Bones may appear like static pillars of stability, but they are actually intricate and dynamic networks of minerals and collagen with lively cells interspersed, called osteocytes, that maintain the balance of minerals both in our bones and in our blood. As women age, our bones naturally become more brittle, particularly after menopause, as osteocytes reabsorb more bone material into the rest of the body. While moderate declines in bone density are not abnormal, increases in the rate of decline may lead to osteoporosis and associated fractures. This is especially important for women as we are three times more likely than men to suffer from osteoporosis. Luckily, there are numerous nutrients you can easily incorporate into your diet today to help support healthy bones for years to come.
Calcium and Vitamin D are arguably the most important (and most discussed) nutrients for maintaining adequate bone mineral density. Calcium is by far the most abundant mineral found in bony matrix and is thus absolutely essential in maintaining bone density. However, Vitamin D is required in the intestinal absorption of calcium and is important to take with calcium. Dietary guidelines suggest supplementing with 500-1,000 mg calcium daily in divided doses at meal times can be beneficial for bone health. Good dietary sources of calcium include leafy greens (such as collards, spinach, and turnip greens), chia seeds and almonds. Because toxicity may occur with too much vitamin D, it is important to work with your doctor to find the right supplemental dose for you, but generally maintenance doses range from 600-1,000 IU per day.
While nobody can argue how important calcium and vitamin D are for bone health, they may only crack the surface of beneficial nutrients. Here are a few others that you may not be aware of:
Magnesium is required as a cofactor for an important enzyme involved in bone remineralization. It is also an important mineral to balance calcium in the body. One study of girls founds that those who used supplemental magnesium had a greater bone density. Dark, leafy greens are some of the best dietary sources of magnesium (as well as being high in calcium!). Other good dietary sources include whole, unrefined grains as well as many nuts and seeds.
This natural mineral is found in trace amounts in leafy greens and grains and thus does not comprise a large percentage of most individual’s diet. However, recent European research on the drug, strontium ranelate, has shown that high dose strontium increases bone mineral density in individuals with osteoporosis and actually decreases the risk of pathological fracture in this population. While strontium ranelate is not currently available in the United States, supplemental strontium is found as strontium citrate at many health stores. Talk with your doctor about what dose is appropriate for you. It is recommended to take the strontium away from your calcium since they compete for absorption. You can also find strontium in the following foods: spinach, lettuce, carrots, peas, potatoes and celery.
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin necessary to stimulate the synthesis of a protein, osteocalcin, secreted by the osteocytes that build bone. Studies have shown that individuals with osteoporosis tend to have lower serum vitamin K levels than their healthy counterparts. Foods rich in vitamin K include dark leafy greens (rich in calcium, magnesium AND vitamin K! These veggies pack quite a punch!), broccoli and cabbage. Because vitamin K is also integral to the blood clotting cascade, individuals on warfarin or any other blood thinning therapy should check with their physician before supplementing vitamin K.
Other Trace Minerals
Silicon, boron, manganese, and copper are also involved in maintenance of healthy bone. Focusing on a whole foods diet rich in vegetables will ensure that you are receiving adequate amounts of these important minerals.
As with any supplementation, it is important that you talk with your licensed healthcare provider (MD, DO, ND, NP) before beginning any new supplemental nutrients. And don’t forget, a diet rich in fresh organic vegetables, whole grains and grass fed meat is always a great place to start for healthy bones.
By: Malea MacOdrum, NCNM Naturopathic Medicine Program and Classical Chinese Medicine Program; Edited by Dr Elise Schroeder