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Healthy Bones: More Than Just Calcium

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

Can you name 3 nutrients needed for healthy bones? Just about everyone will name calcium. Did you get 2 others? You might have said vitamin D & magnesium. But there’s so much more to the story. Did you know that for healthy bones you need adequate protein, phosphorous, magnesium, boron, silicon, potassium, manganese, copper, zinc, fluoride (and I mean fluoride naturally found in food, NOT the toxic substance they add to toothpaste & our water supplies), vitamins A, B, C & K2?

Our bones are made up of bone cells and an intracellular matrix of collagen & proteins, with minerals deposited within that matrix.

It is true that calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body, with more than 99% of this found in our bones, but to focus solely on calcium as seems to be done only tells part of the story & misses an abundance of essential nutrients for good bone health. And this is also misrepresented.

It’s become more commonly known and understood that we require vitamin D to absorb calcium, and magnesium plays a key role in converting vitamin D into its active form (the one that promotes calcium absorption) . But what happens when the calcium is absorbed? Well, we then need adequate vitamin K2 to tell the calcium where to go. With inadequate vitamin K2, all that calcium can end up in places like our arteries, where it can be detrimental to health, rather than in our bones where we need it. The higher your vitamin D intake, the greater your requirement for vitamin K2.

As I’ve said so many times before, our best source of vitamin D is the sun. Vitamin K2 is a less known vitamin. Natto is the best food source of vitamin K2 if you like it (can’t say I’m keen). Other good sources include goose liver (think pate), brie & Gouda cheese, eggs & butter from grass fed animals. And for magnesium, think leafy greens, dark chocolate or cacao & nuts & seeds (like pumpkin seeds & almonds).

The condition osteoporosis is one of low bone mineral density. Notice that – minerals… not just calcium. Our bones require trace amounts of a vast variety of minerals and these are usually ignored when talking about bone health.

Vitamin A (think liver & eggs) is necessary for the proliferation of cartilage and bone growth, and vitamin C is essential for the formation of collagen. Omega 3 fats have been found to promote the formation of new bone & protect against bone loss during the ageing process.

So what about dairy? We are constantly bombarded with the message of how important it is for us to consume dairy (especially children) in order to have healthy bones. THIS SIMPLY ISN’T TRUE. We don’t need to consume dairy in order to get adequate calcium or for healthy bones. In fact there is a correlation between increased dairy and calcium consumption and higher osteoporosis & fracture risk… the countries with the highest calcium intake have the highest rates of osteoporosis & the countries with the highest dairy intake have the highest rates of fracture. I’ll be sharing a video tomorrow on my FB page which discusses this…

Good non dairy food sources of calcium include dark green leafy & collard vegetables, rocket, basil, sardines, sesame seeds, edamame, tofu, white beans, okra, citrus, dried figs & sweet potato.

Additionally calcium supplementation has been found to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, vascular calcification, & kidney stones.

Studies have also shown that very low calorie diets can lead to lower bone density. Additionally maintaining a healthy weight can help support bone health. Being underweight increases the risk of osteopenia & osteoporosis & in fact low body weight is the main factor contributing to reduced bone density and bone loss in post menopausal women.

Losing a large amount of weight in a short time, or repeatedly losing and regaining weight (weight cycling) appears particularly detrimental to bone health. One study found that bone loss during weight loss was not regained when the weight was regained.

And don’t forget exercise. Along with consuming a diverse, nutrient dense diet; the best thing we can do for our bones is to do weight bearing & strength training exercise. Put very simply, the more we use our bones and place stress on them, the more dense they will grow. The critical years for this are while we are young. We build our bones during childhood & adolescents, and most people will reach peak bone mass by the age of 25-30 (90% by age 18-20). It’s a bit like paying money into superannuation. By the time we reach age 40 we gradually begin to lose bone mass (like drawing on that superannuation we built up). The denser we build our bones when we are young, the better they will maintain through the later years.

Finally a note on stress – high levels of stress have been shown to influence bone biology, eventually leading to osteoporosis & increased fracture risk.

So the bottom line for good bone health is unsurprisingly consistent with how we approach overall health – take a holistic approach - eat a diverse, nutrient dense diet, rich in whole foods, get out in the sun, include weight bearing exercise & reduce stress. It’s also worth noting that smoking and alcohol have also been linked to low bone density.


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