Most people don’t notice weak bones until it’s too late. Often, a fracture is the first sign of a problem. But taking a proactive approach can help you get ahead of osteoporosis by building better bones before problems arise. However, before you just randomly increase your calcium intake—don’t. Extra calcium, by itself, isn’t what your body needs.
The Path to Osteoporosis Starts Sooner Than You Think
No matter how well you eat, no matter how much you exercise, your bones will naturally start losing density after age 40. That’s just biology: as you age, you’ll start to lose bone faster than you can build it due to an imbalance in the normal bone-growth cycle. Without intervention, this imbalance can lead to osteoporosis, a condition that results in thin, weak, brittle bones that break easily—so easily, in fact, that just bumping your hip on a table or tripping over a curb can result in a fracture.
For women, bone loss becomes more dramatic once they hit menopause, largely due to a decline in estrogen. Men also lose bone as they age due to hormonal changes. But as men have larger, denser bones to begin with, the decline happens more slowly.
The Pharma Solutions Do More Harm Than Good
Doctors routinely prescribe bisphosphonates like Boniva and Fosamax to treat and prevent osteoporosis. These drugs “work” by slowing down osteoclasts, the cells responsible for removing older, weaker bone tissue to make space for fresh, new bone. Over time that old bone tissue becomes increasingly brittle and fragile, which can actually lead to an increased risk of fracture.
Calcium Alone Can’t Build Bone
When you think about bone health, calcium is likely the first thing that comes to mind. After all, your bones are made mainly of calcium, and 99 percent of your body’s calcium supply is stored in your bones. But, as odd as it sounds, an overabundance of calcium can actually weaken bones. This is because high calcium levels signal your body to pull calcium out of your bones in an effort to create a balance between the cells that build new bone and the cells that break down old bone. That can lead to osteoporosis.
Without the help of other nutrients, your body can’t properly absorb calcium, direct it toward your bones, or lock it in place. That’s why the key to avoiding osteoporosis involves four nutrients known for strengthening bones.
4 Bone-Building Nutrients Keep Your Skeleton Strong
The following nutrients—one mineral and three vitamins—are proven to keep bones strong and resilient.
You may not have heard of strontium, but this mineral helps increase bone density. It works much the same way as calcium and acts through the same pathways. Research reports that strontium improves bone strength by sparking production and activity of osteoblasts, the cells that build bone tissue. At the same time, strontium slows—but doesn’t stop—osteoclasts from removing older bone. That action helps boost bone density while decreasing fracture risk.
Look for strontium citrate, the most absorbable form of this mineral. For the best results, take 680 mg of strontium daily, at least two hours before or after taking calcium.
This fat-soluble nutrient doesn’t get much attention for its ability to foster healthy bones—but it should! Studies show that vitamin A boosts bone mineral density by balancing the activity of bone-building osteoblasts and bone-removing osteoclasts. But be aware that, just like Goldilocks, you need to find the amount of vitamin A that’s “just right.” Low blood levels can double your risk of fracture. But ultra-high levels won’t do your bones any favors either. In fact, when the Nurses’ Health Study looked at vitamin A consumption and fracture risk in postmenopausal women, they found that women taking more than 10,000 IU daily were one-and-a-half times more likely to break a bone. To get the most from you supplement, choose a preformed vitamin A, which is typically listed on labels as retinyl palmitate.
Vitamin K2 acts like a calcium traffic cop. By activating specific proteins such as osteocalcin, it directs calcium toward your bones and away from soft tissue and blood vessels where it doesn’t belong. A meta-analysis of 16 randomized, controlled clinical trials that included 6,425 subjects found that supplementing with vitamin K2 significantly improved bone density in the spine and reduced bone fractures. To protect your own bones with this key nutrient, look for a supplement containing vitamin K2 as menaquinone-7, the most active form of K2.
The sunshine vitamin plays a crucial role in building bone, especially in its active form—vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). It allows your body to absorb calcium, which can’t happen without vitamin D. It also plays a role in mineralizing your bones, the process in which minerals stick to the bone framework and strengthen it. Plus, vitamin D strengthens muscles to keep your skeleton aligned and protected.
A randomized, double-blind, controlled clinical trial published in the Journal of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research Plus showed that patients who took 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily had improved fracture healing compared to a placebo. And a meta-analysis published in Nutrition Review showed that supplementing with vitamin D3 increased bone mineral density in the thigh, spine, and hip. To take advantage of vitamin D’s bone benefits, supplement with 5,000 IU daily.