woman reading about bone nutrients

To help fend off osteoporosis, osteopenia and bone fractures, your body needs more than just calcium to keep your bones strong. But knowing the right nutrients and how to get them in ideal amounts is tricky. With guidance from Dr. Susan E. Brown, PhD, nutritionist and bone expert you can get the 7 nutrients you need every day to build bone and reduce your risk of both bone loss and fracture:

7 nutrients

More details about these top nutrients

Calcium. Your body contains more calcium than any other mineral — making up about 2% of your total adult body weight. It’s stored in your bones and teeth, and the skeleton itself is a reserve of calcium. If your body doesn’t get the calcium it needs from food or supplementation, it takes it from the skeleton and weakens your bones.

Getting enough calcium isn’t as simple as adding more to your diet. Absorbability is just as important, if not more important, than a high intake. Calcium absorption is highly dependent on vitamin D. A person with inadequate vitamin D absorbs 65% less calcium than someone who has adequate vitamin D (or 32ng/ml). Magnesium is a powerful companion nutrient for bone-building that should be kept in balance with calcium.

Magnesium. Magnesium assures the strength and firmness of bones and makes teeth harder. It’s one of the key nutrients needed to ensure calcium is both optimally absorbed and best utilized by the body. It’s also necessary for converting vitamin D into its active form. What’s more, magnesium is required for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body.

The majority of the body’s reserves (60%) of magnesium are held in the bone, and the bones act as a storage reservoir, transferring magnesium to the blood in times of need.

Vitamin D3. Vitamin D — and specifically the hormone our body produces from vitamin D — is the most important regulator of calcium absorption. People with low vitamin D absorb 65% less calcium than those with adequate levels of this vitamin. Osteoporotic fractures are much more common in folks with low levels of vitamin D, though fracture incidence can be dramatically reduced with vitamin D supplementation.

Low levels of vitamin D are also linked to the development of numerous diseases, including:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Depression
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dementia
  • Auto-immune disease (such as MS)

Vitamin K. Emerging research is showing vitamin K2 as MK-7 (menaquinone-7) is one of the keys for building bone strength, helping to prevent osteoporosis, protecting the heart, and even reducing mortality. For example, K2 is involved in preventing fractures in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis. An analysis of the results of 19 different studies focusing on postmenopausal women with osteoporosis showed that vitamin K2 plays a role in improvement of the vertebral bone mineral density and the prevention of fractures.

Vitamin K2 as MK-7 has also been shown to improve cardiovascular health in healthy postmenopausal women. Finally, in one recent study, participants who increased their vitamin K1 and K2 dietary intakes over the nearly five-year follow-up period had a 43% and 45% reduced risk of overall mortality respectively compared to those whose intakes were unchanged or reduced. Those with increased vitamin K2 intakes during follow-up had a 59% lower risk of death from cancer.

Zinc. Zinc helps produce the matrix of collagen protein threads upon which the all-important bone-forming calcium–phosphorus compound is deposited. It’s also necessary for the production of enzymes that degrade and recycle worn-out bits of bone protein. Zinc deficiency is problematic because it prevents full absorption of calcium. Low levels have been closely linked with the development of osteoporosis.

Manganese. Manganese is often overlooked as an important ingredient in good bone health, and there’s not even an RDA for manganese. However, research shows clearly that manganese is a co-factor in the formation of bone cartilage and bone collagen, as well as in bone mineralization.

Manganese deficiency can have serious consequences — it appears to increase bone breakdown while decreasing new bone mineralization — and that can lead to osteoporosis. For example in one study, blood levels of manganese in severely osteoporotic women were found to be just 1/4 those of non-osteoporotic women their same age. Chillingly, it was the only significantly different variable out of 25 studied.

Boron. The benefits of boron for bone health have only recently been discovered. Your body requires boron for proper metabolism and utilization of various bone-building factors, including calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, estrogen, and perhaps testosterone. Overall studies show boron has a mineral-conserving and estrogen-enhancing effect, especially among women with low magnesium intake.

Getting enough nutrients

Ideally, we would get the optimal supply of supplemental nutrients from the food we eat. But for most of us, that’s just not possible — even when we’re doing our very best to eat well. Plus, most people don’t realize how critical specific nutrients are for the absorption of other nutrients. Without this synergistic effect, your body can’t absorb certain nutrients and won’t get the benefits.

To get the right amounts of the top nutrients every day, you may want to use a nutritional supplement in addition to enjoying a healthy diet. When choosing your supplements, go with a medical-grade multivitamin/mineral formulated specifically for bone health, and make sure it contains balanced, therapeutic levels of these nutrients in their most bioavailable forms. Our exclusive Better Bones Basics is formulated with ideal amounts of vitamin D, calcium and magnesium and also includes other essential bone-building minerals at therapeutic levels, along with nutrients to optimize absorption and bone-building support.


References

Moshfegh, A., et al. 2005. What we eat in America, NHANES 2001–2002: Usual nutrient intakes from food compared to Dietary Reference Intakes. USDA, Agricultural Research Service. URL: http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12355000/pdf/usualintaketables2001-02.pdf (accessed 06.17.2008).

Heaney, R., & Weaver, C. 2003. Calcium and vitamin D. Endocrinol. Metab. Clin. N. Am., 32 (1), 181–194, vii–viii. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12699298 (accessed 05.20.2008).

Brown, S. 2008. Vitamin D and fracture reduction: An evaluation of the existing research. Alt. Med. Rev., 13 (1), 21–33. URL (PDF): http://www.thorne.com/altmedrev/.fulltext/13/1/21.pdf (accessed 05.22.2008).

Holick, M. 2006. High prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy and implications for health. Mayo Clin. Proc., 81 (3), 353–373. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16529140 (accessed 05.13.2008).

Hanley, D., & Davison, K. 2005. Vitamin D insufficiency in North America. Symposium: Vitamin D Insufficiency: A Significant Risk Factor in Chronic Diseases and Potential Disease-Specific Biomarkers of Vitamin D Sufficiency. J. Nutr., 135 (2), 332-337. URL: http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/135/2/332 (accessed 05.13.2008).

Holick, M. 2005. The vitamin D epidemic and its health consequences. J. Nutr., 135 (11),2739S–2748S. URL: http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/135/11/2739S (accessed 05.13.2008).

Bischoff–Ferrari, H., et al. 2007. Calcium intake and hip fracture risk in men and women: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies and randomized controlled trials. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 86 (6), 1780–1790. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18065599 (accessed 06.17.2008).

Steingrimsdottir, L., et al. 2005. Relationship between serum parathyroid hormone levels, vitamin D sufficiency, and calcium intake. JAMA, 294 (18), 2336-2341. URL: http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/294/18/2336 (accessed 06.17.2008).

Dawson–Hughes, B., et al. 1997. Effect of calcium and vitamin D supplementation on bone density in men and women 65 years of age or older. NEJM, 337 (10), 670-676. URL: http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/337/10/670 (accessed 06.17.2008).

Dawson–Hughes, B., et al. 1990. A controlled trial of the effect of calcium supplementation on bone density in postmenopausal women. NEJM, 323 (13), 878–883. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2203964 (accessed 05.13.2008).

Brown, S. 2006. “Bone nutrition.” In Scientific Evidence for Musculoskeletal, Bariatric, and Sports Nutrition, ed. I. Kohlstadt, p. 458. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Knapen, M., et al. 2007. Vitamin K2 supplementation improves hip bone geometry and bone strength indices in postmenopausal women. Osteoporos. Int., 18 (78), 963–972. URL: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=17287908 (accessed 05.14.2008).

For a complete list of references see: 20 key nutrients for bone health.