Humans in the US today can expect to live well into our 70’s or 80’s so maintaining healthy bones that support us throughout our life span is essential if we’re going to stay active and keep our independence.
Although they seem rock-like, our bones are alive. They contain blood vessels, nerves, and cells – and serve many functions:
Enable support and mobility for the body
Store important trace minerals needed for bodily functions
Produce red and white blood cells
Protect the body’s organs from injury
Two types of cells regulate the bone’s structure:
Osteoblasts – cells that build bones
Osteoclasts – cells that break down old or damaged bone to make room for healthy new bone
Bone Remodeling: Osteoclasts & Osteoblasts
Bones remain healthy and strong as long as bone-building activity exceeds bone breakdown. Our most intense bone growth stage runs from birth until about age 30-35. After that, our bones gradually lose minerals.
“If not given the right kind of care, bones can begin to weaken early in life. It’s a quiet, symptom-less process that steals away your bones. You can’t feel it happening, at least not in the early stages – hence the name ‘silent thief’.
“And here’s something that every woman needs to know: Your normal bone loss accelerates during and after menopause for about five to seven years before returning to the slightly slower rate that men experience.
“You can lose as much as 35 percent of your bone density during those few, short years!” (Mercola, 2016)
PHARMACEUTICALS FOR OSTEOPOROSIS?
The common belief that osteoporosis drugs are a good way to restore bone health is actually incorrect. Dr Robert Mercola points out that most of these drugs “actually weaken your bones. Bisphosphonate bone drugs impact your normal bone repair process by killing off your osteoclasts, and do make your bones denser, but because the osteoclasts are killed the bone is actually weaker as it is not remodeled properly.
“Before starting any type of prescription drug for your bone health, I strongly recommend you consider less risky, more natural approaches first, such as diet, exercise, and safe bone health supplements!” (Mercola, 2016)
A BETTER WAY TO KEEP YOUR BONES HEALTHY
In addition to the right kinds of physical activity, proper bone building requires balancing four major nutrients: CALCIUM, VITAMIN D, VITAMIN K2, AND MAGNESIUM.
“The functions of these four nutrients are entwined and depend on each other for strength– much like a twisting grapevine.
“Just as you can’t untangle a grapevine without wrecking its strength, you can’t separate out one nutrient without affecting the actions of the others.
Vitamin D maintains skeletal calcium balance by promoting calcium absorption in your intestines.
Calcium and phosphate depend upon Vitamin D for bone formation.
Vitamin K2 helps to cement the calcium you absorb into the bone matrix rather than depositing it on the inside of your blood vessels leading to atherosclerosis.
Magnesium is an important mineral that your body needs to build a strong bone matrix.
“Imagine the effects on your bones if one of these nutrients is missing – or not present in the right amount!” (Mercola, 2016)
Seven Health Benefits of Calcium
Both Dr Mercola and Chris Kresser agree that getting your calcium from healthy food sources is preferable to taking a calcium supplement. (Kresser, 2013) & Mercola, 2016)
“If you’re concerned about maintaining healthy bones, you’re better off ensuring adequate calcium intake from foods like dairy products, sardines, salmon, dark leafy greens and bone broth. 600 milligrams per day from food (approximately two servings of dairy products or bone-in fish) is plenty to maintain adequate levels of calcium in the body. Healthy bone formation also depends on vitamin D and vitamin K2, both of which regulate calcium metabolism. There are also other minerals besides calcium involved in supporting bone health, such as silica and magnesium. If you have adequate levels of these nutrients, and regularly perform weight-bearing exercise, there is no need for calcium supplementation, which will likely do more harm than good.” (Kresser, 2013)
Some high calcium foods – such as fermented cheeses and butter from pastured cows – also have the benefit of containing naturally high amounts of vitamin K2.
Sesame seeds (1/4 cup) 351 mg
Sardines, canned in oil with bones (3 ounces) 324 mg
Yogurt (unsweetened) (1 cup) 300 mg
Goat’s milk (1 cup) 326 mg
Swiss cheese (1 ounce) 270 mg
Spinach (1 cup cooked) 260 mg
Collard greens (1 cup cooked) 226 mg
Canned salmon with bones (3 ounces) 181 mg
Almonds (2 ounces) 150 mg
Navy beans, cooked (1 cup) 130 mg
Broccoli, raw (1 cup) 90 mg
Vitamin D facilitates calcium absorption in the gut and maintains adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations to allow normal mineralization of bone and to prevent hypocalcemic tetany (a disease caused by an abnormally low level of calcium in the blood). It is also needed for bone growth and bone remodeling. Without sufficient Vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Vitamin D sufficiency prevents rickets in children and osteomalacia (softening of the bones, resulting from impaired mineralization) in adults. Together with calcium, Vitamin D also helps protect against osteoporosis. (NIH, 2016)
Without adequate Vitamin D, the body is unable to form the hormone calcitriol which is needed for calcium absorption. In this situation, the body takes calcium out of the skeleton, weakening existing bones and preventing the formation of strong, new bones. (NIH, 2015)
Vitamin D provides many other benefits throughout our lives. Here are some of them:
Vitamin D, which is actually a potent neuroregulatory steroidal hormone rather than an actual vitamin, is a key player in overall health. It influences nearly 3,000 of our 25,000 genes – literally turning on and off genes that can exacerbate – or prevent many diseases. It has been show to influence many conditions and diseases, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cold & Flu
- Crohn’s Disease
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Diabetes, Types 1 and 2
- Eczema & Psoriasis
- Hearing Loss
- Heart Disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Macular Degeneration
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Muscle Pain
- Periodontal Disease
- Pre Eclampsia
- Reduced C-section Risk
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Signs of Aging
– Mercola (3/26/2011)
Note that many pharmaceuticals deplete the body’s Vitamin D:
It is estimated that the vast majority of Americans – 85% of us – have insufficient levels of Vitamin D. (Mercola, 3/26/2011)
“Today’s vitamin D recommendations may be enough to help provide rickets, but it does nothing to give protection from cancer, heart disease, and infections. Most adults need about 8,000 units of vitamin D, while there are others who may need over that required amount to optimize their vitamin D levels.
“Vitamin D requirements are highly individual, and the amount that your body needs may depend on numerous factors, including the color of your skin, your location, and how much sunshine you’re exposed to on a regular basis. It is important to have your levels tested regularly using a 25(OH)D or 25-hydroxyvitamin D test. Vitamin D levels should never go below 32 ng/ml. Instead, you should aim to have your levels between 50 and 70 ng/ml.
“The best way to reach optimal vitamin D levels is through safe sun exposure. If this is not possible, you may use a safe tanning bed. Vitamin D supplementation is another option, provided that it is in the form of vitamin D3.” (Mercola, 10/10/2009)
For more information on the dangers of Vitamin D deficiency, see Dr Frank Lipman’s article Symptoms & Diseases Associated With Vitamin D Deficiency and the Vitamin D Council’s archive of articles on the relationship between Vitamin D and autoimmune diseases.
Most people taking calcium supplements – and their physicians – don’t realize that optimizing bone integrity and maintaining cardiovascular health also require Vitamin K2.
Inadequate Vitamin K2 disrupts calcium regulation and is also associated with an increased risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis. People who have a lack of calcium in their bones are more likely to have an excess of calcium in their arteries, and vice versa.
Lack of calcium in the bones leads to osteoporosis while deposits of calcium in the arterial walls leads to coronary heart disease and other manifestations of cardiovascular, renal, and neuro-degenerative disease.
Vitamin K2 helps regulate calcium and helps prevent heart disease and osteoporosis – as well as certain types of cancers, such as liver cancer, myeloma, and lymphoma. It may also help inhibit cancer growth. (Davis, 2008)
Vitamin K2 activates a protein hormone called osteocalcin, produced by the osteoblasts in the bones, which is needed to bind calcium into the bone matrix. Osteocalcin also appears to help prevent calcium from depositing into the arteries.
Evidence shows that Vitamin D is dependent on Vitamin K and that Vitamin D toxicity is actually caused by Vitamin K2 deficiency.
Also, taking calcium in isolation without complimentary nutrients like magnesium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin K can have adverse effects, including the buildup of plaque in coronary arteries and heart attacks. Calcium intake should be balanced out with Vitamins D and K and other minerals crucial to bone health. (Mercola, 3/26/2011)
“What dose of vitamin K2 is best? Scientists are still debating this question. Supplements generally contain between 50 mcg and 1,000 mcg of vitamin K2. Even the low end of the supplement dose of 50 mcg a day may help to support healthy bone density and protect the arterial wall from calcification. Life Extension has long recommended about 1,000 mcg a day of vitamin K2, along with 9,000 mcg vitamin K1 for most people.” (Davis, 2008)
“Overall, magnesium assures the strength and firmness of bones and makes teeth harder. Since magnesium participates in an astonishing array of biochemical reactions, it’s no surprise that it’s essential for healthy bones and teeth. Most notably, adequate magnesium is essential for absorption and metabolism of calcium.
“Magnesium also has a role to play, together with the thyroid and parathyroid glands, in supporting bone health: stimulating the thyroid’s production of calcitonin, which acts as a bone-preserving hormone, and regulating parathyroid hormone, a function of which is to regulate bone breakdown in a number of ways.”
Magnesium is also needed for the conversion of Vitamin D into its active form. A magnesium deficiency can lead to a syndrome known as Vitamin D resistance. Alkaline phosphatase, the enzyme required for forming new calcium crystals, also requires magnesium for activation, and, if levels are low, abnormal bone crystal formation can result. Even mild magnesium deficiency has been found to be a leading risk factor for osteoporosis.
“As with calcium, the majority of the body’s reserves of magnesium are held in the bone (60%), and the bones act as a storage reservoir, transferring magnesium into the blood stream in times of need. Adequate daily intake of magnesium is important throughout life to keep the magnesium that is stored in the bones from being lost. Low magnesium intake, as well as low blood and bone magnesium levels, has been widely associated with osteoporosis in women.
“It’s often overlooked that magnesium and calcium function together, so deficiency of one markedly affects the metabolism of the other. In fact, increasing calcium supplementation without increasing magnesium supplementation can actually increase magnesium loss. Similarly, the use of calcium supplements in the face of a magnesium deficiency can lead to calcium deposition in the soft tissues, such as the joints, where it can promote arthritis, or in the kidney, contributing to kidney stones.
There has been conflicting opinion about the adequacy of our magnesium intake. Despite its recognized importance, most Americans consume less than the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for magnesium. “
– Brown, 2014
It is estimated that 80% of Americans are magnesium deficient, leading to significant health consequences which, in turn, can be aggravated by many, if not most pharmaceutical treatments.
“An ideal ratio between calcium and magnesium is thought to be 1:1. The recommended daily dose is around 700 milligrams of each.
“Anytime you’re taking any of the following: magnesium, calcium, vitamin D3, or vitamin K2, you need to take all the others into consideration as well, as these nutrients work synergistically with one another.” (Mercola, 2013)
IF YOU GO THE NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS ROUTE
While it’s generally preferable when possible to look after your bones via diet and sun exposure, here are some things to be aware of if you decide to take nutritional supplements instead.
This is what Vivian Goldschmidt’s says about calcium in her Save Our Bones article, These Two Supplements Can Hurt More Than Help Your Bones :
“Typically, doctors will tell those with low bone density to “take calcium” or “drink milk.” But they make no distinction between the organic forms of this mineral and the inorganic. And chances are, prescribed calcium is inorganic. Now, don’t get me wrong. The body can effectively utilize small doses of inorganic calcium, but when doctors prescribe or recommend calcium, the dosage is typically around 1,000 mg a day.
“The most common calcium supplements are made of carbonate, citrate (which is easier to digest than carbonate), dolomite, di-calcium phosphate, tri-calcium phosphate, coral, oyster shell or bone meal, and all variations of amino-acid chelated calcium (which are the most bioavailable of all the above forms of calcium). While they may have different names, they all have one thing in common: they are all inorganic.
“This kind of calcium is not easily bioavailable, especially in large quantities, which most likely explains it’s association with increased risk of heart attack.” (Goldschmidt, 2016)
If you prefer a calcium supplement, you might consider this high quality, bio-active nutritional supplement called Doctor’s Best Calcium Bone Maker Complex. It contains calcium, D3, K2 MK-7, and Magnesium – along with Vitamin C and a variety of minerals that support optimal bone health. (It unfortunately isn’t suitable for vegetarians.)
This information about the supplement is provided by the manufacturer, Waitaki Biosciences:
This bone health supplement is balanced and synergistic, a product of extensive research into the current medical and scientific understanding of bone. Among this product’s unique benefits:
• Diverse nutrient spectrum for comprehensive bone maintenance.
• Supports bone matrix formation, a requisite for calcium utilization.
• Provides a generous 1800 IU of vitamin D3 for healthy bone calcification.
• Its vitamin K2 (as MK-7) surpasses other K vitamin forms in supporting bone formation.
• Provides optimized allowances of calcium, magnesium, and other essential bone minerals.
• Avoids technical shortcuts that use magnesium oxide or other poorly absorbed ingredients.
• Offers potential benefits that extend beyond bone to promote overall health and wellbeing.
Calcium Is Not Sufficient to Build Bone.
Clinical studies have established that high-calcium dietary supplements by themselves do not reliably increase bone density or reduce fracture risk. Many other nutrients are required.
The formation of new bone is really a complex process that involves first, building a scaffolding—the bone matrix—then adding in calcium and other minerals to produce hardness and strength. This bone matrix is roughly comparable to the “rebar” that is set in place prior to pouring concrete. The bone’s “concrete” is formed at the end as hard mineral crystals that naturally include not just calcium but magnesium, strontium and other minerals. The bone matrix is a molecular network primarily of large collagen molecules, interspersed with smaller amounts of other proteins and with large protein-carbohydrate molecules (“glycosaminoglycans”).
The ascorbic acid (vitamin C) this formula provides is a necessary factor for the enzymes that make collagen.
The formula’s complement of other nutrients is designed to enable the bone cells to build healthy bone matrix and achieve full bone mineralization.
VITAMIN D2 vs D3
If a blood test shows you’re Vitamin D deficient, your doctor is likely to recommend a Vitamin D2 supplement, also called ergocalciferol. D2 is also the form of Vitamin D often added to foods (eg, to milk) to ‘fortify’ them. But the body is not able to absorb D2 well. A study published in 2006 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is quite clear in its conclusion about the inferiority of Vitamin D2 over D3:
“Despite an emerging body of evidence suggesting several plausible explanations for the greater bioefficacy of vitamin D3, the form of vitamin D used in major preparations of prescriptions in North America is vitamin D2. … Vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol, should not be regarded as a nutrient suitable for supplementation or fortification.” (Houghton & Vieth, 2006)
So, even if your doctor isn’t aware of the important difference between the D3 and D2 forms of Vitamin D, be sure YOU are and go with the D3.
I like Metagenics, D3 5000. It’s high quality, both high potency and bio-available.
And don’t forget to have your Vitamin D blood level checked at least two times a year to make sure it’s neither too low nor too high.
See Dr Josh Axe’s Are You Vitamin D Deficient? for more information, including a list of the many Chronic Diseases Fueled by Vitamin D Deficiency and a chart of Vitamin D Dose Recommendations.
You might also want to look at Dr Mercola’s article How to Get Your Vitamin D To Within Healthy Ranges. Here’s an excerpt from that article:
The Role of Vitamin D in Disease Prevention
“A growing body of evidence shows that vitamin D plays a crucial role in disease prevention and maintaining optimal health. There are about 30,000 genes in your body, and vitamin D affects nearly 3,000 of them, as well as vitamin D receptors located throughout your body.
“According to one large-scale study, optimal Vitamin D levels can slash your risk of cancer by as much as 60 percent. Keeping your levels optimized can help prevent at least 16 different types of cancer, including pancreatic, lung, ovarian, prostate and skin cancers.”
The Vitamin K2 supplement I like is Vitamin K2 MK-7 150 mcg (Health As It Ought To Be). I figure I get an adequate amount of K1 from my daily diet.
I like these high quality, bio-available magnesium supplements:
Magnesium Glycinate Chelate 150mg (intraNATURALS)
NeuroMag 144 mg magnesium L-theonate (designs for health)
NOTE ON BIO-AVAILABLE SUPPLEMENTS VS SYNTHETIC VITAMINS
If you’re unclear about why nutritional supplements need to be bio-available to be effective, see my earlier post on Whole Food Supplements (Bio-available) vs OTC (Synthetic) Vitamins.
Axe, J. (2016). Are You Vitamin D Deficient? See: https://draxe.com/vitamin-d-deficiency/
Brown, S.E. (2014). Key minerals for bone health — magnesium. See: http://www.betterbones.com/bonenutrition/magnesium.aspx
Davis, W. (2008). Protecting Bone and Arterial health with Vitami K2. Life Extension Magazine. See: http://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2008/3/protecting-bone-and-arterial-health-with-vitamin-k2/Page-01
Goldschmidt, V. (2016). Beware! These Two Supplements Can Hurt More Than Help Your Bones. See: http://saveourbones.com/beware-these-two-supplements-can-hurt-more-than-help-your-bones/
Hardin, J.R. (2015). Whole Food Supplements (Bio-available) vs OTC (Synthetic) Vitamins. See: http://allergiesandyourgut.com/2015/01/25/whole-food-supplements-bio-available-vs-otc-synthetic-vitamins
Houghton, L.A. & Vieth, R.(2006). The case against ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) as a vitamin supplement. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 84:4, 694-697. See: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/84/4/694.full
Kresser, C. (3/8/2013). Calcium Supplements: Why You Should Think Twice. See: https://chriskresser.com/calcium-supplements-why-you-should-think-twice/
Lipman, F. (2016). Symptoms & Diseases Associated With Vitamin D Deficiency. See: http://www.drfranklipman.com/symptoms-diseases-associated-with-vitamin-d-deficiency/
Mercola, R. (3/26/2011). Vitamin K: The Missing Nutrient to Blame for Heart Attacks and Osteoporosis (Nope – NOT Calcium or Vitamin D). See: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/03/26/the-delicate-dance-between-vitamins-d-and-k.aspx
Mercola, R. (11/21/2011). How to Get Your Vitamin D To Within Healthy Ranges. See: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/11/21/how-to-get-your-vitamin-d-to-healthy-ranges.aspx
Mercola, R. (12/8/2013). Magnesium—The Missing Link to Better Health. See: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/12/08/magnesium-health-benefits.aspx
Mercola, R. (2016). This Silent Thief Can Steal Away Your Independence in a Flash. See: http://products.mercola.com/calcium-supplement/?utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art1&utm_campaign=20160414Z1&et_cid=DM102804&et_rid=1442193832
NIH – Osteoporosis & Related Bone Diseases, National Resource Center. (2015). Calcium and Vitamin D: Important at Every Age. See: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Bone_Health/Nutrition/
NIH. (2016). Vitamin D. See: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
Vitamin D Council. (undated). Autoimmune Disease. See: https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/tag/autoimmune-disease/
© Copyright 2016. Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.
DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.