With all the conversation swirling around the right vitamin and mineral supplements (such as vitamin D, vitamin K, and other essential nutrients) to add to your daily diet, important but lesser-known nutrients like boron sometimes get lost in the shuffle. If you can’t recall seeing boron on the shelves at your local pharmacy, you might remember the element from high school chemistry, since it is found on the periodic table of the elements. Boron is a naturally occurring element that is surprisingly important for your health, but not many people know about boron health benefits.
What is Boron?
On its own, boron might not seem like it plays much of a role in our human health care (1). This naturally occurring element is found in mineral deposits all over the world, and while it is most commonly used for the manufacturing of things like fiberglass and ceramics, it is also found in lots of different foods. Boron was previously used as a food preservative from 1870 to World War II until more effective preservatives were discovered, so it is completely safe to consume (2). Today, scientists are discovering the health benefits of Boron, which include everything from supporting brain function to strengthening bones, regulating the natural production of testosterone and estradiol in the body, and more (3).
What are the Health Benefits of Boron?
For a nutrient that receives so little attention, there are a surprising number of health benefits associated with boron (4). These benefits include, but are not limited to:
- Hormone regulation
- Reduced arthritis symptoms
- Supports bone health (healthy bones)
- Supports brain function
- Prevent yeast infections
- May support breast cancer treatment
- Boost immune function
Boron levels have been found to regulate sex hormones in both men and women (4). The nutrient helps to adjust the natural production of both testosterone and estradiol, a variety of estrogen. One study found that postmenopausal women who were previously on a low-boron diet saw a significant increase in their estradiol and testosterone levels, with testosterone nearly doubling (5). This information led scientists to begin examining whether boron can work to boost testosterone levels in men and help prevent erectile dysfunction. A 2015 literature review concluded that taking 6-mg of boron for one week resulted in the following impacts to hormones (4):
- Increased metabolism of total testosterone to free testosterone
- 25 percent increase in free testosterone levels
- Nearly 50 percent decrease in the level of estradiol
- Encourages the bonding of free testosterone to proteins in the blood
A study conducted in 2011 seemed to confirm these results, but whether or not boron is helpful in preventing or treating erectile dysfunction is a slightly different matter (6). Erectile dysfunction, or male impotence, has many different causes, some of which are hormonal. People who experience erectile dysfunction as a result of low testosterone levels, high levels of estradiol or other hormone-related issues may find that taking a boron supplementation or increasing their boron intake improves their symptoms. However, those who suffer from erectile dysfunction as a result of other health conditions, such as diabetes, poor circulation, or high blood pressure are not likely to see an improvement in their symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 54.4 million American adults have some form of arthritis (7). Since 1963, studies have been conducted that indicate that boron is effective in the treatment of certain types of arthritis. Initially, scientists believed the boron helped to reduce the pain and discomfort caused by arthritis, but they now understand that boron deficiencies may contribute to increased incidence of arthritis (8). In parts of the world where boron intake is 1 mg or less per day, arthritis rates are anywhere from 20 to 70 percent, while regions of the world that consume 3 to 10 mg per day report arthritis rates of 0 to 10 percent of the population.
Bone and Joint Health
Besides its implications for arthritis, boron also contributes to overall bone and joint health. Boron has been found to help extend the half-life of both vitamin D and estrogen, which are essential for bone health. The half-life of a substance is the amount of time it takes for the substance to break down to half of its initial volume. By extending the half lives of vitamin D and estrogen, boron may help to increase the length of time that they work in the body. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, which strengthens the bones. Because people with low levels of boron are often found to have a vitamin D deficiency, it appears that the two nutrients are related (9). Estrogen contributes to bone health by protecting against the losses in bone density that can cause osteoporosis, which leaves the bones weak and more prone to fractures. If estrogen remains in the body for a longer period of time, it may be able to increase bone health by protecting against bone loss.
If you’re looking to improve your memory and hand-eye coordination, boron may be able to help. One study showed that people who supplemented their diets with an additional 3.25-mg of boron performed better at memory and hand-eye coordination tests than those who were deficient in boron (10). Scientists aren’t exactly sure how boron works to improve brain health, but if you are concerned about declining cognitive performance as you age, adding boron to your diet may be able to help.
How Can You Get Boron in Your Diet?
Boron is best absorbed by the body when it is consumed in the form of whole foods or whole food supplements like GEM. Boron is commonly found in leafy greens like kale and spinach, but it is also found in foods like coffee, dried and cooked beans, milk, avocado, peanuts, prunes, potatoes, red apples, raisins, pecans, peaches, and dried apricots (11). You can even find boron in most wine, cider, and beer! The amount of boron found in a given food will vary depending on the soil in which it is grown. Because boron is a trace mineral, there is no recommended daily intake associated with the nutrient. However, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine has established limits on the amount of boron that should be consumed each day (12). These values range from 3 mg per day in children between the ages of 1 and 3 to a maximum of 20 mg per day for adults aged 19 and up. Boron is safe for most people, but when taken in quantities exceeding the recommended dosage, it can cause unpleasant side effects.
Are There Any Side Effects Associated with Boron?
Most people who are consuming less than the maximum daily recommendation for boron will not suffer any side effects; however, consuming too much boron can lead to unpleasant side effects. Side effects associated with excess boron consumption include nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, vomiting, and headache at lower levels and skin flushing, vascular collapse, convulsions and tremors at higher dosages (13). Some people have even suffered from fatal poisonings when taking too much boron. Boron is processed through the kidneys, so people with kidney disease or other problems with kidney function should speak to their doctors before taking a boron supplement or increasing their boron intake. Pregnant women and nursing mothers should not take a boron supplement or use boric acid in any form without speaking to their doctors first, as even low doses of boron can be harmful to infants.
By the Digits
- 22.7%: Percentage of American adults diagnosed with some form of arthritis (7).
- 20 mg: Maximum amount of boron adults should consume per day (12).
- 52%: The percentage of men who will experience some form of erectile dysfunction at some point in their lifetime (14).
- 1808: The year boron was discovered as a distinct trace element. Prior to that time, people had used borax, a boron compound, but had never isolated boron. Three separate scientists discovered boron independently in 1808 (15).
- 72%: Percentage of the world’s boron that is found in Turkey alone (16).
Did You Know?
Humans have been using boron compounds for thousands of years. Borax, or sodium tetraborate, is a boron compound that is formed naturally during the evaporation of certain salt lakes around the world. All the way back in the eighth century A.D., the Chinese exported borax from Tibetan salt lake beds that they passed on the Silk Road to trade to Arabic goldsmiths and silversmiths, who used the compound in their work. The Chinese also used borax to make ceramic glazes for their pottery. Today, borax is used in many household cleaners and detergents, including the eponymous cleaning product by the same name.