Boron is an important, and often underutilized, trace mineral naturally present in certain foods and also within the environment. You’ll find it in many whole foods, especially
It’s also found in water to some degree, although we get most of our boron from foods in our diets.
What is boron used for? Boron uses include the ability to help keep the skeletal structure strong by adding to bone density, preventing osteoporosis, treating conditions like arthritis, and improving strength and muscle mass.
Additionally, this mineral is linked to improved brain function in some instances, since it can help boost concentration, focus and the ability to learn new information.
Boron is a chemical element and edible trace mineral. It has the symbol B and atomic number 5.
In nature, boron is found in various combinations with other elements/minerals and also oxygen. The type of boron we obtain from food is primarily in the form of boric acid, B(OH)3, which is naturally present only in plants.
Boric acid is a combination of boron, oxygen and hydrogen. Boron can also be bound to calcium, sodium and lithium.
Boron itself is considered a “structural component of plant cell walls” and plays a role in helping plants pollinate and grow. Researchers believe boron works to stabilize molecules within plants, including beneficial polysaccharides and sterols, although the exact way it works in both plants and humans is still somewhat unknown.
Boric acid is just one form of this mineral and one of dozens of “boron containing compounds” (BCCs) found in nature and available from chemical synthesis. According to a 2018 article published in World Journal of Translational Medicine, “Nowadays, there is a boom in research on new BCCs as potential tools in the prevention, diagnosis and therapy of human disease.”
What are some other boron uses and benefits? One theory is that this mineral has anti-inflammatory effects, antioxidant-like capabilities, and that it assists the body in handling other minerals like magnesium, calcium, sodium and phosphorus by producing necessary digestive enzymes.
While there’s still a lot to learn about this mineral, one of the most researched boron uses is its ability to increase estrogen levels in both healthy women and men, which is one reason it’s linked to healthy bones and fewer signs of age-related diseases like cognitive decline and arthritis.
Similarly, it’s used by many athletes and bodybuilders because it’s believed to increase the body’s ability to produce and use testosterone, so it’s beneficial for recovering from exercise, preventing aches and pains, building muscle mass, and keeping bones strong.
Boron is thought to help prevent a range of conditions, including:
This mineral can even help animals suffering from pain. Horses, sheep and other domesticated animals that develop signs of arthritis are sometimes given boron supplements to ease pain and inflammation.
In fact, because levels of boron in foods are highly dependent on how healthy the soil is where the crops are grown, animals that graze on depleted soils low in minerals usually have less muscle and more bone and joint pain as they age than animals raised on boron-rich soils.
Here are more about the benefits of boron:
Boron is often thought of as a “brain food” because it can help with task performance, better motor control, attention and even short-term memory. On the flip side, research shows low levels can contribute to a sluggish brain, poor cognitive development, and trouble learning or retaining information.
When researchers compared the effects of low boron intake in healthy adults with higher intake, there was a significant increase in the proportion of low-frequency brain activity and a decrease in the proportion of higher-frequency activity in the group consuming more.
Results showed improvements in task performance on various cognitive and psychomotor tests in the group receiving more, including better response times, motor skills and manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination, attention, perception, and both short- and long-term memory.
Boron plays an important role in the integration of calcium into the joint’s cartilage, which helps prevent joint deterioration and arthritis pain. Research shows people with lower boron concentrations in their bones and synovial fluid experience higher rates of arthritis than those with higher levels.
Other study observations show evidence that bones of patients using boron supplements are much harder to cut than those of patients not using supplements.
According to some epidemiologic studies, in areas of the world where intake of this mineral is lower (around one milligram or less/day) the incidence of arthritis is significantly higher than in areas where intake is higher (around three to 10 milligrams/day on average).
Boron uses include the ability to improve bone density and prevent bone loss and bone diseases by facilitating calcium, the main mineral involved in bone mineralization, directly into the bones, where it helps prevent porous and weak bones from developing. It can also help protect bones because of its role in regulating estrogen function.
Additionally, studies show it can help the body produce and use vitamin D better, which is a crucial nutrient for healthy bone formation, in addition to many other things like immune function and cognitive processes.
In one study, it was found that boron supplements can increase bone formation and inhibit bone resorption, producing therapeutic protection against osteoporosis in animal studies. When rats were fed a boron-deprived diet, they experienced spongy bones, bone loss in the femurs and lumbar vertebrae, and increased osteoporotic conditions.
On the other hand, rats given high-boron supplements showed improvements in bone mass, bone thickness, bone volume and higher levels of estradiol (a hormone tied to bone health).
As a mineral that can help balance levels of sex hormones in both women and men, including estrogen and testosterone, boron may aid in relieving menopause symptoms as well as PMS. It may help support fertility as well.
In animal studies, boron depletion is linked with fertility problems and birth defects, which suggests that boron can play a role in healthy reproduction and fetus development.
In two small studies by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, when menopausal women were first fed a diet that provided low levels of boron and then were fed a diet richer in boron, they experienced lower levels of calcium and magnesium loss through urine and elevated (but still considered healthy) levels of estrogen and testosterone.
Certain vitamins and minerals are better absorbed and utilized by the body when boron levels are higher, which is important for building muscle, burning fat and preventing pain by recovering muscle-tissue tears following exercise.
Because boron seems to help promote healthy testosterone production, according to certain studies (but not all that have been conducted), it might lead to higher energy levels and quicker strength gains, while potentially lowering the risk for sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss).
Other research also shows that it may boost athletic performance because it helps the brain think quickly, react better to stimulus and demonstrate hand-eye coordination, in addition to keeping bones and joints stronger and free from pain.
This is one reason why it’s included in some protein powders and athletic supplements, although more research is still needed to confirm whether or not it can definitely impact body composition and physical abilities without being combined with other factors.
Boron is an active ingredient in tablets used to treat yeast infections in women. In the form of boric acid, it’s used as a natural alternative to messy over-the-counter yeast infection medicines or creams.
Boric acid is considered safe and effective when inserted into the vagina to speed up healing of painful infections.
According to results from a double-blind comparison study looking at the effects of boron compared to another type of commercial yeast infection cream (made from nystatin), boron was better able to treat yeast infections. Ninety-two percent of women had relief after seven to 10 days of treatment compared to 64 percent using the standard cream.
Boron produced no unwanted side effects and was also self-made and much less expensive than the cream, leading researchers to conclude that boric acid is a natural fungistatic and can be a better, cost-effective option than “messy” vaginal creams.
Boron uses include acting as an astringent to help prevent or treat infections on the skin, so it’s useful for lowering redness, inflammation, pain and other signs of irritation.
For the same reason, some people also use it as a natural eye wash to help kill bacteria that can lead to styes and other infections.
Animal studies show that low levels of boron can increase physiological effects tied to diabetes, including changes in blood glucose (sugar) levels and triglyceride concentrations.
It appears that it can help with the metabolism of carbohydrates and the production of insulin from the pancreas that better controls stable blood sugar levels, so in the future we might see it being used as one treatment for certain types of insulin resistance.
Is boron harmful to humans? Overall the risks of consuming this mineral are thought to be minimal, especially from natural food sources.
It’s widely recognized as being very safe for consumption in both humans and animals. In fact, some farmers even treat soil with high levels of boron and give boron supplements to their livestock to reduce the effects of radiation in the environment.
Industrial uses also include its ability to capture radioactivity within soils, ionizing it and reducing potential health risks like cancer.
Of course, like with all nutrients, very high levels can also cause potential problems. Boron toxicity is not common when consuming whole foods, but taking high doses of supplements can potentially become dangerous and cause negative reactions.
While side effects are not very common, they can include:
As always, it’s best to get this mineral (and all other vitamins and minerals) from real whole foods whenever possible, as opposed to supplements.
How much boron is too much?
Potentially “dangerously high” doses of boron are believed to be those above 20 grams/day for adults and those above three to six grams/day for children (depending on their age), although many studies find minimal or no toxicity at these levels or even higher.
The “maximum tolerable intake” is between one to 20 milligrams per day for adults, which means you should not exceed this amount (unless working closely with a doctor). Children between the ages should not exceed doses of of 17 milligrams per day.
While exact levels of boron are still not known (and vary a lot depending on where the food was grown), the USDA reports that most people usually consume enough from their diets to meet their needs.
Based on research findings, most people seem to get the majority of their boron from foods like coffee, milk, apples, beans and potatoes. Together, these foods are responsible for about 27 percent of the boron most people consume.
Even though it’s believed that coffee and milk aren’t the best sources of boron — they might actually be somewhat low in boron compared to many legumes, vegetables and fruits — they are the top contributors in the American diet because of the high amount of these foods/beverages that many people consume.
How much boron should you take a day? Because there’s limited studies involving boron’s exact role in the body, the USDA and other authorities still haven’t established a clear biological function for boron in humans or recommended amounts.
Instead, authorities have determined an “upper limit” for boron, which indicates amounts that most people can consume while maintaining their health without experiencing signs of deficiency or toxicity.
The upper limit for boron depends on your age and gender and are as follows:
This means that the “tolerable upper intake level” of boron, the the maximum dose at which no harmful effects would be expected, for adults is 20 milligrams per day. (This includes pregnant or breastfeeding women over 19 years of age.)
For example, a daily dosage of 2.5 to six milligrams of boron has been administered in most studies for osteoarthritis and strength conditioning. The lowest active dose that has beneficial effects seems to be about three milligrams/day for adults.
Taking 20 milligrams of boron daily is considered a very high dose, and most studies suggest it’s best to start with a lower dose around three to six milligrams daily. To be safe, do not take high doses without working with a doctor.
How do you get boron in your diet? You can make sure you get enough by eating a varied diet of whole, real food sources.
While a comprehensive list of boron content within common foods isn’t yet available, below are believed to be the highest food sources of boron:
Another fun fact about boron uses? Boron acts as a natural food preservative within foods.
It helps diminish bacteria growth, and it’s a natural way to prevent crops from spoiling. In fact, during World War I and II it was added to foods to prolong their freshness and reduce food pathogens when refrigeration wasn’t always possible.
You can naturally increase your intake of this mineral by making some of these recipes that include boron-rich foods:
The National Institute of Health warns consumers that boron supplements can be harmful to people with hormone-sensitive conditions — like breast or prostate cancer, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids — since it can increase estrogen levels.
People with existing cases of kidney disease or liver disease should also use these supplements very carefully and speak with a doctor first since these conditions can alter the way the body gets rid of excess minerals.