The real truth about bone health
We need plenty of calcium for strong, healthy bones, especially as we get older-or so we're told. While it's true that the human body requires the mineral to grow and maintain bones and perform other functions, there are some very real dangers in getting too much. And skimping on other nutrients that are essential for calcium to be utilized by our bones can compound the risks.
"The real problem is not a lack of calcium in the diet, but rather a ‘relocation' of calcium from the bones to other areas of the body," says Thomas E. Levy, MD, author of Death by Calcium. Studies show that excess levels of the mineral can end up in arteries, leading to coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and strokes, and may contribute to cancer and early death, says Levy.
Part of the problem is that any government calcium recommendations (1,000 mg daily for most adults in the United States, and 700 mg daily in Europe) are intended to include all of an individual's calcium consumption-from food as well as supplements. But in practice, such amounts are often treated as daily minimums from supplements alone.
Doctors in this country frequently recommend supplementing with 1,000 mg of calcium, or even more when a patient has signs of osteoporosis, without evaluating the actual calcium content of the individual's diet. And conventional medical care typically ignores other nutrients that are equally vital for healthy bones.
Vitamin C Surprise
Few people associate vitamin C with bones, but there is a vital connection. Scurvy isn't considered a problem today but it can exist as "focal scurvy," meaning that a specific part of the body is severely deficient in vitamin C. This, says Levy, is very common in unhealthy bones.
"A focal bone scurvy initiates a severe loss in bone-building cells and an unchecked increase in bone-dissolving cells," he says. Since bone is continually turning over, such a vitamin C deficiency produces bone loss. In addition, an overall vitamin C deficiency poses two other problems, says Levy: Less calcium is deposited in bones, and more calcium is deposited in arteries and potentially kidney stones.
Other Nutritional Factors
Our bodies need a combination of nutrients to utilize calcium in bones and prevent harmful deposits in the wrong places. In addition to vitamin C, these include magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K. Another mineral, strontium, prevents bone loss by increasing the growth of new bone cells while slowing breakdown of old ones, according to a study of postmenopausal women published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
On the flipside, phosphates that are added to colas, cheeses, and other processed foods promote calcium deposits in arteries, according to Austrian research published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine. Phosphates are preservatives that help control pH levels in foods. However, they also stimulate production of a calcium-regulating hormone called FGF23, and inflated levels of the hormone lead to heart disease.
Good Digestion = Strong Bones
by Marita Schauch, BSc, ND
When it comes to strong, healthy bones, many physicians fail to address a critical piece of the bone health puzzle-digestion. This plays
a vital role in osteoporosis prevention and treatment; here's why: You must produce enough stomach acid in order to fully absorb vitamins and minerals (especially calcium). As you age, your stomach acid and absorption capabilities decrease, increasing the likelihood of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. In fact, estimates show that decreased (or low) stomach acid is seen in as many as 40 percent of postmenopausal women. And a woman's risk of osteoporosis greatly increases after menopause because her production of estrogen dramatically drops off at her peak of maturity.
Be sure to eat plenty of raw fruits and vegetables so that you can benefit from the enzymes they contain. Enzymes help enhance the body's absorption of food. Keep in mind that over-cooking destroys enzymes.
Editor's note: In addition to eating more raw fruits and veggies, consider adding a plant-based, full-spectrum enzyme supplement. Some enzyme formulas also contain betaine HCI (also sold as a single supplement), which can help boost hydrochloric acid secretion in the stomach for optimal nutrient absorption.
Vitamin C: 500 mg one to two times daily, or as much as your body tolerates without uncomfortable digestive symptoms.
Calcium: Most people get 500-700 mg daily from food, but your personal intake is what's important. A website or app such at myfitnesspal.com can help you calculate how much calcium you're getting from food, and supplements should only cover any shortfall. Also your body is more likely to leave calcium in vessels when you get more than 500 mg at one time, regardless of the source.
Magnesium: A common recommendation is 400 mg, once or twice daily, but some integrative physicians recommend getting equal amounts of magnesium and calcium, or taking enough magnesium to resolve symptoms of a deficiency. For a comprehensive list of magnesium deficiency symptoms, visit the Nutritional Magnesium Association at nutritionalmagnesium.org.
Vitamin D: 1,000-2,000 IU daily. Ideally, get vitamin D levels tested.
Vitamin K: Daily dosages vary, depending on the form of vitamin K. Follow product directions.
Strontium: 680 mg daily of elemental strontium for treating osteoporosis, and 340 mg for prevention. Take strontium at a different time than you take calcium and magnesium, as they compete for absorption.
Osteoporosis Signs & Symptoms
- Compression or stress fracture
- Gum disease or tooth decay
- Premature graying of hair (50 percent gray by age 40)
- Low back pain
- Leg cramps at night
- Poor nail growth or brittle nails
- Decreased height
Source: Making Sense of Women's Health by Marita Schauch, BSc, ND
American HealthEster-C with D3, Bone & Immune Health Complex, has 1,000 mg of vitamin C and 5,000 IU of vitamin D3.
Natural VitalityOsteo CALM is a premium liquid featuring magnesium, boron, vitamins C, D3, and K, and more.
New ChapterBone Strength Take Care features strontium, vitamins D3, K1, and K2, silica, and other minerals in a small tablet form.
Vera Tweed has been writing about nutrition, fitness, and healthy living since 1997. She specializes in covering research and expert knowledge that empowers people to lead better lives. She is the author of numerous books, including Hormone Harmony and the User's Guide to Carnitine and Acetyl-L-Carnitine.