The National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has awarded Cristina Palacios, associate professor in the department of Dietetics and Nutrition at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, a $2.8 million grant to study the effects of soluble corn fiber as a dietary supplement to optimize bone mass in adolescents.
Currently, calcium intake of U.S. adolescents is inadequate with only 30 percent meeting the dietary recommendations. The current recommendation set by the Institute of Medicine is 1,300 mg/d for children and adolescents, or the equivalent to four servings of dairy products (1 cup of milk, ¾ cup of yogurt, or 1 ounce of cheese).
Puberty is one of the most important windows of development to prevent osteoporosis later in life. More than 1.5 million bone fractures occur yearly in the United States and osteoporosis fractures are estimated to cost $25 billion by 2025.
“The main source of calcium in our diets comes from dairy products and adolescents tend to replace dairy consumption with sweetened beverages. Usually dairy product consumption is high just before adolescence but then it falls off during puberty, which is a crucial time for bone mass development,” Palacios said. “As the bones grow and become elongated, they can remain a little hollow if calcium intake is low, which leads to bone loss and fractures later in life.”
Maximizing calcium intake during the key growth period of adolescents is expected to be a key strategy in preventing osteoporosis. Pilot studies have shown that there is a 12 percent greater absorption of calcium into the body when soluble corn fiber—which can be found in powder form and added to foods or drinks—is added to a diet.
The 12-month study will include 236 adolescents who will consume either soluble corn fiber or a placebo twice daily to determine if the soluble corn fiber results in greater bone mass.
“The soluble corn fiber changes the gut microbiome to allow more calcium to be absorbed, but now we need to understand if that greater absorption actually translates to greater bone mass,” Palacios said. “This fiber could be added to foods that are commonly consumed by adolescents to help give them a lifetime of stronger bones.”