Keeping Your Bones Strong as You Age


Today’s “Ask the Nutrition Consultant” question comes from Chrissy!

Q: I’m in my 40’s and I want to keep my bones strong as I age. I wanted to start taking a calcium supplement but my mother told me that calcium supplements can increase the risk of atherosclerosis and heart attacks. Is this true? What can I do to keep my bones strong as I age so I don’t get osteoporosis?

A: These are great questions Chrissy! The benefits of calcium in protecting against osteoporosis have been known for years, and unfortunately it has led to many women taking large doses of calcium alone. Vitamins and minerals work together synergistically and antagonistically in our body. Problems can occur when we do not provide out bodies with optimal and balanced levels of all vitamins and minerals. We need adequate levels of vitamin D3, vitamin K2, and magnesium in order to shuttle calcium into our bones and not into our soft tissues. 

Vitamin D3 is important because it increases our ability to absorb calcium in our digestive tract. We also we need optimal levels of vitamin K2 to to ensure that the calcium goes into our bones and teeth and NOT into our arteries (atherosclerosis) or kidneys (kidney stones). Magnesium is important because it is a calcium channel blocker. If we have low levels of magnesium (as many people following a Standard American Diet do) we can have a buildup of calcium salts in our soft tissues known as calcifications. These calcifications or plaques cause hardening of the arteries and can lead to heart attacks and strokes. 

I always recommend focusing on whole food sources as a way to get the nutrients we need for optimal health. If adequate levels cannot be obtained from food then supplementation may be necessary. I would never recommend anyone take a calcium supplement without getting adequate vitamin D3, K2 or magnesium (from dietary sources or supplementation). 

Major Food Sources of Calcium: yogurt; cheese; some leafy vegetables (e.g., collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, parsley, bok choy); cauliflower and broccoli; Brussels sprouts; rutabaga; tofu (if made with calcium sulfate); canned sardines, salmon, anchovies (with bones); almonds; sesame seeds; oysters; soft shell crab; mineral-rich stocks made with bones. 

Major Food Sources of Vitamin D3: Eggs; fatty fish and fish or cod liver oil; sunlight (activation of 7-dehydrocholesterol in the skin). 

Major Food Sources of Magnesium: Green vegetables, (e.g., spinach and chard); magnesium is part of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants. Whole grains; seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower); nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, cashews); legumes; herbs (parsley, basil); dark chocolate (>60% cacao).

Major Food Sources of Vitamin K2: Grass-fed/pasture raised animals; liver (from grass-fed animals); dairy (esp. butter, ghee, cheese from grass-fed animals); eggs (must be fed grass/pasture); natto (fermented soybean). 

Some other important things you can do to keep your bones strong and prevent osteoporosis include:

  • Decrease caffeine and alcohol consumption: Caffeine increases the excretion of calcium and magnesium through the urine. Alcohol can decrease the absorption of calcium via the intestines, affect vitamin D metabolism, and is a diuretic. 
  • Avoid NSAIDS of COX 2 blockers: both are shown to inhibit repair of bone.
  • Perform weight bearing exercise to increase bone strength: Activities that put stress on bones stimulate extra deposits of calcium and bone building. Activities such as walking, dancing, high- and low-impact aerobics, hiking, jogging, jumping rope, stair climbing, tennis, and lifting weights are all great. 


Vitamin and Mineral Interactions: The Complex Relationship of Essential Nutrients

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