Improve bone density with supplements & vitamins
Many doctors and specialists will suggest taking supplements and vitamins in addition to exercise and healthy eating in efforts to improve bone density. Such supplements include calcium, magnesium and protein and vitamins such as vitamin D, vitamin K and vitamin E.
This blog article explores these supplements and vitamins in more detail.
Consider a supplement
Your calcium needs increase with age, making it a challenge to take in enough calcium through food alone. The U.S. recommended daily allowance for calcium is 1,000 mg a day during your 20s, 30s and 40s.
After menopause, most women need 1,000 to 1,500 mg a day unless they take hormone therapy, says Jeffers. Women over 50 should get at least 1,200mg per day. Men between 50 and 70 years old need 1,000 mg a day; men over 70 need 1,200 mg.
“And since your body absorbs only 500 mg of calcium at a time, divide your dosages out over the course of the day,” Jeffers says. Check with your doctor before starting supplements to find out what amount is right for you.
However, if you get enough calcium from your diet, don’t take calcium supplements unless recommended by your doctor. Too much calcium may have unpleasant side effects, including the possibility of kidney stones.
Calcium & Protein supplement facts
- Provides the body with a source of essential amino acids necessary to support the building of bone.
- In older adults, low protein intake is associated with loss of bone mineral density (BMD) – one indicator of bone strength – at the hip and the spine.
- Protein supplementation of hip fracture patients has been shown to reduce post-fracture bone loss, medical complications and rehabilitation hospital stay.
- Protein undernutrition leads to reduced muscle mass and strength which is a risk factor for falls.
- Bone acts as a reservoir for maintaining calcium levels in the blood, which is essential for healthy nerve and muscle function.
- If you don’t supply your body with the calcium it needs, it will respond by taking calcium from your bones and weaken them.
- Milk and other dairy foods are the most readily available sources of calcium. However, some people have trouble digesting lactose in milk and dairy, but there are other food sources of calcium including green vegetables (e.g., broccoli, curly kale, bok choy); whole canned fish with soft, edible bones such as sardines or pilchards; nuts (almonds and Brazil nuts in particular); and tofu set with calcium.
- Daily calcium intake recommendations for populations vary between countries but the general consensus is that people are not consuming enough.
- For people who cannot get enough calcium through their diets, supplements may be beneficial. These should be limited to 500-600 mg per day and it is generally recommended that they be taken combined with vitamin D.
Recommended daily intake (RDI) for Calcium
Life-stage group / Calcium RDI (mg/day)
- 51-70 year old males / 1,000
- 51-70 year old females / 1,300
- >70 years old / 1,300
RDI for calcium based on NHMRC nutrient reference values for Australia
*IU: International Unit
Magnesium is an important mineral for every part of your body, including your bones. 50-60% of the magnesium in your body is in your bones. Many people don’t get enough magnesium in their diets. Adult males should get at least 400-420mg per day, and adult females should get at least 310-320mg per day.
Magnesium competes with calcium for absorption. If you have low calcium levels, magnesium may cause a calcium deficiency. However, if you get enough calcium in your diet, you probably don’t have to worry about these effects.
There are many rich sources of dietary magnesium, including:
- Almonds, cashews, peanuts, and peanut butter
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach
- Whole grains and legumes, especially black beans and soybeans
- Avocados, potatoes with their skins, and bananas
Take a daily Vitamin D
To help absorb calcium, most adults need 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily, says Dr. Andrea Sikon of Cleveland Clinic. “Combined calcium-vitamin D pills usually do not meet this requirement. And most of us who live north of Atlanta do not get enough vitamin D the old-fashioned way — from the sun. Taking a vitamin D supplement ensures you meet your daily needs.”
Even if you take medications such as bisphosphonates (e.g. Fosamax), you still need vitamin D and calcium as building blocks, says Sikon.
Additional facts around vitamin D intake:
- Plays two key roles in the development and maintenance of healthy bones: helps the body absorb calcium from the intestines; ensures correct renewal and mineralisation of bone.
- Helps improve muscle strength and balance hence reducing the risk of falls.
- Low population levels of vitamin D are a cause of concern globally as they can predispose individuals to osteoporosis.
- Dietary sources of vitamin D include: oily fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel and sardines), egg yolk and liver. In some countries milk, margarine and breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin D.
- Recommended vitamin D intakes vary by age group and needs increase as you age.
Recommended adequate intake (AI) for vitamin D
Life-stage group / Vitamin D AI (IU*/day)
- 51-70 year old males / 600
- 51-70 year old females / 600
- >70 years old / 800
AI for vitamin D recommended by Osteoporosis Australia and IOF
*IU: International Unit
Consume enough Vitamin K
Vitamin K increases bone density and may even reduce your risk of fractures. Adult males should get at least 120mcg per day, and adult females should get at least 90mcg per day. Most people get enough vitamin K from their diet. Your intestinal bacteria also produce vitamin K.
Vitamin K is found in many foods, but good sources include:
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and collard and turnip greens
- Vegetable oils, especially soybean oil, and nuts
- Fruits such as berries, grapes, and figs
- Fermented foods, especially Natto (fermented soybeans) and cheese
Be careful of your Vitamin E consumption
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. Adults should get at least 15mg/22.4IU per day. However, you should be careful about vitamin E supplements; these usually provide more than 100IU per dose, far more than the recommended daily intake.
Several studies suggest that consuming vitamin E supplements may decrease bone mass and reduce new bone formation.
Getting sufficient vitamin E from dietary sources is unlikely to pose a threat to your bones, and can provide many health benefits.
Good dietary sources of vitamin E include seeds, nuts, plant oils, spinach, broccoli, kiwifruit, mango, tomato, and spinach.
Read more on the importance of staying healthy over 60 in volume 2.
Volume two: Looking after your health and well-being after 60
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