For years, doctors have told their patients to take calcium for bone health. But truthfully, there is not great evidence that supplemental calcium alone protects against bone degeneration. In fact, over-consumption or supplementation of calcium could do more harm than good:
- One meta analysis found that calcium supplementation did not reduce risk of fractures throughout the body, and in fact, those who supplemented with calcium had an increased risk of hip fracture
- “A meta-analysis of studies involving more than 12,000 participants… found that calcium supplementation increases the risk of heart attack by 31%, stroke by 20% and death from all causes by 9%“
- A recent study found an association between calcium supplementation and age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
- Calcium supplementation was associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease death in men aged 50-71 years old
Instead of high doses of calcium, many people could improve their bone strength more by taking co-factors that improve calcium absorption. People often meet their calcium requirements through diet, but miss out on other important nutrients for bones. These 9 vitamins, minerals, and elements are the most overlooked bone supplements, and they are likely the keys to bone health!
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is incredibly important for calcium absorption and bone health. Your body needs vitamin D to assimilate calcium. “Vitamin D has been shown to help prevent and treat osteoporosis. In fact, it’s even more important than calcium. … Without adequate levels of vitamin D, the intestine absorbs only 10 to 15 percent of dietary calcium. Research shows that the bone-protective benefits of vitamin D keep increasing with the dose.”
Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but there are many things that can interfere with vitamin D production. Many of us sit inside at work all day, so we do not get enough light to produce vitamin D. Additionally, worries about skin cancer have lead us to cover up our skin with clothes and sunscreen each day. This is obviously a smart decision to prevent sun damage and melanoma, but it does inhibit vitamin D production. Finally, people with darker skin do not produce as much vitamin D, so many people of color end up with a vitamin D deficiency.
How do you know if you’re vitamin D deficient? That’s a tricky question. Many doctors will say you’re fine if your vitamin D levels are above 30 noml/L. The Vitamin D Council, Endocrine Society and Institute of Medicine say you’re okay if your levels are between 40 and 50 ng/ml. However, many integrative and functional doctors have their patients aim much higher for optimal vitamin D levels– between 75 to 125 nmol/L.
The right type of Vitamin D
Make sure you are taking vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol. Vitamin D2 is inactive and won’t do you much good. Vitamin D3 is the type your body produces naturally, so if you are taking a supplement, be sure it is the biologically active form.
2. Vitamin K
While you might have heard of vitamin K in relation to blood clotting, it is also essential for bone health. Vitamin K helps deliver calcium to your bones for storage. Proper levels of vitamin K help prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures.
Forms of Vitamin K
- Vitamin K1– also known as phylloquinone; this form of vitamin K is found green leafy vegetables
- Vitamin K2– also known as menaquinone; this form of vitamin K is found in organ meats, egg yolks, and dairy
Vitamin K2 is more important for bone mineralization, so look for vitamin K2 in your bone supplements if you are aiming for bone health. But of course, eating lots of green leafy vegetables is still important!
Like vitamin K, magnesium is extremely important in maintaining the proper balance of calcium in bones and blood. Without magnesium, calcium can cause constipation and calcification. “Magnesium stimulates the hormone calcitonin, which helps to preserve bone structure by drawing calcium out of the blood and soft tissues back into the bones. This action helps lower the likelihood of osteoporosis, some forms of arthritis, heart attack and kidney stones. So, if you’re taking lots of calcium and not much magnesium, you are susceptible to these conditions.” Magnesium also improves vitamin D absorption.
While magnesium is found in vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts, magnesium levels in food have unfortunately dropped. Since our soil is depleted, even if you eat very well, you may have low levels of magnesium. In fact, studies have shown that dietary intake of magnesium is chronically low in America.
You can find magnesium supplements in many forms: pills, powders, liquids, bath soaks, and topical oils. Small studies have found that magnesium aspartate, citrate, lactate, or chloride are better absorbed and more bioavailable than magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate. Magnesium is well absorbed through the skin, so a great way to get your magnesium is in a relaxing bath. Did you know that regular Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate crystals? Epsom salt soaks are an easy, relaxing way to get your magnesium, and they have many benefits for your whole body.
Although researchers do not completely know the mechanism by which potassium helps bone health, it is clear that it does. Potassium could help balance acid and alkaline forces in the body, which in turn might prevent bone loss. Potassium also reduces calcium excretion in urine and improves calcium balance. Regardless of how it happens, it is important that you consume plenty of potassium for bone health.
Potassium is in almost every food, and especially in vegetables, fruits, and legumes. If you consume a variety of vegetables on a daily basis, potassium supplementation is probably not necessary. The best food sources of potassium are:©Rick Ligthelm
- Beet greens
- Swiss chard
- Sweet potatoes
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
While bananas have a reputation for being the best sources of potassium, you actually get more from leafy green vegetables! If you still feel that you don’t get enough potassium in your diet, you can take it as a supplement.
Manganese is a trace mineral that is important for many functions in the body. Low blood levels of manganese correlate with poor bone health, including low bone density and abnormalities in bone growth.
It is fairly easy to get the recommended amount of manganese if you eat a whole food diet that includes whole grains, nuts, and seeds. However, as many as 37% of Americans do not get enough manganese. Those individuals should take a manganese supplement providing about 2-5 mg per day.
Boron plays a role in bone metabolism. One study showed that women on a boron-deficient diet lost more calcium and magnesium through their urine; when they had boron added back into their diet, they excreted less magnesium and calcium, and increased levels of two hormones that are associated with higher bone density.
You don’t need much boron for healthy bones– just 15-20 mg per day for adults should do. Boron is found in foods like fruits, vegetables, and nuts. If you don’t feel you’re getting enough boron in your diet, you can take it as a supplement.
As the second most abundant mineral in the body (calcium is the most abundant), phosphorus plays a role in the growth, maintenance, and repair of all cells and tissues throughout the body, but it is particularly important for bone health. About 85% of all the phosphorus in the body is stored in bones and teeth. Phosphorus is found in many different foods, like milk, grains, and protein-rich foods, so deficiency is rare. In fact, over-consumption is often related to poor bone health. Phosphorus and calcium need to be in proper balance. If one consumes too much phosphorus, calcium supplements are essential to ensure that bones get the right balance of minerals.
Take care of your bones with the right bone supplements!
As you can see, calcium alone won’t build healthy bones. Many vitamins, minerals, elements, and other compounds work together to build strong, healthy bones. If you feel overwhelmed by all of the possible combinations, you can always visit or call Peach Vitamins for more assistance. Our knowledgeable staff can discuss your diet, exercise, and supplement regimen, and help figure out what might be appropriate for you.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Peach Vitamins staff members are not doctors and do not diagnose, prescribe, treat, or cure diseases or conditions. We can give information to help customers make their own educated decisions about their health, but we always recommend you consult your licensed health professional with any questions about health conditions.