive, dandelion, lettuce and Brussels sprouts. Aim to get at least 120 mcg of vitamin K1 each day.