Physical disability caused by osteoporosis may be down to declines in citrate as well as calcium, researchers examining the nanostructure of bones have suggested.
Scientists at the University of Iowa identified the chemical as playing a key role in the unique properties of bone, which are stronger pound-for-pound than steel.
At higher concentrations, citrate was found to lead to the development of thinner nanocrystals within the bone, which in turn should improve resistance to crack propagation.
Researchers are hopeful that the new findings could be used to develop stronger inorganic materials, but they will also prove useful to people who live with osteoporosis.
Lead researcher Klaus Schmidt-Rohr explained: "We looked at the citrate levels in a variety of types of bone and found that herring spine had the highest citrate concentration - about 13 percent by weight.
"So it should hold that the citrate signal for herring spine should be three times higher than for cow bone, and indeed it was."
Osteoporosis occurs more commonly in older people and is linked to lower levels of calcium.
Factors that can aggravate the condition and worsen injuries include falls and inactivity.
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