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Nothin’ Boring About Boron:
Any good trainer or coach should have a working understanding of health markers. Near the top of the pecking order when looking at optimal body composition, mood and generally wellness are hormones.
Of course, there are all manner of hormones relevant to this but I am going to focus on one of the most appropriate to my main client base. That is the highly successful male, 50+, time poor, usually working in an office or a relatively sedentary job.
The relevant hormone is (unsurprisingly) testosterone. As many of you may be aware testosterone levels play a big role in body composition and muscle growth. It is the primary reason why males generally carry more muscle and less body fat than women. It is essentially the hormone (or a derivative of) contained within anabolic steroids used to ‘beef up’ or improve physiques.
What you are less likely to know about is that this isn’t the ‘full picture’. High Total Testosterone (TT) levels are one thing but Free Testosterone (FT) circulating in the blood stream (able to be put to use by the body) is in fact the most important factor.
Overall TT levels produced by the body and FT levels circulating do not necessarily relate too closely. (High TT with low FT is relatively common.) This means a lot of precious testosterone being created by your body is being wasted as only the FT gets utilised.
This is seen more frequently in older males. Often those that have busy, stressful lives. Exactly the sort of people I help.
Why is this happening? Well put simply there is another lesser known hormone called Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) that binds to androgens (male hormones) and estrogens female hormones). (For the purpose of this article we will focus on the relationship with testosterone).
Both SHBG and serum albumin (outside of article scope) bind the testosterone in the blood stream. Essentially by transporting it. Only 1-2% of testosterone is free or ‘unbound’ and thus biologically active and able to enter a cell and activate its receptor. Therefore, SHBG inhibits the function of the testosterone.
Whilst we don’t know for sure, SHBG is hypothesised to increase as we age to protect us from self-made risky testosterone induced activities. Thereby preventing us prematurely orphaning our young. By bringing down FT we also (potentially) become ‘calmer’ and better partners. Exactly what is needed to ensure survival of our species.
It also seems to be raised in stressed people. Quite possibly for the same protective mechanism as above.
So it does have it benefits. BUT, if out of the ideal reference range it will hugely harm your fat loss efforts.
Help is at hand:
Thankfully, help is at hand via a trace mineral called Boron. This plays a vital role in all life and amongst other things improves bone growth (1,2,6), Vitamin D absorption (2,3), wound healing and anti-oxidant enzyme activity (3). However, most importantly for us, improves FT by blocking some of the SHBG meaning the TT remains unbound and therefore able to exert its effects.
Multiple clinical studies have shown after just 1 week of boron supplementation a higher rate of conversion of TT to FT in the testosterone metabolic pathway indicating Boron had an androgen amplifier effect. This has been demonstrated over a number of studies and is now pretty well established in the sports science community (3,4,5).
Dosage and practical application:
I always work with my clients to have blood tests. This is the real window into your heath and will quickly and accurately pin point any potentially issues we may face. This saves wasted time and expense and is effective to fast track your fitness results. Once this is done we can see your TT, FT and SHBG levels and ascertain if we need to supplement.
Assuming the client is below the ideal reference range of FT, a daily dose of 10-12 mg Boron a day should be sufficient to ‘dampen’ down the SHBG and raise FT levels. It is important to note that this may also raise estrogen due to the same processes. This is nothing to fear as a healthy reference range of estrogen is important for males too.
Lower level Boron supplementation has also been effective at 3mg a day for those who don’t have low FT but fall into the below categories.
- Those who don’t get much sunshine (Vit D)
- Those with dietary deficiencies in fruit and veg
- Those with/at risk of osteoporosis/osteoarthritis
There are currently no set upper limits of Boron supplementation although I’d be very wary of potential harm over 15-20mg of long term daily use.
Boron supplementation can be very effective at controlling SHBG and increasing FT levels especially in stressed middle aged males. This will improve your fitness results due to improved testosterone availability. Further benefit can be found for those who dietary habits are poor and or are suffering with loss of bone density.
- Nielsen FH. Is boron nutritionally relevant? Nutr Rev. 2008;66(4):183–191.
- Beattie JH, Peace HS. The influence of a low-boron diet and boron supplementation on bone, major mineral and sex steroid metabolism in postmenopausal women. Br J Nutr. 1993;69(3):871–884.
- Hunt CD. The biochemical effects of physiologic amounts of dietary boron in animal nutrition models. Environ Health Perspect. 1994;102(suppl 7):35–43.
- Naghii MR, Mofid M, Asgari AR, Hedayati M, Daneshpour MS. Comparative effects of daily and weekly boron supplementation on plasma steroid hormones and proinflammatory cytokines. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2011;25(1):54–58.
- Chueh KS, Huang SP, Lee YC, et al. The comparison of the aging male symptoms (AMS) scale and androgen deficiency in the aging male (ADAM) questionnaire to detect androgen deficiency in middle-aged men. J Androl. 2012;33(5):817–823.
- Nielsen FH, Stoecker BJ. Boron and fish oil have different beneficial effects on strength and trabecular microarchitecture of bone. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2009;23(3):195–203.